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A Short History of our Branch  1921/45 

by Cathy Matthews

As you can see from the list of officers shown here, Mrs Vera Vaughan Yonge was President from the time our WI was founded on 8th February 1921 until the end of the Second World War, which is why I chose to start with this period.

 I looked up Vera Vaughan (nee Holberton – with an R according to my sources) Yonge.  She married John Yonge in 1899.  He was officer in charge of Puslinch Voluntary Aided Hospital during WW I where she was matron from 1915-1916, after which she served in other hospitals until the end of the war. They had no children and John 

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died in 1946.


The first meeting took place in Wycherley (now Deloraine) on Yealm Road.  Subsequent meetings were held in Wycherley or in the School Room (presumably the one on Newton Hill in Bishops Court) until the WI Hall was built.

On the left is a letter taken from the first of a bundle of correspondence about the building of the hall.  It seems that planning permission was initially refused as there were problems with the sanitation – strategic location of a cess pit is mentioned. 

However, they must have been delighted to receive the letter below from the bank even though the new hall had obviously been confused with the Reading Room.  £600 is equivalent to about £60,000 today.

On 14 April 1926 the hall was officially opened.  It featured hanging petrol lamps for lighting, oil heaters for warmth and seating on benches, presumably not for comfort.  A Health and Safety officer would have spontaneously combusted!

Two things are reminiscent of the times: they put a pole across to keep the cattle out and they had a problem with emptying the lavatory buckets.

By 1927 the hall was being used by the community.  I can’t help wondering whether there were any complaints from the neighbours about the dances which apparently ended at 2am. I guess there weren’t any very close neighbours in those days, though.

There is evidence of fundraising events in the following years to pay off the building costs while the members were also supporting both local and national charities. 

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In 1929 there was a trip on the Kitley Belle which cost 6d (2½ p) and 6d for tea. 

This is what the membership card looked like in 1932….

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And on the inside .... looks familiar, doesn't it?

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In 1933 electric light was installed (Health and Safety Officers would have heaved a sigh of relief) and in 1935 central heating and a boiler room were added.  In 1936 the chimney blew down so the old fireplace was removed.  However, by 1939 home improvements were suspended and members began making blackout curtains; there is a note that in 1940 these had to be replaced with better ones and another which reads “no swill for pigs as all given for poultry.”  A period of austerity had begun.

From 1940 onwards the hall was used by the Home Guard – I can’t help wondering whether the Newton and Noss version of Captain Mainwaring had regular runs in with the President.  The men apparently arrived before the Keep Fit ladies had left

the cloakroom but it is not clear whether or not this was by design. 


The members were helping with the war effort by making things and by collecting items to send to the troops to “provide comfort”.  In 1942 they were presented with a Certificate of Honour for fundraising and in 1944 the 50 members were knitting for Occupied Europe.


Not all was sweetness and light, though.  There were complaints about noisy dances and illicit drinking (presumably of alcohol) in the gents’ toilet.  The two were probably not unconnected!

By 1945 members were beginning to turn their attention to making flags for victory.  There were 72 members by this time and an average attendance of 31 ladies per meeting.  For the first time our WI had a new President in Miss Howard.

I would love to know more about her!

With thanks to whoever extracted the interesting snippets from the minutes and put them in chronological order.

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