Website of the Laceby History Group

Laceby Women's Institute

LACEBY W.I. 1928/9 - 1989

The Laceby Women's Institute was founded in 1928/9 under the Presidency of Mrs. (Granny) Phillips of Austin Garth, Laceby. She had been interested in the fact that Great Coates were running a successful monthly countrywomen's meeting and thought there was potential for such a scheme in Laceby.

Nationally, the movement had started in Wales in 1915 from a Canadian idea. At first it spread slowly in this area then through the influence of the Lindsey (part of Lincolnshire) Women's War Agricultural Committee, W.I.'s increased from 27 in 1920 to a peak of 195 in 1962.

What attracted countrywomen to the W .I.? Well, in the written constitution published in 1945 it states the object and main purpose of the W .1. movement is to improve and develop conditions of rural life, to provide for the fuller education of countrywomen in citizenship, in public questions both national and international, in music and drama; also to secure instruction and training in all branches of agriculture, handicrafts, domestic Science, health and social welfare.

Which alert countrywoman wouldn't be attracted by such aims and opportunities for the price of 2/- per year. All countrywomen were eligible for membership no matter what their station in life or their views on religion or politics.

Up to press no written record has come to light of the early years of Laceby W.I. but fortunately a secretary's minute book from the war years has survived, with details of their afternoon meetings, members and activities.

One early photograph, dated 1938 also survived along with the minute book, of a Gypsy Fair that was held at Bayon's Manor, Tealby, Lincolnshire.

 After the gay abandon at Bayon's Manor, the Laceby W.I. had to knuckle down to helping the war effort by holding whist drives, knitting comforts for soldiers including the British Legion 'Support the Soldier Week', raising money for hospitals, generally making do and mending. Their monthly competitions reflected the make do and mend attitude which was a woman's way of life during the war: a collar out of newspaper, a string bag, an apron out of pieces of material and one which must have been included to raise the spirits and provide a bit of a giggle - whistling a tune!.

Mrs. Stanley, the Laceby president during the war years organised her members into an army of knitters who produced warm shawls for the women refugees forced by war to roam Europe. Getting the most out of it before the shawls were despatched, our ladies organised a "Shawl Parade" at an annual council meeting on April 21st, 1944 thereby gaining publicity and hopefully more support for the cause.

Other wartime activities which kept their spirits up included making jam of course and selling it, learning how to cure the easily available rabbit skins (rabbits were off ration) and make them into gauntlet gloves, also bottling and canning the countryside fruit. In one session 400 cans of fruit were processed and labelled then stored in their larders against the inevitable shortages they and their families endured. Tins of fruit were a luxury item rarely to be found in shops in the war: not only did they cost money but valuable 'points' too. So the economical ways of our Laceby W.I. ladies provided their children with a little luxury. A list written in the minute book gives the names of those stalwart wartime W.I. members:

          • Mrs. Stanley
          • Mrs. Ladlow
          • Mrs. Holland
          • Mrs. Turner
          • Mrs. Sowerby, Snr.
          • Mrs. Lowe
          • Mrs. Sowerby, Jnr.
          • Mrs. Dickenson
          • Mrs. Jones
          • Mrs. Stevenson
          • Mrs. Blow
          • Miss Steele
          • Mrs. Turnell
          • Mrs. Curtis
          • Mrs. France
          • Mrs. Pinchbeck etc.

As things became a little less restricted after the war, the canning and frantic money-raising efforts gave way to an education programme. Classes were organised to learn leatherwork of all kinds including gloves (with quirks!), shopping bags, handbags and purses, under the National Federation of Women's Institute's grant aided Guild of Learners scheme. Slippers, rope-soled sandals, hats, rugs, cushions and even walking shoes were produced. They attended demonstrations and showed their work at exhibitions at Riby, Great Coates, Habrough, New Waltham, Louth, Caistor, Lincoln and as far as Nottingham. They were awarded points for their work, won savings stamps and on the strength of all this experience took and passed advanced leatherwork exams.

Eagerness and enthusiasm abounded in Laceby W.I. just after the war. They despatched delegates to conferences at Louth, Caistor, Lincoln and ultimately the Royal Albert Hall in London, enjoying their newfound freedom. But it was all such a lot of effort carrying their exhibits around on trains, buses and bikes, as not one member could drive or had access to a car. Speakers had to be met off buses and seen back on to them, whether or not they'd managed to get a cup of tea after their talk or demonstration - when the Grimsby or Caistor bus went, they had to be on it!.

Eventually things quietened down a bit. Membership was 20 in 1944 and had reached 64 by 1947 but began to decline a bit as the education classes were completed. Not content with a quiet life they formed a choir and began not only to sing for pleasure but as entertainment for others. They rehearsed at each others houses and put on shows and concerts in the Church Hall and Temperance Hall playing to full houses. The money was used for expenses and the minimum of bought props and donations to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, with a continuing support for their own Denman College which they had first started supporting in 1947.

By the early 1950's a full Drama Group had been formed and began to put on one-act plays. Difficulties of production were experienced in their usual meeting place at the Church Hall as there was no stage. Then, luckily, the Trustees of the Temperance Hall, which had a stage, offered them the tenancy. They moved in and the Drama Group went from strength to strength. Miss W. Steele and Mrs. D. Holland, who herself had been a Caxton Player for 10 years, produced their 20 or so members in one-act and three-act plays. Husbands helped with lighting, spotlights, scenery, voices off and the occasional male character.

Once again life was hectic in the W.I. The Temperance Hall needed making into a 'home' which took a lot of time and money, rehearsals for drama competitions and festivals and then the performances filled all the time available. Professional coaching from Hull Adult Education was received as a final polish. They performed at other Institutes including Holton-le-Clay, Waltham and Stallingborough also in Grimsby. They were hard working, fun loving, dedicated and talented. Their efforts were often rewarded by success culminating in winning a prestigious shield against strong opposition.

The Drama Group lasted until 1979 and from then on their main effort was in keeping the Temperance Hall warm and weatherproof. By 1985, after a hard try, they decided the task was too great and in December of that year the new venue of their monthly Wednesday meeting was the Stanford School.

Many events shine out in the long history of Laceby W.I. The sedate garden parties on Mrs. Phillips' lawn down Austin Garth; Mrs. J. Rudd going as a representative to Buckingham Palace and wearing a warm vest under her frothy blue outfit in 1956; a local 'This is Your Life' surprise for President Dora Everitt in about 1964; the Bradford outing bus which kept breaking down and getting lost; the Australian bulbs planted in Laceby round-about, presumably Australia was where they flowered as the enthusiastic grass cutting council certainly prevented them from flowering in Laceby and many more little, big, funny, sad moments have combined to make a full, long and worthwhile story to be told.

In 1989 they celebrated their 60th birthday and Mrs. Eileen Welton cut a celebration cake. Laceby Women's Institute has much to celebrate in their past achievements. With subscriptions going up to £7.50 they are passing through a quiet period. But in Laceby W.I. quiet periods come and go!

by Brenda Anderson