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The Women's Institute

Charabanc trips and the outside world

Trips away from Elsfield were a regular event held in the summer months. In 1924, Windsor, Wembley or a trip to the seaside were mooted, and weekly payments were collected by Miss Parsons to spread the cost of the outing. A charabanc was booked regularly to take members to the Oxford Handicrafts Exhibition. In July 1925, they set off at 7am by charabanc for London Zoo, the tickets for which had been donated by Mrs Buchan, and two years later their annual trip, organised for Tuesday 28th July, was to Bournemouth, at a cost of 11 shillings return.

Another interesting feature of the speakers they brought to their meetings was the speed with which commercial organisations sought to advertise their products via the WI. By the late twenties they had begun to visit places such as Lyons Tea factory and the Rowntree Factory in Birmingham, while also inviting speakers from Brown and Poulson, Singers sewing machines, Sutton’s Nursery and Heinz.

Once a month, a letter arrived from head office, suggesting topics for discussion and asking for members’ views on a variety of issues. This gave the branch an insight into ideas circulating in other areas of the country and raised awareness of social problems in the wider world.

In 1919, the branch decided that in view of ‘the great distress in Central Europe’ they should support the Save the Children Fund by donating any spare funds they might have. They also spent 30 shillings on wool to knit at their monthly meetings to make money for the Radcliffe Infirmary and other worthy causes.

In 1924, Headington WI asked Elsfield to be waitresses at the Wingfield Hospital Fete in July, and no doubt they performed their duties admirably. They were less supportive when Headington again approached them for support the following year. Headington WI wanted Elsfield to second their resolution (presumably to the County organisation) on 'rapid motor driving'. Elsfield WI felt that it would be better for Headington to ask another branch which was 'situated in a more populaced thoroughfare'. With a herd of cows going back and forth along the road in Elsfield twice a day to be milked, mud and cow muck would have been more of a hazard than fast moving vehicles! The Oxford Federation of Women’s Institutes’ resolution was ‘The Destruction of the Countryside’. They were concerned about waste paper, the picking of wildflowers and the shutting of gates.

In January 1929, they were looking for ways to help the miners and their families and sent a subscription to the Miners’ Fund. (The Distressed Miners’ Fund, established by the government to relieve extreme poverty in mining communities where the men were out of work.) In 1930, in the grip of the economic depression, the Prime Minister sent a message to every WI to ask them to buy British.

Elsfield also expressed the wish to have a lady doctor at the Radcliffe Infirmary. The Radcliffe was trying to raise money to build an extension and a speaker from the Infirmary came to give details of the needs of the Infirmary. The target for the village was set at £30, a lot of money, but it was pointed out that over the last 9 years 26 people from Elsfield had been in-patients and 54 had attended the hospital as out-patients, so the people of Elsfield had need of the services the hospital offered.

By the late 1930s, foreshadowing the Welfare State which was brought in by the Labour Government after World War Two, there were increasingly clear expectations that the state should provide a different level of support for rural communities. By 1937, they were lobbying for cheap milk for expectant mothers and young children, for police to be stationed in villages and for there to be a telephone in every village.

When the Buchans, now ennobled, went to Canada in 1935, Elsfield still maintained links to the aristocracy through Lady Askwith[2], who had become a member of Elsfield WI in 1935. In 1937, she gave a talk about Windsor and displayed her coronation robes. She also allowed members to try on her coronet, and villagers were surprised by the weight and the smallness of it.

[2] This is probably Lady Cynthia Asquith, who was married to Herbert Asquith’s second son, Herbert. (The eldest son, Raymond, a friend of John Buchan’s at Oxford had been killed in the war.) She was a writer of ghost stories and diaries.
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