Cley Women’s Institute: Then and Now

Cley-next-the-Sea Women’s Institute – Founded 1919

There have been enormous changes in Cley since 1919, changes which have had a profound effect on the character of our WI, and the pace of change seems to have accelerated during the past 30 years. Our recently rediscovered WI Diary of 1978 reveals just how great the change has been. In 1978, Cley had just over 310 dwellings, almost 300 of which were occupied throughout the year; there were over 110 children between 5 and 15 years, a school, a youth and a children’s club; 2 grocers, a butcher’s, a fish shop, hairdressers, shoe repairers, post office, and garage served the village and there were 4 pubs. The village was the heart of a thriving community, the hub of family social life, and Cley WI was an active part of this.

The picture in 2010 is very different. Nearly 200 houses are second homes; there are fewer than 20 children; no school, no youth club; most of the shops, post office, and the garage have closed; and Cley has become a retirement centre with a disproportionate number of elderly. There is still a strong sense of community but fewer village events. Social life is more diffuse, less centered in the village and this situation, which is repeated elsewhere in Norfolk, is reflected in the activities of the WI.

In 1978 there were 64 members, 61 from Cley, and one of the other three had grown up in Cley and still had her business there. All the members had an interest in the well-being of Cley and were involved in many village affairs. In 2009 we had 40 members from 8 different villages and towns, spread across North Norfolk from Fakenham to Sheringham. The distribution has resulted in a dilution of our involvement in Cley. Members tend to concentrate their voluntary work in their own village or town. There are few projects which involve us all. This is very different from 1978. Then there was a “great project” which for just over a year was part of the activities of Cley WI.
Cley WI and the Village 1978The “Great Project”

An extract from our Diary of 1978:-
“The WI made the Memorial Hall Kitchen its special project and during the year great activity was seen among members. There were several very well attended coffee mornings leading up to a “Croquet Afternoon” in late August in the sheltered garden of the Custom House watched over by the tall tower of the Mill, much enjoyed by the members. Some 250 cups of tea and coffee were consumed all in the good cause. The total handed over amounted to £531. This included £25 from our Annual Sale and a generous donation from a member”.

The sum was later augmented by an auction organized by a member. Everyone combed their attics for treasures and a magnificent sum of £2000 was raised.


Help for Wisbech following the flood of that year

An extract from our Diary:-
“When them pore Wisbeach people got flooded, we all felt wery sorry, come we know what it felt like when we all got flooded in 1953, so us members put our heads together and decided to hey a Beetle Drive to help ’em …We set to work – posters were maird, people made cairks and all sorts of refreshments and give raffles and all Well bor, we had some fun, – forty on us plaird, not all from the WI. The game is that you hata holler as soon as you get a beetle and, do you know, that Mrs Rowe, who carnt say boo to goose, well she did kick up a shindy. A small boy from the villages won and when we counted up the money we had maird £54 which is very good”.

Cley Youth Club

Two members of Cley WI were club leaders and many more were involved in the Club’s activities

An extract from our Diary:-
“The Youth Club gave a New Year Party for the Senior Citizens and it went off very well. Two of our members did a sketch with their bucket (the mind boggles!); another a sketch from Pan Ayres diary; and Mrs Rowe (see above) told some odd odes. Maggie played the piano accordion and all the guests said what a lovely time they had”.

The Glaven District Caring Committee

This was started in 1974 to help the elderly in Blakeney and the surrounding villages. There is a paid cook but everything else from working in the dining room and kitchen to transport is done by volunteers who work on a rota. In 1978 Cley had 30 volunteers, 15 of whom were from Cley WI. The GDCC also trains voluntary helpers who work under the supervision of the District Nurse, providing baths, physiotherapy and chiropody. In 1978 Cley had 7 nursing helpers, all from the WI. This is one project which still unites us all as members from all the villages are served by the Glaven Centre, although some, who were helpers in 1978, including the Treasurer, are now “customers”.

Cley WI and the Village – 2010

All we have done recently is to vote to donate £250 from funds toward the cost of a new boiler for the Memorial Hall, although we have agreed this year, to have a stall at the annual village St Margaret’s Fair.

 

Cley WI and Social Activities

In 2010 our activities are confined to our meetings and outings. The meetings are eagerly anticipated and well attended. Only illness or holidays keep our members away. The programmes of recent years have been varied, enthralling, informative and enjoyable. Last year, we celebrated our 90th anniversary with a lunch, attended by officers from the Norfolk Federation and members from other Institutes, a birthday strawberry tea, and a visit to Pensthorpe. But we do nothing else. In 1978 the situation was very different as can be seen below.

Social Activities in 1978

The Drama Group provided the entertainment at the Christmas meeting and repeated it elsewhere. They clearly had lots of fun, produced the most wonderful costumes and entertained the members right royally.

The Knitting Group knitted knee rugs for the elderly in Cley. An extract from our Diary:

“I sing of a square that is blamelessly square
Six by six inches each way,
But such a square is sometimes rare
In this ancient village of Cley.
How can it be, in this modern age
We decline to measure with rule or gauge
But trust to luck and our beady eyes?
So then we find to our surprise
That, like their makers, our little squares
Are in-di-vid-u-als.
But sew with pucker and sew with pull
In the end the blanket will be fine and full,
Not Bond St. Perhaps, but not so bad
With no surrender to machine-age fad “

The excellent Choir, over 20 strong, performed at the Summer Music Concerts in Cley Village Church, gave concerts in other villages, entertained members and took part in the NFWI Festival Carol Service in Norwich Cathedral. Their achievement seems even greater when you realise that they had no piano in the hall, but had to depend on a piano accordion for rehearsals.

One member, Mary Norwak, ran a Cordon Bleu Cookery Course attended by 6 members and one husband! The families remember, even now, how delicious the food was!

The whole Institute was involved in the NFWI Pageant at the Norfolk Show, either as participants or as spectators. Everyone enjoyed it even when the heavens opened on the second day and they were drenched. Extract from our Diary: “And then when we sang Jerusalem it came down even harder How we did laugh when we got back to our changing tent. We looked like drowned rats….I felt better after a hot cup of tea, and I had a hot bath when I got home – besides, I think laughing keeps you warm inside. How glad I am that I went.”
There was also a “Sew’n Clars” meeting every fortnight. Much of the stuff they made was sold at the Annual Sale. Extract from the Diary: “ther’s about 12 on us, an as a rule, 8 or 10 cum, an bor, we don’t harf hev some fun! ”

But perhaps the most surprising group was the Darts Team. They played matches in all the local villages, and in 1978, won a notable victory against the Youth Club Team.

The Tide of Change
Cley WI has undoubtedly changed since 1919, since 1978. We are more widely dispersed; we play a smaller role in the life of Cley village; we are, by and large, older; less active and more staid. The Diary of 1978 shows just how much laughter there was, just how much fun.

But have we advanced?
We are not sure. We can do more certainly. Most of us can use computers, surf the interne, send emails, use a mobile phone, drive, shop in supermarkets. We are less formal and address each other by our Christian names. But these are inessentials. Have we as a WI really advanced deep down?

A suggestion, made last year by a member, that we should leave the WI revealed just how committed Cley WI is to the ideals of the WI movement. We want to learn more, work for the good of our community, forge friendships within our Institute and beyond. We are proud to belong to an organization which has such a standing in the country and which works tirelessly for the well-being of women here and throughout the world. Perhaps we should have changed more, advanced more. Perhaps we should offer new opportunities to our members. Perhaps we should try and recapture some of the fun of 1978. But perhaps we have advanced more than we realise.

It seems that one of the virtues of the WI movement is that it can adjust imperceptibly to changes in the world, fulfilling the needs of women in each generation, envolving so smoothly that few of us are aware of the changes, and so satisfactorily that advances do not have to be imposed. They just happen!

We may not do as much and have less fun than in previous years, but our buoyant membership suggest that Cley WI still fulfils the needs of its local women. We enjoy the meetings, the talks, the teas, the opportunities for meeting our friends and we value our links with the NFWI and the National Federation. In fact, we seem very like the women, indeed some of us are the same women, who wrote in the introduction to the Diary:

“The drawing on the opposite page shows a carved poppy-head in the nave of Cley Church. The subject is unusual. Could it be a representation of the original Old Woman of Cley? We shall never know. But her successors still inhabit the village: they care for the young and the old, they cook, they sew, they garden, they sing, they play, they laugh, they take a keen interest in their neighbours and the wider world – and, of course, they belong to Cley WI.”

They even wear the same “native dress!”