CONTINUING my theme of the community spirit in Didcot I have this month researched the Townswomen’s Guild and its connections within the town.

As I have searched for subjects to write about I met residents who have happily shared information and photographs with me, one of whom is Mrs Florence Lawler.

I met Mrs Lawler last year and, after talking to her and being privy to her scrapbooks and memorabilia, I felt that the Townswomen’s Guild was a worthwhile subject to write about and appropriate at this time of remembering the suffragette movement.

The beginnings of the national movement were in 1929.

Four Townswomen’s Guilds were formed at the instigation of Margery Corbett Ashby and Eva Hubback as an experiment in the study of citizenship.

The first four guilds formed were Haywards Heath, Burnt Oak, Moulsecoomb and Romsey.

By the end of the year, 26 guilds had formed and by 1932 there were 146.

At that year's AGM it was agreed to drop all political propaganda and concentrate on the education of women as citizens.

This resulted in the resignation of several members who subsequently formed The National Council for Equal Citizenship.

By 1933 the organisation changed its name to The National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds (NUTG).

The NUTG, meanwhile, adopted the official colours of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies – red for courage, white for faith and green for hope.

During the war, the Ministry of Labour officially asked the NUTG to collaborate in encouraging married women, ineligible for National Service, to work part-time in offices, shops, and local industries to release men and women for munitions and services.

Many younger Townswomen were conscripted.

After the war the NUTG received a grant from the Ministry of Education to develop the movement and strengthen its educational base.

In 1952, a small group of ladies in Didcot convened a public meeting at St. Frideswide’s School to discuss forming a town guild.

Florence Lawler recalled: "The chair was shared equally between Miss James, the popular headmistress, and Mrs Malley-Platton who, in her opening remarks, said there may be a chance of attracting members from the Harwell establishment, but then thought it wisest for the residents there to come out and join with a community that had a less specialised outlook. The comment on the formative papers says 'Didcot is a railway town with no roots and the whole situation is under review...'

"More than 50 years on we’re still here, older and wiser and paying considerably more than the 4/- annually that it was then.

"We’ve had our great days and our grey days, like the time we entered the Three Counties Drama Festival at Tewksbury.

"We were assured everything would be in order. Nothing was in order! We couldn’t get the props on to the stage because of stacked chairs in the corridor and nobody knew how to work the lighting board. We performed our play to our satisfaction and were shocked to hear the adjudicator say at the end that she couldn’t see all of us most of the time! How demoralising is that?

"We’ve taken part in the famous Japanese Tea ceremony in Kensington Town Hall; one of our members entered and won the Golden Jubilee Salad competition and had a holiday in Holland. She also met Prince Charles and Princess Anne at a later luncheon.

"We’ve ‘trodden’ the boards at the Kenton Theatre in Henley, we’ve taken part in the Golden Bond at the Royal Albert Hall and we’ve had our wedding outfit on display at the Ideal Home exhibition. As they say ‘we’ve been there-done that’, how we struggle to survive!

"We are immensely proud that it’s the Didcot design on the Federation Banner."

Find out more about the history of the TG and the local branch in the Herald next month.