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The Women's Institute

The years 1920-1939

The Minutes of the Institute were meticulously kept and provide a wealth of detail about the events they organised and their concerns at that particular time.

Elsfield WI was extremely successful in its early years, perhaps due to the glamour associated with the wife of John Buchan, successful writer and politician, and glamorous in her own right as a member of the Grosvenor family. Not only was Susan Buchan generous with her money, giving prizes for competitions, tickets for events, and lifts in her car. She also had an endless supply of enthusiasm and belief in the organisation itself: its social role as well as its educational aspirations. She provided a venue for the yearly fete and a meeting room when other places failed. Until 1924, she sent or took notices of meetings to everyone, but by that time the branch had grown so much this was becoming a chore, so Mrs Clinkard sold twopenny notebooks to members so they could write down information about future meetings.

Her financial generosity was matched by Miss Parsons who, although suspicious at first of an organisation which appeared to ignore the social hierarchy of the village, and distrustful of Mrs Buchan as a newcomer, eventually became a whole-hearted supporter. She provided a venue for events and for competitions, giving practical prizes such as Brasso, tea, soap and tinned fish. Prizes for the Christmas Draw in 1930 were similarly practical: a boy’s woollen suit, half a ton of coal, a Christmas cake, a turkey, rabbits, a cockerel, plum pudding, bottle of wine, and cigarettes.

The vicar’s wife, Mrs Elkington, while unlikely to have had as much money as Mrs Buchan or Miss Parsons could provide support in other ways. In March 1921, the branch had decided to buy cups and saucers, because Mrs Elkington was lending hers and they thought they should have their own. Being careful with any money at their disposal, however, they postponed the purchase in order to see if prices came down. It was not till June, when they had £6-10-11d in hand that they bought their crockery: two large brown teapots, three dozen cups and saucers (white), three plates, four jugs for milk, six bread and butter plates and one dozen teaspoons. Miss Parsons agreed to enamel ‘W.I.’ on everything, which would save a lot of money while Mrs Buchan donated American cloth for the table.

The Women's Institute banner   The Women's Institute banner
The Women's Institute banner

Mrs Buchan offered to work on a banner and was helped in this task by Mrs Allam. This is now kept at the Oxfordshire County Museum Resource Centre at Standlake. It is made of blue brocade, about two feet by three feet and is embroidered with birds and trees. On the back is a label saying,  "The reason of this design is that Elsfield is a hill-top crowned with elm trees and with a rookery. The arms are those of Christ Church, the principal owners of the estate. The banner is the work of Mrs John Buchan and Mrs Herbert Allam".

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