The ladies of Penallt did not plunge into the Women’s Institute movement. The Gwent Federation will soon be celebrating its seventieth birthday – and the Penallt Institute must be one of it younger members at just twenty-five. And when an Institute in the village was first considered, back in 1963, there were two preliminary meetings, in July and September, before the ladies decided to hold their first official meeting on October 10th 1963. The Beatles were probably in the pop music charts and President Kennedy had just five weeks to live.
At that auspicious first meeting Miss Jenkins was elected President and the committee members were Mrs Ballantyne, Mrs Boycott, Mrs Davies, Mrs Heales, Mrs Saunders, Mrs Spencer, Mrs Pugh and Mrs Wakeling. It’s a sign of the continuity in a village such as Penallt that members are still grateful for Mrs Pugh’s prize-winning preserves and that so many original members are still with us.
The 1980s have seen much official heart-searching on the part of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes: the movement is more than ‘Jam and Jerusalem’, they declare; we are ladies who will keep fit and become involved in public life and lobby on issues of national concern, and we can do more than you think! And the movement has undoubtedly changed over the years to accommodate the changing expectations of members. But reading the old minute book reminds one of the timelessness of the movement too.
Early speakers addressed the ladies of Penallt on matters such as decorating cakes and making Christmas decorations. There were films on New Zealand and slides of the Mediterranean – a distant part of the globe in those days, slightly before the package holiday boom took us all far afield and back again. The ‘illustrated talk on foundation garments through the ages’ sounds fun – did models strip to antique undies or were there just pictures to behold?
The Institute’s first outing was to Stratford in June 1964. A repeat of that trip was considered for their twenty-fifth birthday celebrations but in the end it was decided to spend an evening at the theatre in Bristol instead. Mrs Meredith was the Institute’s first delegate to the AGM in London, an honour which at least a dozen members have since enjoyed.
Apart from a great deal of cookery in the early days, the ladies of the Penallt Institute exercised themselves raising money for the swimming pool in Monmouth, urging that a telephone box be provided in Tregagle, and writing to the County Office to urge that at least one indoor toilet be provided in County Schools. One might now regard the new school at Trellech and reflect that we got the indoor toilets but lost our school. No gain without loss perhaps.
The early meetings were enlivened by items such as ‘Social Time’ and monthly competitions for things like ‘the most items in a match box’ (Mrs Craig managed 104) and ‘designing a Valentine card’ (Mrs Parker was the winning artist). Like the singing of ‘Jerusalem’, the competition has gone from the Institute meetings of the eighties. And there must be many a latter-day member who might envy Mrs Pennell who, at the February meeting in 1965, won the ballot for a ticket to a Buckingham Palace Party on May 31st. Mrs Spencer was her reserve and lo! The June minutes reveal that it was she who went.
The whole story of the WI in Penallt is one of friendly endeavour to enrich the lives of its members and, by extension, the village. Members, whose ages range from 20 to over 80, have raised funds for numerous charities and, in particular, supported a child in Kenya for three years. They have developed and displayed their talents in all manner of skills from public speaking to painting, floristry to embroidery and every conceivable branch of the cook’s art. They have entered competitions personally and collectively with a high degree of success. Mrs Moriarty won the prestigious Denman Cup for our Institute with her writing skills. Members have served on County committees with distinction. They have entertained the village with open meetings of general interest and celebratory events such as the ‘Ham and Hock’ variations of the ‘Wine and Cheese’ theme. They have looked at their own skills and improved them, and they have opened their eyes to the wider world available to them beyond the lovely hills which fill Penallt’s horizons.
As the members, both past and present, joined together in 1988 to celebrate their Institute’s twenty-first birthday in the same spirit of adventure and optimism which has characterised their formative years.
[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]