THE president of Charlton WI welcomed members and guests to their November meeting.

Held on a dismal evening, the weather did not prevent the members from attending. Subjects for some of the resolutions to be discussed in preparation for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes’ annual meeting in 2018 included ‘Alleviating Loneliness and Body Image in a Digital Age’.

The treasurer read out the financial report and informed the members of the new gift aid rules.

Jamie Goldrick gave a thought-provoking presentation on how the WI can help prevent drug-taking in the community. He is a qualified barrister and has worked closely with the police force in observing and trying to combat the problem of drugs. He explained that illegal drugs are all around us, and country areas often have more suppliers and users than cities. A replica packet of cocaine from Columbia was held up and the audience was asked to guess its value — members were jokingly warned that too much apparent knowledge could be seen as suspect!

The pitfalls of using drugs were explained; constant usage leads to a greater dependence on even stronger substances and those such as cocaine are often mixed with powder detergents or asbestos. The potency and purity of each drug varies, and the user can never be certain whether their fix will be pure or contaminated.

Interestingly, it is often grandparents who have a greater influence on young people than parents, who may prefer not to contemplate the fact that their offspring are taking substances. Members were advised to listen for words and phrases used and to look for items such as 2p coins and rulers, which indicate drug language and usage in young people. Soft drink cans, often seen littering pavements and park areas, could have been used as crack pipes, if they have a hole in the top.

Jamie quizzed the audience on their knowledge of slang words for various mood-altering substances such as ‘lemon barley’ and ‘housework’ but thankfully the answers were relatively vague! It was a valuable and sobering talk and was much appreciated by everyone.

At their November open meeting Goodworth Clatford WI welcomed Stuart Judd. He had been the producer of the popular ITV series ‘Country Ways’ and he presented his audience with a fascinating background into 25 years of the making of this programme and an insight into some of the many interesting people he and presenter, Jim Flegg, had met in the southern counties of England.

The audience was then treated to the 25-minute episode ‘The Clatfords In May’, shot in the year 2000. Jim spends the day with five or six interesting characters who lived and worked in both Goodworth and Upper Clatford: people who worked in Harewood Forest and for the Westover Farm estate; the water bailiff; the producer of possibly the best pork in the area; the ‘Elder Statesman’ of Goodworth Clatford, who was working his allotment and whose family has lived in the village for many generations; the resident police officer — sadly no longer based in the Clatfords and many residents whom the audience could recognise and reminisce about.

The episode was supported by outstanding photography of the villages, the River Anton and its plants and wild life. Stuart informed the audience that it takes nine hours of shooting the film to produce the 25 minutes shown. It was a really delightful programme enjoyed by both members and guests.

The president of Andover Afternoon WI, Andrée North, welcomed everyone to their November meeting and announced the retirement of the treasurer elected, last May. The members confirmed the co-option of a new treasurer. Andrée continued with some of the WI business as the speaker for the afternoon was having trouble with his computer. She gave reports of several recent events, which had happened at the end of October. The WI’s quiz team were placed about 12th in the Hampshire County Federation of Women’s Institutes’ (HCFWI) quiz final, out of a total of more than 25. They were pleased with the result and had very much enjoyed the challenge of representing the Anton / Danebury Group at this event.

The speaker, Mike Southwell, unable to give the talk he had planned, gave another in his repertoire called ‘Murder Unsolved’. This was about a murder in Blacknest, near Alton in 1989. Mike is a now retired detective inspector of Hampshire Constabulary and was very much involved with this murder in 1989.

Initially it was not thought to be murder at all, but a very serious fire that had razed the ‘Jolly Farmer’ pub to the ground. Very early in the morning of 5 December there was an explosion and fire, on a very wet night. It was found to be murder when a body was found in the wreckage. Another man was also found and pulled out, but died later. A Calor gas leak was thought to be the cause of the fire, which had started in the cellar, but following initial investigation it was discovered that petrol had been poured into the cellar. The murderer had installed and lit a wick so that he could get away from the pub safely, but the wick had gone out. However, the petrol fumes had built up in the cellar and an electric spark from an automatic dehumidifier was enough to start the fire.

In spite of being shown on ‘Crimewatch’ after several months, and no success in finding the murderer, the case was closed. Later, Mike retired and joined the Special Branch, and by chance, at a dinner he was told of the possible double murder. Funds were found so that the case could be further investigated. He told members of all the questions that are always asked by the investigating team, after such an explosion and fire. The team then shared their findings, in the hope that suggestions will be made and further investigations conducted.

There was a report that someone had heard a car being driven away at speed just a few seconds before the explosion. It was found that the ‘phone lines to the pub had been cut, but the emergency services were at the scene in about 15 minutes, due to the sound of the explosion all around the village.

Mike called this ‘An Evil Crime’ as it was known that the publican lived over the pub. After all this time and investigations no-one has ever been brought to justice. Enquiries are continuing, but Mike is convinced he knows who committed this crime, he just cannot prove it, but is confident it will be solved in the not-too distant future.

The autumn meeting of the Anton Danebury Group gave members a chance to learn more about Hinton Ampner house near Alresford — and its beautiful gardens — from their head gardener, John Wood.

John trained at Sparsholt College and has worked for the National Trust for 20 years, the last 17 being spent at Hinton Ampner, working with his team of three and a host of willing volunteers on its 1,600 acres of garden and park.

He told the audience that the original Tudor house had been so seriously haunted as to be uninhabitable, and was demolished in 1793 after the owners moved to a new house built 50 metres to the south. This later house was remodelled during the Victorian-Gothic period and housed a fine collection of paintings and objects d’art.

In 1936 the house was inherited by Ralph Dutton, 8th (and last) Lord Sherborne who put his heart and soul into restoring the house to the Georgian country mansion it had once been. He also transformed the park-land surrounding the house to include a beautiful, structured garden with wonderful vistas over the surrounding countryside, buying up more land and felling some trees in the process, to create the best possible effects and views.

However, in 1960, not long after this labour of love had been completed, disaster struck, and the house and contents were badly damaged by fire. Undeterred by this catastrophe, he set about repairing all the damage and replacing the lost artworks.

When Lord Sherborne died in 1985 he left the property to the National Trust with mixed results. Initially, a tenant was installed who was not inclined to keep the garden up to previous standards, including putting a swimming pool and tennis court into the walled kitchen garden and generally letting things slip.

Eventually the tenant departed, and the National Trust took over the running of the house and garden, which is where John and his team came in. As he said, the ‘bones’ of the garden were good, including extensive yew hedging to create the structure. Using his own stunning and highly atmospheric photographs, John showed not only many beautiful examples of the present garden at each season; but also some interesting ‘before and after’ photos demonstrating just how far the garden has come in recent years. This included the removal of the swimming pool and tennis court and the return of the walled kitchen garden to its former glory.

All the produce from this vegetable garden is either used in the property’s restaurant or sold locally. For the serious gardeners among the audience John was also an extremely knowledgeable plantsman. A huge amount of work has clearly been done on this interesting property, with more improvements in the offing and it now hosts 150,000 visitors a year.

The HCFWI autumn meeting was held at the very end of October at The Anvil, in Basingstoke. It was a light-hearted meeting, but with some serious elements. One of these was the presentation of the federation’s new computer system to share information. Some of this was difficult to understand, and went completely over the heads of those with only a little or no computer knowledge. However, help is available from Absolute Technology who provided the system.

The main speaker for the morning was in complete contrast to this, with Val Bugden-Causey giving her talk on ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’.

She was a very amusing speaker, illustrating her talk with her antics on the platform, and had her audience in gales of laughter.

The entertainment in the afternoon was ‘Alvin’ and his tribute to Elvis Presley. He was dressed like Elvis and sang like him as well, ‘Karaoke’ style to his musical accompaniment. He was a little quiet to begin with, but later in his performance he was almost Elvis himself and had his audience singing along with him. Quite a few were of an age to remember the original recordings. There was no room to jive, but many joined in with the actions as best they could. It proved to be a very entertaining day for everyone and totally unlike anything done before at federation meetings.