March St Mary’s Women’s Institute celebrates 90th anniversary with trip down memory lane

NINETY years old and still going strong, March St Mary’s Women’s Institute has reached another milestone.

There was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for many members at a special anniversary celebration dinner at March Conservative Club. A birthday cake was cut and a toast made to St Mary’s.

It was in November 1920 that a Miss Bowers rode around town on her bicycle asking ladies to attend a meeting to discuss forming a March Women’s Institute, and it was her determination which led to its formation.

On December 1 that year, the Rev Canon Peyton-Burbery presided over a well-attended meeting in St Mary’s parish room when the WI was formed and members asked to pay a subscription of 2s.

The Cambs Times reported on the first meeting: “The proceedings commenced in a festive manner, a tasteful tea which had been provided by the committee being served at 5 o’clock when nearly 50 persons greatly enjoyed the repast.

“An excellent address was given by the president, Mrs Morton. She welcomed the women and expressed the hope that the institute would be a great success and that they would spend many more happy evenings together.”

For many years the WI had a thriving drama group and in 1931 it won the Federation Drama Shield. In the 1970s and 80s the group, under the name of Belles of St Mary’s, entertained at many occasions in the town.

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During the Second World War the institute raised money for Prisoners of War and took part in the Jam Centre project. The institute received letters and food parcels from Australia.

In the 1940s St Mary’s linked with a WI in Prince Edward Island in Canada and the friendship which spanned the Atlantic continued for many years. In 1974 the Cambs Times reported on a visit of Canadian WI members to the town and their stay with the Dunham family.

In the 1950s, the St Mary’s WI choir enjoyed a great deal of success, making a record and taking part in the WI National Singing Festival at the Royal Albert Hall.

After 50 years the WI marked its golden jubilee by giving 50 rose trees to St Mary’s Church.

At its 90th birthday celebration the toast to St Mary’s WI was proposed by Chairman of the Isle of Ely Federation, Rosemary Green, and the response was given by Zena Richardson, president of St Mary’s WI. Entertainment was by the Clarkson Singers.

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