The Long Read: 100 years of the Steeple Aston WI

The current committee: Julie Hillier, Angie Allen, Priscilla Lange, Mary Rushworth (vice president), Merrill Bayley (president), Janice Kinory (secretary), Linda Needle (treasurer), Catherine Crook and Pauline Brock
The current committee: Julie Hillier, Angie Allen, Priscilla Lange, Mary Rushworth (vice president), Merrill Bayley (president), Janice Kinory (secretary), Linda Needle (treasurer), Catherine Crook and Pauline Brock

There will be a range of events during 2018 to mark 100 years since the final actions and then the end of the First World War.

But there are other, quite different centenaries being marked as the year goes on.

One from the photo albums... members pictured in 1964

One from the photo albums... members pictured in 1964

Next month will see Steeple Aston reflect on its own history when members of the village’s Women’s Institute celebrate 100 years since the formation of the branch, which can claim to be the oldest still in existence in Oxfordshire.

The earliest document it holds shows the idea first stirred in 1917, when Mrs Vincent of Cedar Lodge called a meeting of the women in the village and told them of a new society called The Women’s Institute which had started in Anglesey, in 1915.

The document adds: “The next meeting was postponed till March 1918 so as to get speakers to get a start and explain the working of the WI.”

Miss LG Worrell took the minutes of the first documented meeting held on March 21, 1918 and she became the first president.

The records of the Oxfordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes confirms this with an entry saying: ‘Steeple Aston WI – formed in March 1951’, the federation not being formed until 1919.

The minutes provide a vital record of the branch’s history and there are only a few gaps during the Second World War.

Current president Merrill Bayley said: “We have a large collection of minutes and memory books.

“The latter are beautifully covered with embroidery work created by various members over many years.

“These memory books hold souvenirs and photographs taken at events and meetings with various snippets of descriptive notes beside them,

“We are continuing to compile these books, one per year and now have an archive sub-committee who have combed through all the old memory books, re-hinging and rebinding as necessary using acid-free paper to ensure preservation, for perhaps the next 100 years?”

The current upholders of the Steeple Aston WI tradition range in age from 40 to 90.

The branch has 36 members and is run by a committee, pictured above.

The members have been contributing to a centenary fund for several years and for the past two years a sub-committee has steered the preparation and planning for this landmark year.

There is a special programme of activities and speakers lined up for the months ahead, including a surprise outing for June.

Invitations have also been sent out to members and guests for a centenary dinner in the village hall next month.

As the current WI members have prepared for this year’s celebrations they have spent time dwelling on the thought, never mind what the Romans did for Britain, what did Steeple Aston WI do for the village?

During the Second World war the WI organised 
the ladies of the WI to make-do and mend and collect vegetables and fruit for pickling and preserving.

In order to do this, the Ministry of Food allocated the WI the extra sugar required. Members also knitted scarves and socks for the members of the armed forces overseas.

Since the war, the WI has undertaken a variety of projects within the village.

These have included, for example, presenting embroidered hassocks to the church, arranging to have a map of the village put up beside the bus stop on South Side and donating funds towards the replacement of the ancient sycamore in the churchyard.

Members also support many events inthe village such as running a stall at the village show, selling jams, pickles, cakes and bric-a-brac.

They present their Silver Jubilee Cup and Coronation Bowl for both the spring and autumn 
shows. They also arranged for the planting of a tree on South Side with an accompanying plaque to commemorate the millennium, as well as lobbying for and part funding better lighting outside the village hall.

To the future, Merrill, the current president, said: “The WI motto is ‘Inspiring Women’. To this end we strive to enlighten, educate and usually entertain our members, to make new friends and connections through the wider WI community.

“In keeping with new technologies we are embracing new methods of communication including Facebook and own page 
on the Steeple Aston 
website.

“We continue to encourage all of our members to reach their own potential through the Steeple Aston Women’s Institute,”she added.