Friday, 06 August 2021

WI Roundup


ON a beautiful, if cold, January day, our president Val welcomed us to the first meeting of 2017.

After wishing us all a “Happy New Year”, she drew our attention to a large bring and buy table which was raising money for Denman College.

In the first half of the 20th century, Sir Richard Livingstone, the education guru of his time, advocated that education, and the opportunities it created, should continue throughout life.

This idea was enthusiastically taken up by the WI and in 1945, Lady Brunner of Greys Court, in her role as chairman of the WI college committee, bought Marcham Park, near Abingdon.

After a lot of hard work by every WI federation, Denman College, named after the retiring national chairman of the WI, opened in 1948.

Most of the women who came to the newly opened college had left school when they were young, some as young as 12 years old. They came from rural communities; many were farmer’s wives and for many it was their first time away from home.

Today, Denman offers day schools and residential courses in cookery, craft and lifestyle and it is woven into the warp and woof of the WI.

Two changed dates: the knit and natter club will now meet on Thursday, March 2 at 10.30am and the next lunch club will be at the Crown at Playhatch at midday on February 28.

Our speaker was Elizabeth Hazeldine, a local historian and author of many books about her beloved Henley.

Elizabeth was born and brought up in Henley and has never lived anywhere else: “Why would I?”

Her subject was the Henley traders of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the many breweries and 60-plus pubs, the tailors, silversmiths, umbrella makers and watchmakers, the agriculture and the land speculators and builders who changed the face of Henley.

She touched on the long history of education in Henley, from the Ragged School through the grammar schools to Gillotts and The Henley College.

Did you know that Henley was one of the first towns to convert to gas?

The talk was completely fascinating and the audience buzzed with questions, all of which Elizabeth answered from the width and breadth of her knowledge.

We even heard about the Henley ghost. There used to be a W H Smith shop where Maison Blanc is now, which had a reading room.

A young lady, dressed in 1940s clothes, was often seen there. Nobody knows why. I, for one, will now look at Henley through new eyes.

Elizabeth’s latest book is called The Wilful Murder of Kate Laura Dungey. It’s a Henley murder story which rivalled the London Ripper in its day. Our next meeting will be at Rotherfield Greys village hall on February 15 at 2.30pm. Our speaker will be Clive Williams and on the subject of “The Nabobs of Berkshire”.

Many merchants and soldiers employed by the East India Company in India made vast fortunes.

They were called “Nabobs”, an anglicised version of “nawab”, a Hindi word for deputy of a province in India. They were not popular and “nabob” gave rise to the word “snob”.

On retirement, most returned to England to live like a lord.

Berkshire had by far and away the greatest concentration of Nabobs in the UK, with 31 stately homes in Berkshire with Nabob associations. In the 18th century the county was known as the English Hindoostan.

This will be a fascinating talk with local interest. Come and join us — visitors are always welcome.

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