The History of Dormans Evening WI

Dormans Evening WI was founded in February 1964 by a group of young mothers. Although many of the founder members have moved away, several still live in Domansland and hold a very special place in DEWI's heart.

Click here to view some pictures from the DEWI archives

Sheilah Gray reminisces about the early days of DEWI


Sheilah's own special way of getting over a gate!
"Looking back 1964 really was a different life. Those of us who had come to live in Dormansland had been working full time (mostly in London) and then, having moved into our new houses, we produced new babies! Three of us, Mavis Tettmar, Margery Poole and I had been asked by one of the local district nurses to include lonely new mothers in our Tuesday morning coffee mornings, so we were conscious of the isolation of newcomers to the village.

Audrey Rivers was the main instigator of the WI as a solution, and the idea was soon taken up by those of us who lived in Beacon Hill. At least twelve neighbours attended the inaugural meeting.

On a Thursday evening in February, twenty-four smart heels were to be heard clip-clopping down the road to the Parish Room, to be joined by many others from The Platt and the High Street. Very soon afterwards, the residents of the newly built houses in The Meades followed, and I can remember nine of us going to a Surrey Federation Council Meeting and causing a bit of a stir. We also worried about space in the Parish Room as our numbers soared around the 60 mark!

I remember becoming Craft Secretary and we made very neat patchwork pin cushions, pewter pictures and jewellery, enamel pendants and earrings, pleated lampshades, paper sculpture Father Christmases and I expect much more.

We held baby shows, animal shows, coffee mornings and barbecues and our Christmas parties were riotous - I remember we had to ban the hockey matches in the Parish Room because Jennifer and Mavis were getting out of hand!

Many of those original founder members now live in many different parts of the world but the spirit of fellowship, liveliness and care we had in those days is well represented in our super DEWI of today."   
Pocock has been a DEWI member since 1964, when she was a young mother. The WI meant a lot to her then, and still does today.
  "I was a young mum with four children. I couldn’t get out in the daytime, so when someone told me about the WI just a few months after it was formed I decided to join. I didn’t know much about the WI, but soon settled in, meeting other young mums and enjoying the friendship. We had an interesting range of speakers and extra evening activities such as toy-making, pewter work, collage, and dress-making. I learned to smock and I made beautiful dresses for my four daughters. I served on the committee many times. The only job I didn’t do was treasurer.

I started fostering when my eldest daughter was about eighteen months old. Over the years I had many children to care for and WI helped me get out of the house and kept me sane. I made many friends and enjoyed lots of outings. I won two bursaries to Denman College - one I took on bird watching the other on Meditation, Healing and Dowsing. I loved Denman and would like to go again one day. It has been an interesting experience to be a part of such a wonderful organisation.

I think the WI should run the country!"
Mavis Tettmar's memories of Dormansland in the sixties
  "The steam train brought me to Dormansland in 1960. I fell in love with the station before I ever saw the village. We walked through the footpath to see a bungalow in Beacon Hill (then named The Ridgeway Estate). Our bungalow was the first of a pair to be built. It stood about two feet high.

We returned when the bungalow was almost complete. As we arrived at St John’s Church we heard the sound of music. We followed the sound (like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn) to the recreatioin ground and there we saw our first Dormansland Fete, then called the Dormansland Band Fete, and were of course enchanted that we were going to live there.

The first three years I worked in London so didn’t have a huge amount of time to appreciate the village.

Sadly, in October 1960 my mother died which prompted me to visit St John’s Church. Reverend Alan Daniels came to visit, and when I expressed interest in drama he put me in touch with the WI Drama Group. It enabled me to get to know some local people like Joan Phillips (from Dormans Park, now living in the High Street), Vi Kinnibrugh, Kit Warren, Angela Neave and Leslie Turner. Leslie ran a small garden nursery in Dormans Road, opposite the butcher’s which later became Taylors Furnishings.

Through the Drama Group I visited some of the larger houses in Dormans Park, the like of which I had never seen before. I remember the old hotel in the Park.

1963 brought the birth of my son Simon on 4th July. Sheilah Gray gave birth to Finella twelve days later.

February 1964 gave birth to Dormans Evening WI. I remember the first formation, with Audrey Rivers, our first President, who lived in Beacon Hill.

Quite a few members lived in Beacon Hill - Teresa Stephens, Stella Hunt, Audrey Culley (moved to Australia 1967), Betty Hancock, Audrey Rivers, Joyce Coleman, Eileen Doran, June Welfort (who won the draw to go to Buckingham Palace garden party). Hazel Pearson from Clinton Hill was our first Secretary.

In 1964 we didn’t have a car so activities within the village were vital. The WI Drama Group had some great characters; one was Clara Casen. She worked at Leslie Turner’s Nursery. She lived at Marsh Green and cycled everywhere. In the first play I saw in the Parish Room, Clara played Madam Acarte in "Blythe Spirit" – she was very type-cast.

A stroll around Dormansland in the early sixties

Swallow was an old horse who lived in a field, which later became Swallowfield. Newhache and Kinniburgh Drive were just a field. Olga Steward’s house "Chamomile Cottage" in the High Street was the Maid Marion grocer’s shop. Farther up, on the opposite side, was Mrs Crisp’s shop, which sold everything from knitting wools to knickers.  At Christmas we were given a voucher for mince pies and presents for the children.

In Station Road Dormansland there was never a parked car.  Two taxis met every train for those that could afford them; the rest of us walked.

The Apsley was a pub which later became the Coach House, and really was an old coach house.

The sad thing was that our lovely school buildings were allowed to have been pulled down; I really miss them. So many villages have kept their old buildings.

The Parish Room is still classed as a temporary building. I have known it for forty-nine years. Long may it remain!"
Sylvia Pettingell talks about the forty-five years she was a resident in Dormansland
  "On 19th March 1960 Ken and I were married in St John's church and we have three darling daughters. So began life for the next forty-five years in this special village. We ran the youth club which was fun but a challenge! My sister Dorothy and I restarted the Brownie Pack in 1962 and always had a waiting list. In 1964 I joined the newly-formed Evening WI and the fun, friendships and opportunities awaited. Memorable times included stewarding at The Albert Hall for the AGM, singing with the Surrey Federation Choir at Denman College and Loseley Park, the wonderful Carnival floats, the Dormans Dusters, Hever picnics, walking in Ashdown Forest, seaside swims, visits to Eton and London for the tours of the Master Tailors Guildhall and Saville Row.

I was a member of the Mothers' Union, Welcare, Horticultural Society, Meals on Wheels team, Flower Arrangers' Guild, Carnival Committee, Friend of St John's Church and College of St Barnabas, Badmington Club, Lingfield United charities and the Short Mat Bowling Club.

I have always loved the seaside and in 2005 there came a wonderful chance to live in sight and sound of the sea. We moved to a cottage on the front at Eastbourne and life here is a joy! Every day is different and Dormansland is only fifty minutes away, so strong, loving links are maintained and appreciated."
Jennifer Naylor has been a DEWI member since 1968
  In 1968 John and I moved to Beacon Hill with our one year-old son James.  This was my first home outside of Kent.  Luckily for us, the Pooles had lived there before us, and Margery gave me all the details of the evening WI.  Also tickets for the baby sitting group and she introduced me to Sheilah Gray, the President at that time.  I was ushered down the hill to the meetings at the Parish Room.  It seemed that all the doors opened in Beacon Hill as a whole gang of "ladies" clicked on their high heels down to the WI.  It was really great meeting all the other mums with young children.  Margaret Watson joined at the same time.  Mavis's son Jeremy was the same age as James so we had a lot in common.  We went to coffee mornings, walks out with our pushchairs and we played hockey for Lingfield Ladies.  Sheilah and Mavis took me with all the children to Lady Castle-Stewart's open-air pool on Ashdown Forest, where the WI was invited every year in the summer.

I served on the committee on several occasions, but what I remember was being Treasurer when we turned over to decimalisation, and having to convert from the imperial figures.

Two years running, teams were organised to compete in the Surrey County WI games when we called ourselves the "Dormansland Dusters".  One year I fell whilst practising and broke and crushed bones in my little finger.

Also we had a tug-of-war team and won several contests - my husband John coached us and Peter Couchman from Swallowfield was the anchor.  (Those who know Peter might think we had an unfair advantage!")

I won a bursary to Denman, I think in 1974, and went on about the hottest weekend of the summer.  The course was Orienteering and on the Saturday my group, about eight of us from different WIs, were transported out to the forest.  We spent hours there running around in circles looking for clues.  However, we were weren't lost really, but eventually arrived back at Denman very hot, tired and hungry.  Everyone else had already eaten and we had to go straight to the dining room without a shower, where we were reluctantly found some cold leftovers.  I have been several times to Denman and seen how it has expanded.  Their courses are extremely enjoyable and not to be missed.

The DEWI walks have always been my favourite pastime.  We have been everywhere over the years, often ending up in the evening in the dark - especially when we have had to make diversions because of frisky bullocks or horses, or plainly just lost our way.