Category Archives: History

Shire Book of the Month: The Women’s Institute by Susan Cohen

The Women’s Institute is a radical organisation and always has been.  That took me by surprise as well.  Susan Cohen’s book ‘The Women’s Institute’ is a real eye-opener and is full of unexpected facts that should serve to blow away any lingering prejudice that the WI is all about Jam and Jerusalem.

The first WI was set up in 1915 in Llanfair in Wales and was inspired by the Canadian WI which was already well established.  The original mission was to harness the skills of country women and to encourage them to play a more active role in village life and to give them opportunities to share activities in a social context with other women. The Great War was already on and there was a great deal that needed doing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the initial movers and shakers in the WI were suffragettes for whom the Institute was an excellent tool in furthering the cause of women.  Country women were often very isolated and there was little opportunity for socialising or personal development and the WI offered the chance to broaden their horizons from politics to practical skills, from art classes to charabanc tours.

The WI catered for women from all walks of life and everyone was equal; the scullery maid would sit at the same table as the lady of the manor and everyone had a voice.

A fine example of WI needlecraftf the manor and everyone had a voice. This situation would have been unheard of in any other context and is another example of the radicalism of the WI. Initially though, women had to be nominated and seconded by someone already in the group which could be quite nerve-wracking.

I asked my friend Mrs Grable why she had initially joined the WI.  She told me that, as a young mother, she was quite lonely at home all day on her own and the WI offered an opportunity to get out of the house and socialise with like-minded women and learn some new skills.  It was also a great way to meet her neighbours and they encouraged each other to go.  She has now been in the movement for forty years and it still has the same appeal, although the activities have expanded considerably since the 1960s.

During the WW2 the WIs were significantly involved in all aspects of war work including organising evacuees, food production and canning projects as well as fundraising and knitting socks for seamen.

The modern WI has also had a major impact in changing the law and leading campaigns including libraries, food labelling, domestic violence, mental health and global poverty and Cohen tells a wonderfully illustrated and evocative story of the importance and relevance of the Women’s Institute and its activities from its inception to the present day.  Perhaps it could broaden your horizons?

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Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Shire Books, Slider

Wills’ Cigarette Cards No. 9: Distempering

Distemper may seem a somewhat outmoded decorative option, but anyone who has an old property will undoubtedly have come across it.  Also, anyone who is involved in conservation will be familiar with it, as well as lime mortar.  However, this is entirely separate from the veterinary condition and under no circumstances must you attempt to paint your dog, however shabby his appearance.
For more information on distemper and lime mortar click on Building Conservation.com.

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Filed under General DIY, History, Household Hints, Wills Cigarette Cards

A Weekend in The City

What a busy weekend I’ve had.  The father of my children picked The Boys up at 9am on Saturday and I shot straight off down to Elephant and Castle in London to… oh no, I can’t tell you that, you’ll find out soon enough, but I did have the pleasure of seeing The Marquis of Barnet and Carlos Fandango.   The traffic was pretty good and I was there by 11.45 which included a stop off for a coffee and a bun at The Gates of London service station because I was in danger of falling asleep.

Sadly not my photograph

I came straight in through the centre of town and was, as ever, completely thrilled by the view as I crossed the river via Tower Bridge.  In the wink of an eye I could see the beauty of Tower Bridge, the ancient Thames itself, the Tower of London, The Gherkin, St Paul’s Cathedral and behind me The Shard racing skywards like a living mirror straining towards the sun.

London is beginning to feel like an exciting place again.  There is so much regeneration going on; new and beautiful structures going up and old ones being refurbished.  Yet somehow, London absorbs it all; the old bumping elbows with the new, the ancient holding its head high as it welcomes in the modern with open arms.

After I had finished … the thing I was doing … I headed for Walthamstow to visit my old friend Mrs Gnasher whom I have known since I was ten.  Mrs Gnasher hails from Co. Durham and, despite living in London all her adult life, still has her gorgeous accent and will sing ’The Lambton Worm’ at the drop of a hat (whether you asked her to or not).  For a cheerful version of this song, complete with words and chords, see below.  I suspect the singer might actually be a Manxmen by his accent.

The Olympic Stadium is coming on a treat, giant cranes sweeping over the East End like great, lumbering iron men.  The Velodrome resembles a giant version of those little plastic Pringles boxes – all very exciting.

The Skylon at the Festival of Britain in 1951

I left my lovely friend and headed for The Aged Parent who lives near Staines on the edge of Heathrow Airport.  We had chicken and chips for supper and watched an achingly brilliant documentary about the Festival of Britain in 1951.  The FOB is worth a blog in itself, but I found myself fervently wishing that I had been born in time to have seen it for myself.

They should have re-done it as part of the Millennium celebrations or even for next year’s Olympics but I guess at the moment we simply don’t have the money.  The thing is, that after the war they didn’t have the money either, but what the FOB sang out loud and clear is ‘We’re down but not out’ and the architecture and design that went into it heralded a bright and optimistic new world that gave people tremendous hope for the future.

In the morning, I dragged the AP out of bed and packed her little valise so she could come and stay with me for a while.  Sister the First turned up just before we left for a lovely but fleeting visit, then we headed out to Sister the Second to give her belated birthday presents and have lunch.

We arrived back in Desbo at about 4pm, just in time to bake some cakes for Boy the Elder to take to school this morning for his birthday.  He is 14.  It is not possible.  The Boys were collected from their father at 7.30pm.  I unpacked the … results of my trip … , cooked dinner, put The Boys to bed and now I am here telling you all about it.

It was a lot of miles and I am very glad that I have got a couple of days off to get my head down and  learn how to … (hand is clapped firmly over mouth).

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Filed under Children, Family and Friends, History, Life in general, The Wartime Housewife Blog

Answers to the Wartime Housewife Quiz

Before I begin, let me congratulate you all on such valiant efforts to answer my fiendish questions in the Wartime Housewife quiz.  Between you, you got numbers one to four right, but sadly there was no outright winner.  If I could give points for imagination or filth you would all be winners!

I will leave you in suspenders no longer.  The correct answers were:-

Anti-poaching gun

1.   Anti Poaching Gun.

This contraption was placed in a strategic place in the woods and when a poacher came creeping along, a tripwire was clicked and the unfortunate (or deserving) poacher was peppered with something – not usually shot, but sometimes gravel or even soap pellets which would sting but not actually wound.

2.   Bellows

Bellows

This simple mechanism delivers blasts of pressurized air as the handle is wound up.

3.   Dummy Security Guard

Dummy Security Guard

These figures would be placed in windows to make a prospective intruder think the building was guarded.  They were made slightly smaller than life-size to give the impression of distance and bigger rooms.

4.   Wick Trimmer

Wick Trimmer

This device opened like scissors and had a sharp blade, but the trimmed bits of wick would fall straight into the silver box, thus preventing glowing wick falling to the floor.

5.   Papier Mache

Papier mache ceiling

The use of papier mache in interiors began in the late 17th century and its application in ceiling ornamentation was quite common by the 18th and 19th centuries as a substitute for plaster.  It emerged when the wallpaper makers prudently put their cut-offs to good use.  It survives very well in stable conditions, but when restoration is needed, failure to identify this material can have disastrous results.

No prizes this time, my dears, but I very much enjoyed your answers!  Look out for more Wartime Housewife Quizzes in the future.

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Vintage Air Shows and Festivals for this weekend and September

September  seems to be the month for Vintage festivals.  Here are a few which sound fun.

The Duxford Air Show, Cambridgeshire
3& 4th September – 8am – 6pm

The Duxford Air Show is the highlight of the Museum’s flying events each year and features both historic and contemporary aircraft, civilian and military.  At the heart of this year’s air show, and 75 years since its inaugural flight, we celebrate the sight and sound of the Spitfire, that most celebrated British single-seat fighter aircraft.

The Victory Show at Cosby, Leicestershire
3-4th  September from 9am

The two day event is held over a 60 acre site, providing historical societies & re-enactments through various forces from several era’s and theatres during the period of 1939-45. From Airmen to Infantry, the Victory Show 2011 opens a window in time to the fabulous 1940’s.

Shackerstone Festival

Shakerstone Family Festival, Leicestershire
3-4thSeptember

Battle of Britain planes, wingwalkers, aerostars, jousts and stunts, duck herding & sheep racing, dog displays, marching bands, steam trains, canal exhibitions, birds of prey, tractors, cars, steam engines, ploughing demos, craft fayre and so it goes on…

Dorset Steam Fair

The Great Dorset Steam Fair, nr Blandford Forum, Dorset
3rd & 4th  September from 8am

You can stand amazed at the variety of exhibitions and the sheer scale of the show means that there is always something new to see. The show has something for everyone, whatever your interests – collector, a steam fanatic, an exhibitor, a heavy horse fan, an avid camper, a music fan or just on holiday in the South of England.  The Great Dorset Steam Fair is a typically British event offering a unique blend of nostalgia and entertainment. Come and soak up the special festival atmosphere whether as a day visitor or taking in the full five days by camping on site. There is no other event like it anywhere in the world.

Capel Manor Classic & Vintage vehicles

Capel Manor Gardens, Enfield, Middlesex 
4th  September 10-5pm

Motor along to the Classic and Vintage Vehicle Show with cars from as far back as the 1920s, the Annual Rally of the North London and Middlesex Morris Minors Association, auto jumble, the Enfield Brass Band and crafts in the Manor House with Fig Fairs

Maldon & District Vintage Working Day at  Southminster and

Ploughing Past and Present Country Show at Pebmarsh:
East Anglia

4th September

Goodwood Revival

The Goodwood Revival

16th – 18th September from 0730-1900hrs

In the summer of 2010, a brand new concept in British festivals was launched at Goodwood to huge critical acclaim.  Known as ‘Vintage at Goodwood,’ this award-winning new event enabled fans of British Cool and Popular Culture to fully indulge their love and passion for the golden era of British style and influence.  

Vintage at Goodwood brought together a unique blend of 1940s, 50s and 60s fashion, music, film, art, dance and design in a fun, authentic and imaginative way. Similarly, the annual Goodwood Revival, the world’s biggest historic motor racing event, has been successfully doing this for over a decade, with the added excitement of thrilling wheel to wheel motor racing as a unique and extraordinary backdrop to an utterly British experience. The Goodwood Revival brings together the most glamorous and exotic cars, and their star drivers all racing on the original classic race track, it is the only major sporting event to be completely staged in an authentic period setting, creating a truly magical step back in time.


The Foxton Locks Festival

17th & 18th September 10am-5pm

Foxton Locks Festival is Leicestershire’s Premier Day Out with something for all the family.

Come and browse the craft stalls and grab yourself a bargain, watch the interactive Viking re-enactments taking place during the day and grab a bite to eat and drink at our Food Village and Real Ale Bar.

Take time out to visit the Locks and see the brightly coloured boats negotiate their way up the staircase locks, pop into the museum and learn about the history of the canals and don’t forget a visit to the remains of the Inclined Plane Boat Lift.


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Filed under Family and Friends, History, Leisure, Outdoor Activities

A day out at Canons Ashby and a Wartime Housewife Quiz

Canons AshbyToday, and on a whim as we have spent too much of the summer holiday relocating, we fired up the Escort and visited the National Trust property of Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire.

Canons Ashby was owned by the Dryden family for four centuries from the late 1500s; bookish, conservative, modest people who respected the buildings enough to re-model and extend but never to completely sweep away the past.  The house itself is rather more than a manor house but not quite a grand mansion and much of its beauty lies in its homeliness and attention to the decorative.

Sir John Dryden (1631-1700), the very first Poet Laureate, is a member of this family and was appointed by Charles II in 1668.  He was the best poet, dramatist, translator and critic of the age and his translation of Virgil is one of the great masterpieces of translation in English.

The house is full of interesting and beautiful things, including some fascinating items which I have never seen before or didn’t know about.  Let’s see if you can identify them.  There will be a modest prize for the person(s) who can identify all five correctly.  If you click on the pictures, you will get a larger and more detailed image.  Good luck!

This competition closes on Friday 2nd September 2011 and the winners will be announced on Saturday.
The Wartime Housewife’s decision is final.

1.  WHAT IS THIS AND WHAT WAS IT USED FOR?

2.  WHAT IS THIS?

3. WHAT IS THIS AND WHAT WAS IT USED FOR?

NB: This soldier is 5 feet high

4. WHAT IS THIS?

5. WHAT IS THIS DECORATIVE CEILING MADE FROM?

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Filed under History, Indoor Activities, Leisure, Outdoor Activities, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Radio Call Signs or The NATO Phonetic Alphabet

I am in the process of packing up to move house and spent several hours this afternoon ringing round all the companies who need to know my change of address.  Having a name which has ‘bs’ and ‘fs’ and ‘vs’ in, there is plenty of margin, however clearly one speaks, for errors of spelling etc.

Therefore I always spell things out using the Phonetic Call Sign Alphabet as used by the police, NATO etc.  It really does make things easier and is worth learning if you often have to spell things out over the ‘phone.  I learned it when I worked on a constructions site at Heathrow Airport and we had to communicate over crackly radios with the sound of jets roaring away in the background.

The BBC website explains why we use it.  “This alphabet was created by the NATO allies in the 1950s as a means of communication that would be intelligible and pronounceable in the heat of battle.  All the letters sound different, so there is no confusion over long distances over what people are saying. The reason that any phonetic alphabet is (or was) used is because telephone, radio and walkie-talkie communications had the habit of crackling over long distances, blotting out whole words or even sentences.

The normal alphabet cannot be used, because some letters, for example P, B, C and D sound similar, and over long distances were indistinguishable, so a new method had to be found. When the code was invented it was also considered that consonants are the most difficult to hear against a noisy background. Hence the sequence of vowels in the phonetic code played an important role when the code was invented, so that when you hear a noisy ‘-oo-oo’ you know the letter is a Z. The vowel-sequence thing works for most (though not all) combinations of letters.

All of the words are recognisable by native English speakers because English must be used upon request for communication between an aircraft and a control tower whenever two nations are involved, regardless of their native languages. But it is only required internationally, not domestically, thus if both parties to a radio conversation are from the same country, then another phonetic alphabet of that nation’s choice may be used.”

I did battle with 18 call centres today and I can assure you that it works.

A = Alpha H = Hotel O = Oscar V = Victor
B = Bravo I = India P = Papa W = Whisky
C = Charlie J = Juliet Q = Quebec X = X-Ray
D = Delta K = Kilo R = Romeo Y = Yankee
E = Echo L = Lima S = Sierra Z = Zulu
F = Foxtrot M = Mike T = Tango
G = Golf N = November U = Uniform

There is also a protocol for numbers:

1 = Wun 2 = Two 3 = Tree 4 = Fower 5 = Fife
6 = Six 7 = Sefan 8 = Ait 9 = Niner 0 = Zero

 

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