Copyright © 2017
Dersingham Folk
All Rights reserved
Site by Mike Strange
Dersingham Women's Institute
Article and photographs by Wendy Snell with some additional photographs from Elizabeth Fiddick
The history of the WI began in Canada on 19th February 1897 in Stoney Creek, with its main purpose to improve and develop conditions of rural life.  It sought to provide for the fuller education of Countrywomen no matter what their views on religion or politics might be. Membership of the Institute being open to Women and Girls only.

The forerunner of the WIs we know today was formed in 1915 in Anglesey. The “National Federation of Women’s Institutes” being formed in the UK in 1915. The first Women’s Institute founded in Norfolk was in 1918.

In a copy of the 1919 edition of Home & County (The Women’s Institute Journal) members were being given “Helpful Household Hints” such as:

“Ink Stains” – to be dealt with straight away by plunging the article in butter milk, or rub it with sliced tomato, before washing in the ordinary way.

“Mildew” – to be rubbed over with soap, then scrape French chalk over it.

In 1919 a meeting was held in Shirehall, in Norwich to consider the formation of a “County Federation” of Women’s Institutes.

The Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes was founded on 1st February 1919 based at “Evelyn Suffield House” in Norwich.  It is to this Federation that Dersingham WI belongs.

I have not been able to locate details of the first Dersingham WI which was possibly formed in the late 1950’s and still in operation until the late 1990’s.  [Ed: our research has found that it had started as early as 1944 from a newspaper item seen here in Mrs Stanton's garden (click to view full size)]: 

Here follows some early photographs from the archives of Elizabeth Fiddick:

1953/4 Parade of Costumes Through the Ages:
A County event, St Andrew's Hall, Norwich.
Dersingham WI birthday party
Sandringham WI, January 1954
Left to right: Mr Stanley Bird; Mr A Bell; Mr Willis; Mr Wymark.

A medieval group left to right:
Mrs Meadows; Mrs Blowers; Mrs Callingham and Mrs Walden (one not identified).

James 1st and Puritan:
Mrs S Watts; Mrs S. Bird; Zena Boggis.

Victorian and Edwardian:
Mrs S Linford; Miss Frayer; Mrs Chilvers; Mrs Linford;  Mrs Houchen; Zena Boggis.

1910 - 1930

Dress Parade at the Sandringham WI before HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; Princess Margaret and The Princess Royal.

1954 Goose and Gander by Sydney Willis:
Mrs Bird; Mrs Chambers; Mr Sydney Willis; Mrs Willis.

1985 October 4  Dersingham WI presentation towards a CAT scanner. Left to right: Dr Rimmier, Radiologist; Mrs Roye, Treasurer; Mrs Nurse, Secretary; Mrs Carter, President.
I do have details from an embroidered WI cloth dated 1999, detailing 53 members names. (too many to detail here).  I have been told by a current WI member that a Mrs Myers and Mrs Houchen had been Treasurer and Secretary in the 1960/80s, and a Mrs Staples was President at the time of its closure.  Other names remembered were Molly Clayton and Gladys Twite.

I also remember my mother Fay Winter mentioned that she had been taken out on various trips by Ivy Hawkins, which continued even after the WI closed.  I have a “Cup” (seen here) that she won, from the Dersingham WI inscribed “13th September 1979, at the Diamond Jubilee Exhibition” I assume for craft or competitions which she usually entered.
Unfortunately this is all I can find; assuming the Norfolk Federation would destroy paperwork after a fixed number of years or pass it on to the Norfolk Record Office.  If anyone has further information on this episode of Dersingham WI it would be gratefully received.
The Dersingham Evening Women's Institute branch was officially formed on 21st March 1962 by Mrs Allwood VCO of Scarning when 36 members were enrolled. The first Committee of twelve people was formed which would meet once a month in different member’s homes. Here is Mrs Joan Playford's original 1962 Membership Card

The first President of the new WI was Mrs Womack, Treasurer Mrs Elderkin and Secretary Mrs Cable. Other Committee members were Mrs Willis, Lee, Mehta, Asker, Playford, Watson, Gamble, Greene and Dot Goff who is still a member of the WI today.
A list of supplies came from HQ in London, including Jam Pot covers, labels and cards for members use.  This probably influenced the first Competitions of the year -  “Cakes, Trifles, Flans, Mince Pies, Pretty Apron,” making a point that the WI was still all “Jam & Cakes” in 1962.  But times have changed since then.

Meetings would be held at the “Foresters Hall” once a month.  It was decided that the members should sit in a semi-circle, and tea and biscuits should be served.  The meeting to open with “Jerusalem” and to close with the National Anthem. All “New Members” names for membership to be put forward for proposal to the Committee, and a raffle to be held for the purchase of cups and saucers.

By 1963 a pattern for a new Evening WI tablecloth for the President’s Table was agreed, from designs drawn by Mrs Edwards.  The finished article is shown here.
A trading stall, Coffee Evening, and Jumble Stall were organised to raise money for funds.  Dressmaking classes had started and visits made to the GPO and Anglia House TV in Norwich.

Christmas Crackers were made and sent out with “Meals on Wheels” to old people in the village.

By now sufficient funds had been raised to purchase a piano essential for the singing of “Jerusalem” at the start of meetings.

Talks were arranged for the monthly meetings including one on Witchcraft, Ice Cream and Weights & Measures. There was a directive from County Office that a talk on “Oral Contraception” was NOT suitable for WI Meetings!

By 1964 hire of the hall was £26.11s and subscriptions 3s 6d.

By now the WI were getting involved in the community, taking part in the King's Lynn Exhibition and campaigning for better and cheaper facilities in the Public Conveniences in King's Lynn.

In 1964 it was suggested that girls of 14/15 years of age should be enrolled as “Junior Members”, but whether this happened is unknown.

By now there were problems with the piano and it was decided to change it again.  It had been agreed that other societies using the Hall could have access to it, but after being damaged by the Youth Club it was agreed they should be asked to pay for the damages incurred.
For the 1965 WI “Golden Jubilee” it was decided the WI should purchase a seat to be located near the Church, at the cost of £8.15s.  So to help with the purchase a meal was arranged at The Foresters Hall, and invitations sent to the Afternoon WI and “Husbands” to attend.

Again a problem with the piano, the Hall was too cold so a heater was placed inside the piano!  The only heating in the Hall being from an old Boiler.

Dersingham WI also supported the Sandringham Golden Jubilee Garden Fete by helping on the China Stall.

That same year Mrs Playford represented the WI at The Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

By 1966 Dersingham was supporting various charities and the Scout and Village Fetes.  Participating in other WI events and meetings in the area.  Arranging Fashion Shows with Aldiss of Fakenham, Coffee Mornings, Classes in Drama, Dressmaking and Keep Fit, and assisting in House to House collection for the Churchill Memorial Fund.

To keep a record of all these events it was agreed to start a “Scrapbook” of photos and programmes, which is still updated today.

All branches within the WI had to decide what issue they wanted to highlight to initiate a change.  i.e. Inefficiency of Local Bus Services since closure of Railway Anti-Litter Campaign, Conservation, and more personally a request “That shoe manufacturers make ladies shoes in smaller sizes with wider fittings”.  These issues to be included in the “WI Resolutions”, which were voted on by all members of the WI.

Visits continued to Holkham Hall, Marks & Spencer, to Kings Lynn Theatre productions, Dinner at the Kit Kat at Hunstanton and many more.

Competitions had changed from Jaffa Grapefruit and Marmalade to Novelty Easter Egg, and Embroidery, with the prize of a cup or shield.
Posies were also introduced to be given to members whose Birthday fell within the month of the meeting.

It was now possible to get a Bursary for further education locally or at Denman College in Oxfordshire (Named after Lady Denman, who had been head of the National Institute at its inception in 1919).  This magnificent country house is owned by the WI and holds short residential courses on a variety of subjects.

The very worn plaque on the Dersingham village sign shows this was presented to The Village by the Dersingham Evening Women’s Institute in 1967.

Over the next decade Dersingham continued to support charities, both local and further afield. Members knitting blankets for Sue Ryder, collecting used stamps for Cancer Research, knitting bed-socks for old folk at Rebecca Court in Heacham, buying material to send to Windward Islands, arranging a plant and produce stall for the Village Sports Club, carol singing in aid of “Children’s Eyes” fund, supporting Flag Day for the Deaf & Dumb Association and donating towards a maple tree, which was to be planted on the Recreation Ground, to replace some trees that had been felled.

By the mid-70s speakers were becoming more varied with talks on West Africa, Canned Foods, The Samaritans, Grooming, Training Opportunities for married Women & Social Services.

Members could attend Group Meetings, as well as The Norfolk Federation AGM, and The National AGM usually held in London.

During the 1970’s Dersingham entered a Float at the Scout Fete, continuing over the next few years.  In 1973 the slogan was “The WI is with it” with the comment “we hope that we are”.

In 1974 the caption was “Operation WI” very gory but eye catching. 

In 1975 the float was entered with the title “Dine at the Dump” due to the villagers concern over the Picnic Site being adjacent to the rubbish dump situated near today’s roundabout. This evidently made an impact as the entry won 1st Prize.

In 1976 the float was titled “Inflation,” being remembered more for getting totally soaked on only one of two wet days in the summer.
In 1977 the members dressed themselves and their bicycles in paper flowers, obtaining 1st & 2nd prize for “Best Decorated Hat” By 1977 plans were being made for the Queen’s “Silver Jubilee”.

The suggestion was for a seat, this time to be situated on the Village Playing Field, the cost being £40 to £80. The presentation event is shown here.
The WI was still campaigning, with a letter to the Lynn News asking for Anglia TV to be returned to our screens, having previously objected to the change to Yorkshire TV.

A varied programme of Activities were added including Yoga and Flower Arranging, with the addition of a Library at meetings. Together with visits to Springfields Tulip Parade, Holme Bird Sanctuary and dinner at The Feathers.
It was now decided it was time for the position of “Tea Hostess” at meetings, should be dropped in favour of “Refreshments” on the programme.

In 1978 the Diamond Jubilee Year, Mrs Schorah and Mrs Hanshaw attended the Pageant at the Royal Norfolk Show in the role of “Banner Bearers”.

Carol Singing continued each year with proceeds going to the Hospital along with further support of other charities.

By 1980 it was reported that there were problems with the ailing piano!

In this same year a Churchyard Survey of St Nicholas Church was carried out. Mrs Dinsdale and helpers armed with buckets and brushes made a record of all legible names on the headstones before they were lost to the ravages of the weather. This was completed in 1981 and archived at The Norfolk Record Office. {Ed: a copy is accessible through our link in Dersingham People}

In 1981 "The Foresters Hall" offered to purchase the ailing piano which could still be used by the WI.

Another event organised this year was a coffee morning in aid of the shortly to be opened “Day Centre for the Elderly”, which is still in operation today.

A small group of ladies attended a cookery demonstration by Mary Berry at the King's Lynn Technical College.

In 1982 fame at last. The President, Mrs Cross, took part in a Radio Norfolk Programme called “Village Voice”, local people speaking of village life and activities.

Unfortunately the Carol Singing this year had to be abandoned due to bad weather of snow and ice.

1983 was the Dersingham’s WI’s “21st Birthday Celebration,” when 3 founder members Mrs Goff, Mrs Playford and Mrs Elderkin blew out the 21 Candles and cut the celebration cake. A “Gavel” was presented by Mrs Schorah enabling the President to call people to order, when they got “out of hand”, at the meetings.

Fundraising in March was organised with “Parrallel Lines” - a new hairdressers in the village, with 100 tickets sold and Mrs Neeve & Mrs Manship brave enough to act as models.
By 1984 the institute had increased to 51 members.

There was the usual Fashion Show by Aldiss of Fakenham, “Sporty Ladies” bravely took part on a float at the Village Carnival and Carol Singing was undertaken, with proceeds for NSPCC.

However, there was a bad start to 1985, fog in December and snow in January.  The first time in its history that a WI meeting had to be cancelled. This was followed in March by a virulent flu bug.

And on a visit to Springfields, in the wet, members were left in the darkness by a disappearing coach driver!

In the same year a letter was sent to the Queen protesting at the use of the Common as a site for the new Fire Station.  

Membership was up to 63 in 1986, increasing in 1987 - “The Silver Anniversary Year”- to 66 members. For the “WI Anniversary Celebration” there was a Buffet, Wine and Entertainment by Heacham Evening Institute.

Founder Members Margaret Elderkin, Joan Playford and Dot Goff presented the Institute with an “Engraved Silver Flower Vase” to hold the President’s table flowers at Meetings.

Membership had again increased to 70 Members.  There had been the purchase of a tea urn and cups and saucers and a cupboard in which to keep them.

A stall was still held at the Annual Scout Fete.

In 1989 the new President, Mrs Rowlinson, thought as a change “The Alberta Creed” should be sung every third month in place of Jerusalem.

The venue for the Annual AGM in the Albert Hall had changed with delegates now going to the NEC in Birmingham rather than London.

By the end of the year membership had declined as some older members opted to join the “Afternoon WI” as they were unhappy about going out on dark nights.

September 11th 1990 was the 75th Anniversary of the entire WI, so Dersingham celebrated with a tea party and decorated cake in true WI tradition.
In 1991 membership was still dropping, but events continued as usual, with a Dorothy Perkins Fashion Show and participation in the “The Village Carnival” in September.

During the year the Institute was presented with six Glasses engraved with the WI Logo, a present from “Phobbies” in appreciation of the help given to their charity.

In 1992 with membership now again on the increase it was thought the “Foresters Hall” was not big enough and so meetings were moved to Dersingham First School.

In 1993 the Society was registered as a Charity, and therefore not allowed to raise money for other charities as before.

The 75th Anniversary of “Norfolk WI’s” was a family fun day held at Sandringham during August.

By 1995 the WI was entering the Church Flower Festival with an arrangement showing WI Activities.
Although few ladies were now taking part, the float at the Scout and Guide Fete still managed to gain second place.

The Institute put in a complaint to the Parish Council about the lack of Litter Bins on the Playing Field and overgrown footpaths.  Fifteen Members subsequently taking part in a “Litter Pick”.

Articles were now being written for the Church Magazine and the Dersingham Data.  With similar reports and photos being sent to the WI Magazine.

Several members  managed to purchase -Tee Shirts - featuring the WI motif and name, to be worn at local events.

Member Phyl Jones won 1st Prize in the “County WI Competition” for her short story.

Events now included “Punting” on the river at Cambridge, a visit to Caithness Crystal and a six mile walk around Ringstead.

A microphone had now been purchased for use at meetings, as members had complained they could not always hear the speakers.
By 1997 Dersingham had introduced a “Newsletter” every two months, to communicate with members; this won the Norfolk Areas “Rose Bowl Competition”.  Also awarded “The Best Overall Programme” in the National WI competition, in the same year.

Visits this year were to The Butterfly Park, Peckover House in Wisbech and a tour of Gressenhall Museum.

Similar events occurred over the next few years although membership fluctuated, between 35 and 58 members, due to Old Age, Poor Health, out of area or work.
By 1998 things had improved now 62 members, so the decision was taken to move to an even larger venue. So in January 1998 Dersingham Evening WI moved to St Cecilia’s Catholic Church Room in Mountbatten Road.

The Millenium year 2000 saw a Garden Party, Bicycle and Hat Competitions judged by Molly & George Clayton and lollipops for the childrens events.

Later in the year a Christmas fair was held, and in December the members were asked to bring a plate of food for the Christmas Party.

Coffee Mornings were now held monthly in member’s houses, with the Dining Group arranging meals at The Feathers and The Gamekeepers Lodge (now private housing).

2001 was the “Queens Golden Jubilee” so it was decided to again purchase a seat for the Village at the cost of £420, with a stainless steel plaque commemorating the event – the previous one had only the concrete base remaining.  It was decided the new seat should be situated in Station Road.

By 2002/3 subscriptions had increased to £17.25, with part of this going to Dersingham WI, part to Norfolk Federation and further amount to National Federation, to cover cost of Insurance for members.

The WI “care of the community” was now part of the annual “Resolutions” where members voted on which issue should be taken up.  Such as “Care of the Elderly”, Children’s Diet, Exercise, Sanitary Products for Health and Vocational Training for Young People.  Whilst still being involved in local issues, such as complaining to the Dukes Head in Kings Lynn, regarding the lack of Disabled Toilets.

Over the next few years the Committee Meetings were changed from the Gamekeeper’s Lodge to Orchard Close and then to members houses.

In 2007 “The Seat” had to be cleaned after it had been spoilt by black paint

A donation had been made towards the “Memorial Garden Project” for Dersingham.  On “Open Day” in 2009 the WI were to serve refreshments from the marquee. Unfortunately the marquee collapsed before the refreshments were served, due to strong winds.  It could be noted that the next WI competition was on “Food Waste”.

In October the WI Logo was changed much to peoples’ consternation, as this had been done without consultation with the WI members. The Dersingham Evening WI group subsequently decided to design and adopt their own logo as seen here.
2010 and it appears that the tea urn was no longer working, and WI Crockery seems to be missing, plus talking at Meetings whilst the Speaker was talking had become a constant problem.
Gifts of knitted baby clothes from the 2011 Christmas Tree were subsequently donated to the local Women’s Refuge and to the Chernobyl Charity.

Due to the increase in the annual subscription to £29, a Savings Account would be available to any members who would like to spread the cost over the year.
In 2012 a “Garden Party” for the Village was organised at The Feathers.  Posters put around the village meant it was a great success, with Tombola, cakes, and refreshments along with other stalls from local organisations.
A visit to Berlin was organised by one of our members, plus visits to Tutbury Castle and Taverham Garden Centre.

In 2014 the possibility of a “Ladies Group” due to increased subscriptions, was raised, to see if this could be a cheaper option than the WI.  However, with the costs of venues and insurance etc it was decided to remain a WI, but with an option for older members to meet up for tea, coffee and outings independently if they wished.

A further Fashion Show, with members acting as models was arranged with “Allez Chic” and held at the Village Hall, another great success.

Monthly Newsletters were now being sent out as events had increased, and a new Keep Fit Group had been started by our President Peg.

Frequent trips were arranged to see shows at the Corn Exchange and films at the Majestic, and a visit to the Thursford Christmas Show.
The 2014 “Race for Life” at Houghton was completed by members (seen here in pink 'T' shirts) raising £1,129 for Cancer Research

In 2015 a “Nostalgia Day” was organised at the Village Hall, with 11 Stalls from 1910 to 2015 showing items relevant to the decade, and stall holders dressed in the period of the time.  Plus usual refreshments available.

To bring the WI into the current century a WI Website was introduced, so as well as the Scrapbook, photos etc could also be put “online” for members.
One of our members Diane Hall was able to attend the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham
Palace on behalf of the WI, and Phyl Jones won her second Creative Writing Award.

In 2016 the possibility of holding Afternoon Meetings during the winter months was discussed, but this was not taken up. However, it was decided that lifts would be offered to members if and when required.

New events were planned with Historic walks taking place around Dersingham, Kings Lynn and Hunstanton (below). Outings to Bircham Windmill, a visit to Tapping House, Castle Rising, Trues Yard, Alby Stained Glass and an afternoon at Fakenham “Ladies Day” Horse Racing (below).
An Afternoon Tea was held in Diane Neeve’s garden and a Tombola Stall at the Village Fun day.

Coffee Mornings continued to raise funds. Lunch and Quiz at Thaxters, a Jigsaw Evening and a Christmas fair with other WI’s, were also on the itinerary.

During 2017 and 2018 not only did all these events continue but also we had a very Successful Knitting group “MAD” (Make a Difference) run by Stephanie making articles for Charity, and a “Fit & Dance” group run by Peg – with its members showing off the various routines at Meetings.

Walking and Craft groups being run by Babs, and Theatre group outings run by Diann, also continued throughout the year.
During the year quizzes, raffles, book stall and various sales tables and competitions continued.
A very successful Autumn Fair and Classic Car event was organised during the Summer, held at St Cecilia’s Church Hall, including refreshments.

Each year the WI continues to participate in the St Nicholas Church Christmas Tree Festival.

The WI has also joined with the Ingoldisthorpe WI to support their outings to Romany Museum, Ely Flower Show and Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

The Speakers have again been varied, from RNLI, Careline, Flower arranging, Hearing dogs, Travel talks by Walter Blaney, Trues Yard and the Northend by Paul Richards, and Josephine Reynolds (the first firewoman).

There was also a display at the opening of the new Village Centre in 2019, featuring Dersingham WI and a second display featuring the end of WWI, showing the names and pictures of the villagers named on the War Memorial.
Our Birthday Party in 2019 was the theme of the 60s, with food of the time – Vol au vents and Black Forest Gateau with Babycham to drink.

As this year was the Centenary of the Norfolk Federation, members attended various celebrations including a service in Norwich and another locally at St Margaret’s Church in King's Lynn.

A visit to the Sandringham Stud was another successful outing.  

The Dining Group continued to flourish and a new “Ballet Class” for members was started by Peg.

During the year members had been asked to write a short story about their childhood.  Thirty Seven member’s submitted stories which were then bound into a book entitled “Dersingham Evening WI”- “Memories” which was a great success.

The year ended with a Christmas Party for members with entertainment by the Village Handbell Ringers.
2020 would turn out to be a very different year.

The year started with the usual Coffee Mornings, Dining Groups, Craft, 10 Pin Bowling & Theatre Visits.  With a talk on Growing up in Jamaica and participation in a “Bollywood Evening”

Arrangements were made for future events and outings during the year, and VE Day Celebrations were discussed.

However, things were to come to an abrupt end around the middle of March due to the Coronavirus, when all events and meetings were cancelled.  The WI Meeting due on 18th March was only the second time a meeting has had to be cancelled in Dersingham Evening WI’s 58 year history.

Due to the hard work of the current President, Secretary, Treasurer and Committee, steps have been put in place to keep in touch with members by delivering or Emailing a Monthly Newsletter with advice on free deliveries of food, a list of members willing to shop or help elderly members, up-to-date information on the future of the WI over the next few months, cancelled events and information on scams that people need to be made aware of, together with a list of telephone numbers in case of emergency.
Also to help with the boredom of staying at home, a monthly quiz, a story written by members and other interesting articles and puzzles are added to help pass the time.  

The monthly raffle has continued, held remotely, with prizes being delivered to the winners homes.

So the principles of the WI continues, to enjoy friendship, to learn, to widen  horizons, and together to influence local, national and international affairs, at the same time taking care of the members in times of crisis.

It would not be feasible to name all the Presidents, Secretary’s and Treasurers, together with the Committee Members for the past 58 years but they have all done a terrific job, with their dedication and hard work, without which the WI would cease to exist.

On behalf of present and past members I would like to thank them all with the hope that things will return to normal later in the year when we can all get together again.

Here follows some additional scrapbook photos: