Etching Hill Women's Institute

Reminisces of Founder Member Mrs Helen Dawson

Wednesday 8th May 1946 saw about 30 Ladies arriving at Mrs Upton’s bungalow in Stonehouse Road for the first meeting of Etching Hill Women’s Institute. Mrs Dicken, a V.C.O., attended and gave an interesting talk on the values of W.I. A letter of welcome was read out from Lady Denman, the National Chairman, which included the motto ‘ Gladly we learn, and Gladly we Teach’.

Mrs Wilson, the County chairman of Staffordshire Produce Guild, gave an instructive talk on Gardening, a subject very much to the forefront of our daily lives as it was war at the time, and every spare inch of garden was utilised in growing produce, the motto of the time being’ Dig for Victory’.

Before anyone could join the W.I. they had to be proposed and seconded, at meetings a cup of tea cost 2d (11 pence) and a cake cost 2d (11 pence). We were all so grateful to Mrs Upton, for we practically took over her home, but as the membership grew we had to move to the Parish Room at Rugeley, where the Youth Club is now situated.

Eventually we W.I members, together with our husbands, formed a committee with a view to building a Village Hall. Once again Mrs Upton came to our rescue – to raise money we held Whist Drives in her home, with the tables spilling over into the bedrooms and bathroom. In the summer we held Garden Parties in the dell by the farm.

We eventually managed, with help from a grant from the local Staffordshire Community Association, to purchase an Army hut from Hixon Aerodrome. It was very basic, but Mr Taylor, Mr Johnson and Mr Scattergood did a lot of voluntary work in installing cupboards and electricity. Mr Hulse provided all the necessary transportation. The floor of the hut was a concrete base and very cold to the feet, so several ladies purchased some coconut matting to put under the chairs to keep our feet from freezing – hard work binding the edges of the strips. It was a draughty front door so two army blankets were purchased to hang over the entrance.

The Hall and the W.I . flourished – at most meetings we had a trading stall with members bringing spare produce to sell. One year each member with a garden was given a potato which they grew, with a prize for the members growing the most from their potato – two of 25lbs each – with a grand total of 132lbs.

We had several shows – thrift articles - knitted garments from unravelled garments, flower arranging (then in it’s infancy) canning, bottling and cake making – eggs were scarce so dried eggs were used. One member's child would never eat a fresh egg, but ate scrambled dried egg by the plateful. Craft classes were held – glove making, upholstery, eiderdown re-covering, and even making quilts from sheep’s wool gathered from hedges and barbed wire.

Later on local farmers ran a Horse Show, held on Hagley Field. Mrs Wheildon from Hagley hall formed a committee, and we had a marquee with various classes in cookery, handicrafts and flowers entered into competition by Etching Hill, Slitting Mill, Colton, Colwich, Longdon and Brereton WIs a silver cup – called the Halwell cup – was donated by a Birmingham solicitor, and was won by the institute gaining the highest number of points – we won it several times, I often wonder what happened to it after the Horse show was abandoned.

Christmas parties were organised for the children of members, and another highlight of the year was our New Year’s Party. Caterers supplied a sit-down supper for 7s 6d (37p) – this was an occasion not to be missed, and husbands always turned up in full force – the modern saying of ‘let your hair down’ certainly applied in those days.

As we settled into the hall a portable stage was built, and concerts and plays were performed. A chorus of ladies dressed in black gent’s suits and bowler hats were much enjoyed especially when they performed McManarahs Band.

Group meetings were formed, and we were grouped with Penkridge, Brocton, Acton Trussel and Berswich – and called ’The Chase-Side Group. This was not brneficial to us, so we were re-grouped with Brereton, Longdon, Chorley, Slitting Mill and Armitage and called the Rose & Shamrock Group.

And so we progressed, and it is very rewarding to those who were in at the beginning to know that Etching hill is still a thriving Institute. Long may it continue!

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