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Written By Pauline Day.


The Women's Institute is the largest voluntary women's organisation in the UK. Truth, justice, tolerance and fellowship are the ideals set out at its birth in 1915. It exists to educate women enabling them to provide an effective role in the community, expand their horizons and to develop and pass on important skills. The WI has a reputation as a voice of reason and integrity on issues that matter to women and their communities and campaigns on a wide range of social and justice issues concerning them at home and abroad. Not always to its advantage the WI has had a 'Jam and Jerusalem' image placed upon it in recent times and Jerusalem is sung on special occasions. The WI does believe in England's green and pleasant land and that more should be done to preserve it and Jam made representing all the practical things that are done and passed on.

The first WI in Britain was formed in Angelsey in 1915 by 1917 the county federations were set up and in 1919 a branch was opened in Sible Hedingham being part of the Essex Federation. A meeting was held in the Assembly rooms in February 1919 to form the group when 36 ladies gave their names as members and a committee was formed with Miss Sparrow of Rookwoods elected as President. The first meeting was held in March 1919 with over 60 present. The speaker was unable to attend owing to illness and Miss Sparrow kindly gave an informative demonstration on slipper making. There was a short entertainment and tea was served. The format of this meeting still continues today. The minute books show that in 1925 all members were asked to pay 1d.for a bun and a cup of tea and during the 1920's the meetings moved from the Assembly rooms to the Y.M.C.A. hut which had been erected in Alexandra road and had better facilities.

In 1932 a hired car transported four members to a County meeting in Chelmsford at the cost of £1.00.

In 1939 the WI was asked if they would look after children in the event of war. There were now 100 members, money was sent for 'Soldier's comforts' and rationing was imminent. In 1940 a notice came from the food office regarding sugar for jam making and members ration books were stamped Sible Hedingham WI. In 1941 there were 63 members and a fruit preservation centre was set up at the 'New Secondary school' when 190 lbs. of jam were made in the first week. In total over 2000 lbs. of jams and chutneys were produced there.

A children's party was cancelled because of the war situation and each child received a 6d.savings stamp instead. Jumble sales, bazaars and a market stall were held raising money for war efforts. In 1943 a Lemon was given to the WI and put into a mystery parcel competition. This raised £1.8.6d.for social aid to China. In 1944 old people were entertained at the Secondary school using some of the contents of food parcels from abroad. When war ended food was still rationed, a tin of honey from Australia was raffled in 1946 and in 1947 each member had a food parcel from America and the elderly were entertained at a tea party with the remainder. This set a precedent for tea parties that were held annually for the next 50 years. Activities continued over the years including county and local craft shows, entering a float and helping with Hedingham Carnival which raised money for a new village hall where the meetings were held when the old Y.M.C.A. hut was demolished. A variety of charities have been supported one being the Sue Ryder Foundation for which 210 knitted and crochet blankets and 130 jerseys were made for distribution in Eastern Europe.

Prior to the circulation, when Decimal currency was introduced a group of members were invited to try out the new money at Sainsbury's Decimal training store in Croyden.

The WI continued meeting and in 1968 it saw the need for a second WI in the village that could cater for women who worked and mothers who could not attend an afternoon meeting. The Sible Hedingham Evening WI was thus opened. The two continued until 1994 when the afternoon meeting closed and the two groups amalgamated dropping the word   'Evening' from their title.

Meetings are held on the third Monday of each month in the Baptist Churchl at 7.45 pm. Talks and Demonstrations on a wide range of subjects are given, refreshments served, social time and various competitions and outings held. The W.I. along with three other local village W.I.'s is in the Castle Group and together they hold an annual meeting and a Carol service and join each other's meetings from time to time. As part of the Essex Federation members can also attend county meetings in various venues around the county and join in county organised outings and workshops. Each member receives a monthly County newsletter and a copy of the National Magazine eight times a year.

Visitors and new members are always welcome details of the meetings are advertised on posters and on the village notice boards.    


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