Tuesday, 12 April 2011

'J' is for ... Jam and Jerusalem

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.
A grand re-opening ceremony was arranged and twelve boys and girls were selected from St Benedicts school to sing at the opening. Nan was one of them. Her father was so ill with heart disease he had to be helped up the steps by three people. But nothing would have stopped him. Not only was he proud to hear his daughter sing but the whole town wanted to hear the new choral version of ‘Jerusalem’ (or 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.



Yeah - my sister just joined her local WI and it sounds really good. Not at all like that fuddy duddy image it had. I'll do it in a few years when I have more time - I hope!

Norma Murray said...

My sister is a member of the Scottish version. I tell you those women are soooo competitive about their cooking. I wouldn't be able to cope.

Fennie said...

I have always associated Jerusalem with the North of England 'dark satanic mills' etc. But there would have been mills near Glastonbury I suppose, too. Were they dark? Everywhere burnt coal. The WI has always sounded great fun, but single gendered organisations are rather uni-dimensional.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Interesting post, Debbie, I was a member of the Towns Women's Guild and my mother an active member of the W.I. I'm on the Supplementary Speakers List of your organisation and maybe invited there one day! :0)

Debs Carr said...

What a fascinating post, thank you.

I love Jerusalem, it never fails to make me cry (such a wuss!).

Elizabethd said...

Nice to see you again. I'm not now involved in PC, but keep in touch with some of the old friends.

WI doesnt of course exist out here, though I think some enterprising British lady tried to set up a group. I'm not sure how it went.

Talli Roland said...

As a transplanted Canadian turned British, I absolutely love Jerusalem! It just seems so... British to me. Kind of like the WI!

KatieO said...

What an inspiring post. Thanks so much for sharing these tidbits!

Josh Hoyt said...

This is an amazing history lesson thanks for all the facts and knowledge.

Madeleine said...

Great post. Love the accompanying images too. It evokes lots of thoughts and feelings both the music, the film Calendar Girls and the idea of the WI. :O)

Siv Maria said...

Funny combo but it works:) Don't forget to pick up your award. Have a nice day.

Melissa Marsh said...

Y'know, I don't think we have anything similar to the WI here in the States. There are various little groups like the Women's Auxiliary (a branch of the Veterans groups, I believe), but nothing nationwide like this.

Yet another reason I love Great Britain and need to get back and visit ASAP!

Fran said...

I fully intend to join the WI when I feel I'm middle-aged enough. I keep putting that middle-aged thing off though. It always seems to be a good decade ahead ...

Susie Swanson said...

I love this post. There is a lot of history in it. And I love Jersulam. Thanks Susie

Pk Hrezo said...

Very interesting. I love the look of your blog and would very much like to have those shoes. :)

Nice to meet you. THanks for stopping by my blog.

L'Aussie said...

Hello there. Pleased to meet and follow you due to this challenge. Love the history you've shared with us, but for Jeruslem I always think of the Holy Land. Your post was all new info for me, so thank you for such an in-depth history.


L'Aussies Travel A-Z Challenge - J is for Japan

Frances said...

Jerusalem, a play by Jez Butterworth, starring Mark Rylance, is now in previews on Broadway. It premiered at the Royal Court. I am thinking of seeing it.

Best wishes!

Claire Goverts said...

Interesting post, I enjoyed reading about the WI.

Reasons said...

Fantastic post! Glad you must be feeling much better. Will re visit for a thorough catch up soon. Thanks for your lovely message xx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Really enjoyed the background to Jerusalem and the WI, thanks. We have the Women's Rural here in my village in Scotland, but I haven't joined it yet. Although I did sing in its choir for a short time many years ago when I first moved here.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi, and thanks for stopping by my romance writer blog.

Ah, Jerusalem, the WI, and the myths and legends and facts surrounding Glastonbury: enough to keep a writer in premise' and ms' for a lifetime! ;)

It's my second "old" home town, in that I'm a West Country girl and my mum lived there for the latter part of her years. Wells my home town, of course, and now I reside in Little England Beyond Wales: as Pembrokeshire is known. All this due to West Country accent, which is prevalent in South Pembs' indigenous population: Cornish & Devon fishermen the old link!


Flowerpot said...

I've never had anything to do with the WI but Icould just eat one of those scones now!

Vicki Rocho said...

I'm going to have to look that up on YouTube because I don't think I've heard it before. I'm going to blame it on being in the States and not on my lack of musical savvy.

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Just stopped in to say your blog is so interesting. I spent some time reading and was very intrigued by your posts. :)

Angela Felsted said...

You should totally join, it sounds like a wonderful cause.