Fovant and Sutton Mandeville Women’s Institute (W.I.)
‘The W.I. is a British institution, as much a part of the countryside as green fields and cow parsley.’ – (Extra Ordinary Women).
The first W.I. was opened in 1915 Llanfair PG in Anglesey.
The first meeting of Fovant W.I. was held in September 1934 in the British Legion Hut, with Mrs. Edith Biggs of Fovant House as President, and the members first sang ‘Jerusalem’ in 1936. The W.I. was in the Wiltshire Federation of W.I.s (W.F.W.I.) and the National Federation of W.I.’s (N.F.W.I.) part of the subscription was paid annually as an Affiliation Fee.
Sutton Mandeville was included in the name from 1962 as the two villages are closely linked. Monthly meetings were held on the afternoon of the third Wednesday of every month and were intended to be educational, with talks being given on a variety of subjects. The meetings also proved to be an effective means of communication around the village, keeping people informed about matters of local interest before the parish magazine came into being.
The early years were dominated by the Second World War. In 1939 one cwt of sugar was allotted to each W.I. and in 1941 a fruit preservation centre was formed to combine the W.I.’s allocation of sugar with locally collected produce to make 646 pounds of jam. In 1941 28 pounds of rose hips were collected. The members also knitted for the Forces, salvaged waste paper, distributed milk and cocoa to the boys and girls of the village and marched in the Village Victory parade, in the line-up between the Home Guard and the Boy Scouts.
In 1947 they sent £5.00 to the Lady Denman College Appeal Fund. Over the years many members have attended courses at the WI College at Marcham and raised money to be able to offer a Bursary.
Initially business was an important part of the meeting, but later the gathering became much more informal with speakers giving a demonstration of a craft or delivering a talk on nutrition or the work of Guide Dogs. As well as being a social afternoon, the activities enjoyed by members caused various other separate organisations to form, uniting people with common interests. One of these groups was F.A.M.E. , which emerged from W.I.’s Drama Group which provided the entertainment for the annual Christmas party given for the senior citizens of the village. The W.I. Drama Group also entered competitions, including one in which they performed a play specially written for them called ‘The Nuns of Fovant’
The Annual Summer Show, an event which ended in 1985, was the highlight of the year when the cookery and craft skills of the members were put on display, together with flowers and flower arrangements. Specialist judges were engaged and the entries in the Village Hall attracted wide attention, with the standard being consistently high. The overall winner with the most points in all categories was awarded the Drury Lowe Cup, which was donated by a one-time President of the W.I.
The W.I. also took part in the procession of decorated floats, which preceded the annual village fête, as well as helping with the teas. In more recent years the Cake Stall at the fête has been the W.I.’s responsibility. Another benefit the W.I. brought to the village was the instigation of the weekly Coffee Morning in the Village Hall, started by members in 1989.
In the 1970s there were sixty-nine members, but numbers started to drop in the 1990s as more women began to go out to work. Despite this local decline, Fovant W.I. received some prominence nationally when member Mrs. Judy Snowdon became the national vice-chairman for three years from 1991.
In 2004, with the membership down to only around ten, the Fovant and Sutton Mandeville Women’s Institute was formally disbanded.
Past Minute and Record Books have been deposited with the County Archivist in Chippenham and the W.I. Scrapbooks have been deposited with F.H.I.G. The N.F.W.I. Website can be found at: www.womens-institute.org.uk
Updated by: M.K.K.