Shiskine ‘rural’ celebrates its centenary

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Shiskine is oldest Scottish Women’s Institute on Arran. It was formed 100 years ago and will celebrate its centenary in style next week. Here Hugh Boag takes a look back at 100 years of the SWI on Arran which includes extracts of an article by the late Edna Picken of Kilmory printed 30 years ago in the Banner.

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‘If you know a good thing, pass it on,’ that is the motto of the Women’s Institute a movement which stated in Canada in 1897 and, spread to Europe and to Ireland in 1910, followed by institutes in England and Wales in 1916 Scotland formed its first institute of SWRI at Londniddry, East Lothian in 1917.

For the first five years the organising of the SWRI was carried out by a group of advisers from the Board of Agriculture, assisted by an Advisory Council of SWRI members. As membership increased and more institutes were formed and federations founded. The institute dropped the ‘rural’ from its name five years ago in a bid to make it more modern and relevant.

The first institute formed on Arran was Shiskine on March 10, 1920. It was followed by Lamlash in 1923, Corrie in 1924, Brodick in the same year, Kilmory in 1926, Whiting Bay in 1927, Lochranza in the same year and Kildonan much later in 1947.

The WRI movement was started on Arran by the diligence and enthusiasm of Her Grace the late Duchess of Montrose, when, as Marchioness of Graham, together with a few ladies, she started the Shiskine institute.

Arran is one of the smaller federations and in the early years was actually joined with Buteshire, but after Brodick was formed Arran had four institutes and was therefore able to commence her own federation on October 25, 1925.  The federation’s first office bearers were: president Lady Graham, vice president Miss McBride, secretary Mrs Stewart-Orr and treasurer Mrs Lamb.

To start a workable fund, institutes were asked to pay £1, plus an affiliation fee of twopence per member.

It was agreed by the newly formed federation that the institutes should show a sample of their work at the Farmers Society Show in 1926. Entry consisted of classes in knitted goods, home-made rugs, embroidery and leather work. There was no mention of baking but girdle scones, pancakes, oatcakes, butter and honey could be entered.

It was also in 1926, through the Carnegie Trust, that instructors began classes in Scottish Country Dancing and also in elocution. These commenced with the teacher coming to the island during her Christmas holidays to take classes.

The WRI Drama Club was started in 1929 and many teams went forward to complete in the local drama festival, with the winning team going off the island to complete for the Anstruther Gray Drama Trophy. It is interesting to note that Shiskine won this trophy in 1950, having travelled to Dingwall, where the festival was held that year.

The golf match is a very important feature on the island with two matches being played annually, and the winners going to the mainland to complete in the finals. Outdoor bowling is now also part of the WRI sporting calendar

The WRI has always had a interest in the Musical Festival. The Winter Rally, as we know it today, started off as an outdoor picnic, where members gathered to listen to a talk or demonstration as arranged by the federation, then it took over as a tour off the island, usually in May.

The WRI involvement with the Arran Farmers Society could perhaps be called the highlight of the year when members put their annual show of home baking and handicrafts on display competing in many various classes.

It was not always as each to arrange as it is today. The ‘cattle show’ changed venue every year and usually the WRI show was under canvas in a large tent hired for the purpose. But when the Arran Farmers Society decided to hold the show annually in Lamlash, the federation was able to get a room for displaying the members work.

In the early years they received a grant of £10 from the Highland Agricultural Society, This grant was given for two years and then missed for two years, so each institute had to forward 30 shillings to help with the prizemoney.  In 1933 Lady Graham suggested a Community Tray of Home Baking for which she would donate a trophy.

During the years of the Second World War, WRI members were active in many ways, helping with evacuated children, salvage collection, aiding the Red Cross, growing more vegetables and taking over from the men and woman who had left the island to give service to their country. Just after the war in 1947 the WRI tried to do a survey to ensure than every house would have electricity and water installed.

Always interested in island life, the WRI was represented on the hospital board of the War Memorial Hospital. Two members were co-opted to Bute Educational Committee. One member was elected to Arran Youth Committee in 1943, with a trophy being being donated in later years for inter-village competition. Clyde Steamers Co asked for two WRI members join their committee in 1954.

They also support youth activities and the WRI have for many years donated sports medals to Arran High School. Also presented in 1967 were a lectern and bible. And, since the formation of a home for the elderly, WRI members visit and entertain the elderly people throughout the year.

Two important social events were held; one in 1967 when three members were amongst the ladies presented to the Queen and Prince Philip at the institute’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in Edinburgh. The other event was whe, by the courtesy of the Arran Farmers Society, the WRI ladies were allowed to share the visit of the Princess Royal to the 150th show.

Since the formation of a home for the elderly, WRI members visit and entertain the elderly people throughout the year.

Memberships has sadly decreased over the decades. In 1950 there were 800 members on the island, by 1970 it stood at 506, by 1990 it was down to 300 and today sits at just 115.

In the first 70 years the WRI federation only had two honorary presidents. The founder Lady Graham was president from 1920 to 1958, when, following her mother’s death, The Lady Jean Fforde accepted the office, a position she held till her death.

Edna signed off her history of the WRI with the following message, which is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago: ‘As we go forward into the future, we, the members of the SWRI are a group of ladies who wish to retain out rural way of life and customs, while also keeping up with modern times. A warm welcome awaits any ladies who would like to join any of the nine institutes throughout the island.’

The ladies of Shiskine WRI celebrate the institute’s 70th anniversary in March 1990 at the Kinloch Hotel. 01_B10shiskine01

Members of Shiskine WRI celebrate their 80th anniversary in the Kinloch Hotel in March 2000 with, seated, Lady Jean, Shiskine honorary president Mrs Helen MacAlister and national chairwoman Kay Wragg. 01_B10shiskine02

Lamlash SWRI celebrated 60 years in 1983. 01_B10shiskine03

A number of ladies were made honorary members at the 8oth anniversary in 2000. They were left to right: Helen MacDonald, Betty Ingham, Martha Currie, Cathy Murchie, Margaret Frew, Mary Smith, Betty Currie and Elise Bannatyne. 01_B10shiskine04

The overall winner at the 1987 WRI show was Mrs F Cook of Sliddery Moor with this shawl. 01_B10shiskine05

President Alice Anderson helps Betty Currie cut the cake at the 80th anniversary. At the time Betty had been a member of Shiskine WRI for 69 years and had rarely missed a meeting. 01_B10shiskine06

Shiskine SWI were the biggest winners at the 2016 one act drama festival lifting four trophies including the top prize for their two handed play Daisy Markham. 01_B10shiskine07

Actors from Shiskine SWRI perform a scene from their play Darlings You Were Wonderful at the drama festival back in 2015. 01_B10shiskine08