Our local WI are a lovely bunch, nothing like the formidable old battle-axes of sizeable girth who bicker over who makes the best jam traditionally associated with the Women’s Institute, and not a purple rinse in sight.
Crafts, cooking and healthy eating form an important part of the WI's history. Originally set up in 1915, The Women’s Institute (WI) had two main aims: to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War.
But times are changing. Years ago the WI was the only thing to do but now women work and have active and varied social lives so WI doesn’t have the same appeal.The infamous ‘naked calendar’ and run-ins with the Labour party, efforts to modernise it's image and increase membership, demonstrate the efforts of the increasingly publicity-conscious WI.
People are busy. Life is hectic. There are never enough hours in the day. That’s the only reason I haven’t joined, yet (along with health and other commitments.) It’s inevitable I will join the ranks, one of these days. As the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK it does hugely valuable work on a local level and is a great galvanising force in the community. It pulls people together, gets them to do things and is very pro-active.
The WI has a long association with the hymn, Jerusalem.
The poem, written by William Blake (1757-1827) was later set to music by Sir Hubert Parry and Sir Edward Elgar. During the 1920s, many WI’s started choirs and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes set up a music committee, appointing a Mr Leslie as an advisor. Mr Leslie held a one-day school for village conductors in London in early 1924 and asked his friend, Sir Walford Davies to write an arrangement of Hubert Parry's setting of Jerusalem, for WI choirs. This hymn with its association with the fight for women's suffrage was seen as appropriate for the newly emerging WI movement who were encouraging women to take their part in public life, and fight to improve the conditions of rural life.
The special arrangement for choir and string orchestra was first performed at the Annual General Meeting of NFWI held in the Queen's Hall, London in 1924. Mr Leslie conducted the singing himself and brought a choir from local WIs. It was so successful, it has been sung at the opening of NFWI AGMs to this day. Many WIs also open meetings by singing Jerusalem.
By co-incidence, Jerusalem is a very special hymn to me. My Nan was from Glastonbury, where many incredible myths and legends connect Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimithea.
In the mid/late 1920's, when Nan was a young girl, there were some major renovations to the Town Hall, including a hall added to the rear of the building and once completed. Glastonbury Hymn as it was sometimes known because of the connection William Blake made in the words to Glastonbury and Joseph of Arimithea.)
It was the first time the people of Glastonbury heard the tune when she sang it. And it has only been since she died that I've pieced together the timings and can see how the tale she told me links to the WI choral version.
Many people today see Jerusalem as more than a hymn. It is almost our national anthem; as popular at rugby internationals as it is at earnest Labour party conferences; it is universal in its appeal. It’s also more than just the name of a magical place. It represents the British nation itself. And for me, you will see how it is particularly special.
So there you have my ‘J’ - Jam and Jerusalem
Until another day
Bye for now
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O Clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.
I will not cease from Mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.