A village Women’s Institute went back to its first meeting venue for a bittersweet afternoon.
A total of 50 people were invited to Mitford Hall for Mitford WI’s 90th birthday celebration last week. However, it was the final event for the ladies as dwindling numbers have led to its closure.
As well as the 10 remaining members, those in attendance included women from other WI groups – such as the one in Morpeth that was formed last year – and chairman of the Northumberland Federation of WIs, Hilary Robson.
Plenty of archive material could be viewed during the event. The group started at the hall before moving to the Mitford Vicarage in 1939. The meeting venue then moved to the Community Centre.
Mitford WI President Wendy Talkes gave a speech which covered activities and information of notable interest, including members in the early days of the group being part of a county trip to Ireland and back by train and ferry in a single day.
It ran a very successful drama group in the World War II years and members knitted items for the Armed Forces during this time, with one lady knitting a “very, very long scarf”.
Groups of soldiers were billeted to the hall and local residents were invited there on occasions when the chance arose for a social event to take place.
The group was in the spotlight when local resident Rhona Harris, a former President of Mitford WI, became the Northumberland Federation chairman.
In the 2000s decade, members put together a sketch for a big WI celebration event in Alnwick. Those who took to the stage played the part of Suffragettes, including Morpeth women’s rights campaigner Emily Wildling Davison.
The two oldest members of the group are Pat Elliott, who came out of retirement to take on the treasurer role when numbers dropped, and Irene Straughan.
Mrs Talkes said after the event: “It became increasingly difficult to keep going and when the numbers got so low, we didn’t have enough money to get decent speakers.
“I was hoping that we would have a batch of new members and someone else would become the President, so it’s very sad that the group has closed with me still in the role.
“We have struggled for a few years, but we were determined to reach our 90th anniversary and we’re delighted that everyone who came along to the former ballroom at Mitford Hall said they enjoyed the afternoon.
“Our thanks go to the hall’s owners (Shepherd Offshore). We really appreciate having the opportunity to stage the event at the place where it all began under the Presidency of Mrs Mitford.
“We’re well known for our catering – it’s our forte – and a number of groups used to come to Mitford if they were on an outing in Northumberland for tea, sandwiches and cakes. This meant that we were able to cope no problem with an event for 50 people.
“I was left with a bittersweet feeling.
“I have many happy memories of our activities over the years and formed many lasting friendships, so it’s a shame that we won’t be meeting up together so regularly.”