“Our Beloved Institute”
(A brief history of Alnmouth WI)
‘Our beloved Institute’ was the expression used by Mrs Anne Scholefield in a letter to Alnmouth WI. This letter is in our archives and was written in 1939 on the occasion of the twenty first anniversary. Mrs Scholefield who lived in Lint Close in the village, the house which is now the Friary, had heard of the WI which had started in 1915 and on one of her trips to London she took the opportunity to find out more about it. On her return to Alnmouth she decided to consult the women about forming their own WI, and in March 1918 Alnmouth WI was formed with Mrs Scholefield as President.
Monthly meetings were held in a hut owned by the Scholefields and situated opposite Lint Close. The WI provided many activities for its members. There were classes in upholstery and soft furnishings, drama, dancing, garden fetes and a glee club flourished. Raising money for charities and involvement in village life was encouraged. In 1928 Alnmouth won the All England Programme Competition and the St Cecilia Banner at the North of England Musical Tournament. Members were also successful in a Drama Competition in Newcastle. Miss Pease of Nether Grange ran an embroidery class and in 1931 seven pieces of work were chosen to be displayed in the London Exhibition.
In the long hot summer of 1932 local water supplies dried up and each WI appointed a “water secretary” to receive data on every house. This system ensured that the County Council could no longer be unaware of the problems of people in villages. These activities set the programme for the work of the WI in years to come. The WI grew in popularity and the women of Alnmouth now had a full life outside their homes and they enjoyed it!
Mrs Scholefield resigned as President in 1935 and Miss Violet Walker of Seafield House took on the role until 1953.
Having been established a few months before the end of World War 1, Alnmouth WI celebrated its twenty first birthday in 1939 a few months before the Second World War began. In 1938 Mrs Scholefield gave the hut to the WI but it was not long before it was commandeered for the war effort and meetings moved to the Hindmarsh Hall.
The WI’s war effort included opening a shop for three days a week selling books in aid of prisoner of war funds, setting up a Jam Centre and taking a WI allotment to be worked by members. A bomb fell on Argyle Street killing seven people, including two WI members. Others were injured and treated at the First Aid Post. Miss Walker led a team of Red Cross nurses, many of whom were members of the WI. One of them, was Doreen Donaldson who eventually joined a voluntary unit providing nursing services in a hospital in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Elizabeth Donaldson, also a WI member, was mentioned in despatches for her work in the NAAFI in Belgium. Mrs Scholefield opened her home to troops stationed in Alnmouth and the WI invited them to dances and parties.
During the calmer times at the end of the war, the WI moved back to the hut and continued the pattern set in earlier years. The emphasis from the 50s through the 80s was on crafts. In 1978 Mrs Betty Heyes and Mrs Peggy Holden designed a new County badge for Northumberland and the Diamond Jubilee was celebrated with an exhibition of sixty years of craft. In 1983 six members worked for two years to complete a fabulous needlework carpet for the Duchess of Northumberland. Fund raising in this period was focussed on repairs to the hut, but by 1988 it had to be demolished. In August 1988 the WI returned to the Hindmarsh Hall which was also in need of help and so the WI applied for grants and was able to provide all the furniture in the Hall.
Alnmouth WI embraced the technological age and had its own website in 2008. In the same year it celebrated its 90th birthday with a dinner in the Hindmarsh Hall and the first viewing of an excellent DVD showing the history of the WI.
Two thousand and fifteen saw special celebrations of the centenary of the WI with the Annual Meeting in the Albert Hall attended by our current president, Janis Crook, and a Garden party at Buckingham Palace attended by Judi Hill. Members at Alnmouth celebrated with an afternoon tea and an exhibition depicting the talents and achievements of the many remarkable women of Alnmouth. It was also the time to reflect on an organisation that has remained constant throughout the last hundred years and enabled women to learn new skills, share activities, have friendships and fun, to campaign, give to charity and be fully involved in the community: to bake and produce jam (although not too often!)
And what about the future? Membership continues to increase, plans are in place to provide stimulating activities and members are looking forward to March 2018 when Alnmouth WI will celebrate its own centenary.