Village Women's Institute celebrates 100 years of community life

Current members of Wheathampstead WI celebrate the institute's centenary.

Current members of Wheathampstead WI celebrate the institute's centenary. - Credit: Wheathampstead WI

The village of Wheathampstead has changed dramatically over the past century, but one institution has remained very much at the heart of community life over the decades - the WI.

Formed in 1921, Wheathampstead Women's Institute still meets on the second Wednesday of the month at the Mead Hall in the centre of the village.

The land on which the hall stands had been owned by the Admiral of the Fleet, Walter Talbot Kerr, since 1907, and was conveyed to William Beach Thomas on September 26 1919, before being handed over to the WI in 1932, with the first bricks laid for the Mead Hall on March 16.

It was administered by a committee of trustees, including Sir William, Messrs Paterson, Cobb, and Cory-Wright, with the condition of the gift that the constitution and rules of the National Federation of Women’s Institute were strictly adhered to. These were, fundamentally, to improve and develop conditions of rural life, with specific interest to the needs of women.

The foundations and laid for the building of the Mead Hall.

The foundations and laid for the building of the Mead Hall. - Credit: Wheathampstead WI

Records show that Lady Beach Thomas, Annie Cobb, and Peggy Cory-Wright were all part of the Women’s Institute during those early years. 

The Mead Hall was used by the War Department in 1942, as a Nursery School in 1963, and for many other “social, recreational and educational purposes” just as Sir Thomas requested. To date this is still the case, and the WI manages the hall for the local community and hires it out for different events.

The hall has undergone many changes over the years to keep in line current regulations, such as in 2019 when it was clad in UPVC to ensure the building lasts for future generations. 

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The Women’s Institute has evolved over the years but is still a place where women are able to come together and be a part of something.

Its activities have also changed. Records for 1936 mention a picnic at No-man’s-land and the need to mend the chairs with some material. A meeting in 1939 discussed allowing evacuees to use the hall for entertainment, and the next years aw talk about growing more food and making blackout curtains.

The hall was requisitioned by the army in 1941, with the piano left "for the use of the troops", and Land Girls were invited to meetings from 1942.

As the war came to an end in 1945 there were discussions on how the institute could “welcome back women from the services, it was hoped that those returning may join us and bring along useful suggestions from experiences of companionship they have found in the forces”. 

Wheathampstead WI meets in the Mead Hall in the village.

Wheathampstead WI meets in the Mead Hall in the village. - Credit: Wheathampstead WI

Since the war the institute has continued to change and activities have included regular performances/pantomimes put on by the members, car boot sales, and fundraising tables at village events including school fun day, outings, fashion shows.

Prior to March 2020 when the Covid pandemic hit it was arranging theatre trips, coffee mornings, social afternoons, craft events and afternoon teas. 

Secretary Karen Benomran said: "The past 18 months have been a trial for everyone, but in true Women’s Institute style we have pulled together and made sure that our members were regularly contacted, Zoom meetings were arranged and when possible, we had some socially distanced outside events.

"We have ensured that no one felt alone, and we have come back stronger for it, with our 100th birthday a fitting tribute to a very hard time."

WI members celebrated the centenary in style at the Aldwickbury Golf Club with a sit-down meal. 

If anyone is interested in joining the Wheathampstead Women’s Institute, contact them on wheathampsteadwi@outlook.com. 

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