100 years of the WI: Much more than jam and Jerusalem

Domestic violence may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Women’s Institute.

Ladies from the Appleton le Moors branch of the Womens Institute, which is celebrating its centenary this year. Pictured are Heather Fox, Julie Gainford, Carolyn Frank and Christine Field. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Jam and Jerusalem yes; Calendar Girls yes; but not housewives being beaten and especially not in the quiet North York Moors village of Appleton le Moors.

I’m not aware of such an instance having actually taken place but the ladies of this venerable organisation in this small rural community are eager to point out the relevance of the federation that celebrates its centenary this year.

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“Just because we live in a nice rural area does not mean things like that can’t happen here,” said Carolyn Frank, current president of Appleton le Moors WI. “You never know what’s going on behind closed doors and one of the WI’s mandates is to protect against that. The Federation held a day about domestic violence and some of the stories from around our area were both shocking and unbelievable.”

The ladies of Appleton le Moors WI in 1967

“We’ve also had courses on hidden crimes, all about the grooming of children over the Internet; and a visit to the Sanger Institute in Cambridge to learn about genetics and DNA,” said Christine Field a member of Appleton le Moors but also former chairman of the North Yorks East Federation.

When the ladies met last month in Appleton le Moors Village Hall it was for an evening of willow wreath making, something much more in line with the stereotypical image, but Carolyn feels that the organisation scores heavily in the variety it provides.

“The WI is the original social network and I feel it’s as relevant today as it was 100 years ago,” she said. “I think it has adapted to modern women yet at the same time when we look back in our archives some of the things our predecessors did are the same as what we are doing now. The core ethos is still about friendship and the education of women.

“We have the minutes from that very first meeting of Appleton le Moors WI held in the library of Appleton Hall on Monday October 10, 1927, when our president was then Miss Shepherd. It felt like those ladies who had been there at the beginning of our institute were there with us in the room.”

Ladies from the Appleton le Moors branch of the Womens Institute which is celebrating its centenary this year. Pictured are Caroline Frank, Heather Fox, Julie Gainford, and Christine Field. 16 March 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Heather Fox, who doesn’t mind giving her age as 87, joined the WI when she was 16. She recalls Miss Shepherd and Appleton le Moors WI’s involvement with food during WWII.

She said: “Miss Shepherd was president when I joined and eventually I became secretary. Through the war we used to get a delivery of VOM (Vale of Mowbray) sausages and pork pies and I used to deliver them in twos and threes to houses in the village. Food was rationed then but we got this as extra for farm workers.”

If Heather counts as the institute’s oldest member then Julie Gainford is one of the newest. She and two others have joined this year and a chance remark about using Heather’s piano for a photo shoot, combined with the revelation to the assembled throng that she can indeed play could see Julie’s first role with the organisation being leading the way with Jerusalem.

“I have come as a guest a few times over the past two years to evenings that have included local caves in Kirkdale; theatre trips; a talk on defibrillators; and an evening devoted to puddings through the years where belts definitely had to be opened a notch or two,” said Julie as Carolyn chips in that that’s how they reel them in!

Christine tells of Appleton le Moors WI’s winning mentality and how it manifests itself when ‘the team’ finds itself up against rival institutes. This is said with a chuckle but you get the feeling there’s more than a little truth behind it. “We are tremendously competitive,” she said. “The Ryedale Show brings out the best and worst in all of us. We enter all the classes and we stand there defying anybody to beat us!

“The words ‘fun and togetherness’ might seem a bit trite but if you’d also seen us the other night making willow wreaths the place was packed and it was such a good atmosphere. In a country area you can sometimes be short of that.”


Appleton le Moors Women’s Institute’s motto this year is ‘100 Years of Inspiration’. Previous mottos have included ‘Effort today becomes success tomorrow’ and ‘Links of gold may dull and sever but links of friendship last forever’.

The WI has always campaigned to raise awareness of issues. In recent times these have included domestic violence, obesity, more midwives, Alzheimer’s and currently organ donation.

The WI has its own Twitter account and each week during the centenary year one of the WIs is taking control of it. From Sunday (tomorrow) it will be the turn of Appleton le Moors WI. The Twitter account is @womenofthewi

Appleton le Moors WI meets in the village hall on the fourth Wednesday each month.