History of Casterton WI

The first 50 years, 1919 to 1969

Claire Wildsmith

Casterton Women’s Institute was founded in 1919, celebrating its 90th birthday in 2009. 
Meetings were held (as they are today) on the first Wednesday of the month in the Church Room, the building close to the Church which is now the Village Hall. 

56 members each paid a subscription of 2s. per annum, the meeting times changing with the seasons - in the summer from 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m, and in winter from 2.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. 

Miss Mabel Williams, President of Casterton Women’s Institute, 1919- 1921
Headmistress of Clergy Daughters’ School, 1892-1921

The first President of Casterton WI, was Miss Mabel Williams, headmistress of the Clergy Daughters’ School in Casterton (now Casterton School).  Also on the committee were Mrs. Hardacre, who kept the local shop and Post Office, and Mrs Roper of the Old Hall, a local solicitor’s wife who later became President. 

In 1921 the membership of 69 included 16 school-teachers, and 18 from the farming community.  A typical meeting consisted of a demonstration and a talk, followed by tea and an entertainment such as a sketch or community singing, provided by the members themselves.  The topics of talks ranged from bee-keeping to book-keeping and attempted to interest and educate members in local and national affairs.  Competitions were also held, members invited to demonstrate their skills in darning and patching, trimming hats, peeling potatoes, and guessing local views from post-cards. 

Each June a charabanc was hired to take members to visit Ripon, Carlisle or Liverpool, or to the Lake District or the coast.  Also during the summer were Sports Days for the children of the village.  Whist drives and concerts were popular, as well as ‘American’ teas, which involved ‘each member giving an article for sale and buying something’.   

Some of the proceeds of these sales of work were used to buy books for the WI Library, an early venture of Casterton WI, which became less successful when the County travelling library began visiting the village on a monthly basis.

The Nineteen-thirties
Cookery demonstrations from proprietary brands of foods such as Brown and Polson, and Cadbury’s took place, when chocolate-based puddings, cakes and drinks were particularly well-received.  The installation of a gas stove in the Public Hall, made the provision of tea for 70 WI members at the Lune Valley Group Meeting a little easier. 

The tradition of giving local children a party as well as an annual Sports Day was begun in 1931, the party, held on New Year’s Day, taking the place of the January meeting.  A few years later Casterton WI began selling produce at Kirkby Lonsdale market. 

The War Years – 1939-1945
The uncertain international situation preceding the Second World War was brought home in various ways. A talk was given on ‘the effect of different gases likely to be used in the event of war’, while demonstrations on fruit bottling and poultry dressing helped prepare women to deal with possible food shortages.  

The war gave a grim purpose to meetings, which were held in the afternoon because of lighting restrictions.  At the October meeting of 1939, six members offered to make ‘dark curtains’ for the Church Room, with half the meeting time devoted to sewing for the Red Cross.  The President gave a talk on fire-fighting and air raid warnings, and lectures were given on home nursing and first aid. 

Money for the Soldiers’ Comforts Fund was raised by whist drives, and Christmas parcels of knitted socks for the men and gloves for the women, cigarettes, or later, a sum of 10/-, were sent to the sons and daughters of the village away on active service.   An offer was made to mend the clothes of the 50 soldiers stationed in Kirkby Lonsdale.  

A Fruit Preservation Centre was set up and members advised on how to produce appetising meals in a time of hardship.  At the Children’s Christmas party in December 1941 the children received a greetings card with a savings stamp inside, instead of a present from Father Christmas. 

The money raised at a whist drive in January 1944 was used to send parcels for 16 sons and daughters in the Services: Henry Bownass, Arthur and Robert Bickersteth, George and Lewis Briggs, Jackie Capstick, Ronald and Wilfred Coward, Ronald Hardacre, Thomas Parker, Merrick Smith, Nicholas Sandford, John Thompson, Ailsa Bickersteth, Isobel Hardacre and Jessie Wright. 

The cake to celebrate the 25th birthday of Casterton WI in 1944 was made from ingredients provided by the members.   

After the War : 1945-1950
Rationing and recycling became the order of the day.  A demonstration of slipper-making from felt hats was followed by one on making aprons from dusters.  A talk on road safety was turned down on the grounds that: ‘after all Casterton is a quiet place, with not much traffic’. 

The death in 1951 of the founding President of Casterton WI, Miss Mabel Williams, seemed to signal the end of an era.  Membership was falling again and, just as today, the lack of new, and younger members caused concern about the future of the WI.  By this time the annual ‘drive’ in a charabanc was losing its appeal.  More was demanded from local transport services, and letters were sent to both the Ribble Bus Company and the railway authorities asking for changes to the timetable which would benefit Casterton. 

As the traditional ways of rural life started to disappear, the Westmorland Federation published a collection of reminiscences entitled Some Westmorland Villages.   Casterton’s contribution to the book, published in 1957, included the story of the sheep dog, Hemp, who rescued more than 100 sheep in the blizzard of 1947, when Bull Pot Farm was cut off for a month.  

In February 1963 the exceptionally cold weather and the lack of water in the Church Room meant that no meeting was held.   At the end of a year in which membership had decreased to 36, the redoubtable Mrs. Roper stood down from the Committee and was thanked for her 22 years of presidency. 

The Westmorland County Federation Golden Jubilee took place in 1968.  One of the activities undertaken to mark this Jubilee was the recording of local field names, and Casterton’s contribution to this fascinating project is now kept in the Kendal Record Office.

Casterton WI celebrated its own Golden Jubilee Year in 1969.  The report of the event in the Westmorland Gazette was accompanied by a photograph showing Mrs. Roper cutting a special cake made by the President, Mrs. Aynscough, together with Miss M. Wright, Secretary, and Mrs. A. Benson, Vice-President, the latter continuing  to live in the village. 

From its founding in 1919 Casterton WI lived up to the Women’s Institute motto - ‘For Home and Country’, particularly during the wars years when members responded generously to the national emergency;  their whist drives and dances raised spirits as well as funds. Casterton WI gave women from a wide variety of backgrounds the opportunity to meet outside the home, helping them to develop practical home-making skills and to learn more about the outside world.