W.I. Newsletter July 2023

This month some of our members have enjoyed meeting up for coffee and attending the supper club.  It is always good to have a chance for a catch up and chat. 

Some of us also enjoyed a Heritage Walk lead by Sarah from Andover Museum – for those who are familiar with the town it was chance for a stroll down memory lane a little, and for those new to the town it was chance to learn about its history.  History which goes much further back than our memories of the mid-20th Century!    We heard about the Vikings coming upriver as far as Longstock and in 994 AD their leader Olaf Tryggvason being confirmed as a Christian in St. Mary’s Church (not the current building).  King Ethelred “the Unready” acted as his sponsor, and Olaf swore not to return to Britain once the King made a payment of silver coins equivalent today to approximately £16,000.  In Georgian times Andover was one of the most important coaching towns in southern England.  There seemed to be an abundance of coaching Inns and pubs dotted around the town at this time.  We heard about so much more, there is a leaflet with a suggested route and further information entitled Andover Heritage Trail available from the Museum in Church Street.

Our speaker this month was Bronda Dosset who has a dance and theatre background, but who has now turned her attention to telling the story of Highclere Castle which is the setting for the tv series Downton Abbey.   Although the latter is a work of fiction, written and produced by Julian Fellowes, there are a lot of similarities with the real-life inhabitants of the former.  In particular the coincidence of the fictional Lord Grantham marrying an American heiress and the reality of the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon marrying the enormously wealthy heiress Almina Wombwell, the pretty 19-year-old illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild in 1895.  So many large country estates were suffering from a lack of money to ensure their future, many did not survive, so it was not unusual for marriages to be arranged for financial reasons.  Unfortunately, Almina’s life did not have a fairy tale end and her story is told in the book Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey written by the current Countess of Carnarvon.

Filming for the tv series took place at various locations around the UK.  However, Highclere Castle was used to represent Downton Abbey and scenes were shot in and around the Castle.  However, the kitchen and staff quarters were recorded in a specially built set in Ealing Studios.  This meant that continuity had to be spot on.  Detailed notes were taken as the filming schedule could mean that meals being prepared by Mrs. Patmore and her team in the kitchen were quite often filmed weeks before, or even after, these splendid dinners appeared in the grand dining room.   We also heard that the castle was extremely cold and many of the actors had hot water bottles hidden under their beautiful costumes to keep warm.    Bronda was an excellent speaker. 

At the start of the evening, we held a minute’s silence in memory of Pat Balam.  Pat had been an active member of our Institute, serving as both our Secretary and Treasurer over the years.  Many of our members attended her funeral and helped at the reception afterwards.  Yes, we did make a few cakes for the occasion as well.  We couldn’t not, as Pat had also been the backbone of the WI refreshments at the village fete for many years.

Our Institute will be making a donation to the local Countess of Brecknock Hospice in memory of four members who have died in recent years, Joy Hickin, Christine Fell, Chris Moore and Pat.  Traditionally, donations had been made to Denman College in memory of members who had died, but unfortunately this jewel in our crown did not survive the challenges of lock-down and has now been sold.   We have been looking at alternatives that fit in with the aims and objectives of the W.I.

There is no meeting in August, but we do have a trip to Windsor Castle to look forward to – this has proved popular.  We are also making the usual pleas to our members asking for help and cakes for the W.I. refreshments at the village fete on 2nd September.  If you would like to bake a cake for us, then we would be delighted to accept – please bring contributions to the village hall on the morning of the fete.  We will be in the kitchen at the rear!


03 August –       Windsor Castle outing

10 August –       Coffee Morning – Sports Pavilion at 10.30 a.m. (£2 to include refreshments) Non-members welcome

12 August –       Walking Group