Edna was born in July 1933. She has lived in Bishopsteignton for over 50 years and has three daughters. Before retiring, Edna was a teacher. Throughout most of her life Edna has been an active member of her local community, as a church goer, and a founding member of the Mother’s Union and Modern Wives.
Interview Part 1
Edna was one of the group of women who started the Bishopsteignton Modern Wives in 1968. Edna recalls that the initial idea for the Modern Wives sprang from concerns expressed by a priest of Bishopsteignton, Father Ingram. It had come to his attention that there were lots of mothers moving to the new houses in the village, but that there were no groups or organisations for them.
The only women’s groups in the village at that time were the WI and the Mother’s Union, but as they both met in the afternoon, many mothers, would be either busy looking after very young children, or picking up their children from school.
At the time, Edna recalls, it was unusual and quite progressive, for a priest to show concern over the lack of support and social opportunities for mothers.
Though Edna recollects that…
‘You would not think Father Ingram was progress to look at him, as he used to go around wearing a biretta (hat worn by the clergy).’
Edna Atkinson at her home on 1st July 2023
It was to one of his other parishioners, Brenda Grant, that Father Ingram first expressed these concerns. Brenda then recounted this conversation to Edna, and both women decided to test interest in a group aimed and mothers and younger women. They invited about 5-6 women to Brenda’s house on Fore Street, to put forward the idea, and outline the reasoning behind it. These women agreed that the idea of a group in the village for this cohort was a good one, and it was decided that they should meet again to discuss it in more detail.
This next meeting was held in the home of the headteacher of Bishopsteignton Primary School, in what is now the Community Centre. To this meeting Edna invited a woman from the Mother’s Union (church affiliated group) to talk about what the Mother’s Union and other similar church affiliated women’s groups, such as the Young Wives Fellowship, did. After the talk over a cup of tea, the women discussed what they had learned about these groups, and what the nature and purpose of their group should be. Edna recalls that two key decisions were made at this meeting. The first, was that they wanted the group to be as independent and inclusive as possible, and thus, not be affiliated to the Church. The second, was that they did not like the proposed name, Young Wives.
Interview Part 2
Edna does not have clear memories of the early more formal meetings of the group, once the structure, terms of reference, objectives and official name, Bishopsteignton Modern Wives, had been established. However, what she does remember, is that most women who joined, were new, or relatively new to the village, and that the group gave many of them something to do when their children were at school, and a way of addressing how isolated they were feeling. Edna also remembers how lots of groups and supportive arrangements originated from Modern Wives’ connections and discussions.
As clearly stated by Edna…
‘…that this is what a group, fellowship, society is for…’
Edna and some of the members of the Modern Wives arranged a weekly coffee morning whereby they would take turns at meeting at each other’s houses. Also, some of the members set up a babysitting group that took turns babysitting each other’s children.
Edna does have fond memories of the Modern Wives’ trips to the theatre, particularly the Princess Theatre in Torquay, and the many talks and workshops that were organised, by and for, the group, that were…
‘…very informative, helpful, wide ranging, and practical…’
These included talks and workshops on Family Planning, Community Care, Women’s Rights. First Aid, Cooking, and Car Maintenance.
Interview Part 3
Edna also recalls some of the many things the Modern Wives did for the local community. In fact, Edna was responsible for organising the Modern Wife’s regular local version of Question Time. Edna remembers one year there being a prominent local businessman on the panel, and Edna asked him…
‘…if you had a grandson who wanted to do something that you knew wasn’t really the best thing to do, what advice would you give him?’
and the businessman responded with…
‘…if you can get away with it, do it!’
Edna admitted that…
‘…to tell you the truth I had achieved my purpose!’
In effect, she had managed to reveal his true colours! Edna followed up by saying…
‘…he wasn’t quite so talkative with me after that!’
Edna also has vivid memories of Modern Wives taking part in a scheme that organised Christmas gifts for local people and families in need. As part of this scheme people would bring plants to Pam Gourd’s house that they had bought at cost, and then they would identify a list of local individuals and families who had experienced either, a bereavement, tragedy, series illness, or other difficulties, and gift them a plant at Christmas. Edna remembers everyone involved going through the list and picking out people that they knew, they could most easily visit, or that they thought they would be most suitable for them. That way they covered the whole list, and everyone got assigned someone to give them a gift. Edna recalls going to Jack’s Patch and asking if she could buy some plants for the scheme at a discounted rate.
Taking part in this project gave Edna…
‘…a really good feeling of usefulness, without being too intrusive.’
Interview Part 4
Edna does not remember the Modern Wives 10th Anniversary celebrations in 1978, in the Cockhaven Arms, but the fact her name is on the seating plan, suggests she that she did attend.
Edna thinks the large ornate Modern Wives 10th Anniversary seating plan (view in catalogue) was done by artistic Brenda Gilpin, or Avril Clitherow (both on the seating plan) who was very good at ornate calligraphy.
Edna left the Modern Wives sometime in the 1970s, before it was disbanded in 1982. She does not remember the exact year, or if it was before or after the 10th Anniversary celebration (as former members were invited). Edna thinks she decided to leave Modern Wives because by that point in her life she did not feel she needed the group anymore, as her life was full without it. Once Edna went back to teaching in the 1970s, and her three daughters got older, her life evolved and became extremely busy, managing work and family responsibilities and commitments. Modern Wives had also provided her with many friends and community connections, and so it had given her a social and community life outside the group’s monthly meetings. So even after Edna left the Modern Wives, her time as a member of the group, continued to enrich her life, long after she left.
Natalia Urry-Mackay’s notes taken from the recording of the interview with Edna Atkinson about her memories of the Bishopsteignton Modern Wives, on 24th February 2023.
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- Edna has lived in Bishopsteignton 57 years.
- Edna was born in July 1933 and so is 90 in July.
- Edna was one of the group of women who started the Modern Wives in 1968.
- Edna was a church goer and had been a member of the Mother’s Union in Axminister.
- Brenda Grant lived next door to where the chemist used to be on Fore Street in Bishopsteignton. Brenda was also a church goer.
- Old medicine bottles and cabinets that used to be in Bishopsteignton Chemist were moved to St Mary’s Church Museum (Ottery St Mary Heritage Museum?).
- The priest, Father Ingraham, expressed his concern to Brenda that there were lots of young mothers in their 30s coming to the village with the new houses that were being built, but that there was nothing for them, as the only women’s groups were the WI and Mother’s Union, but as they met in the afternoon, many mothers with children, would be either busy looking after very young children or busy picking up their children from school.
- Brenda invited a group of women (about 5-6) to her house to explain the situation of the lack of any group/organisation for younger mothers like them, to be able to join, and that Father Ingraham and expressed his concerns about this. At the time a priest showing concern over the lack of support and social opportunities for mothers was unusual, and quite progressive. ‘You would not think to look at him as he used to go around wearing a beretta (shooting jacket).’
- After a discussion the women decided to have the first meeting in what is now the Community Centre, but what used to be the school, in the home of the village school’s teacher and his wife, who was his assistant.
- Edna invited a women from the Mother’s Union (church affiliated group) to speak to the group. Edna informed her what the purpose of the group was beforehand. Over a cup of tea the women talked about the church affiliated groups the Mother’s Union and Young Wives Fellowship and what they did. Then the women from the Mother’s Union left. The the group discussed what they thought about these groups and what they thought of starting a similar group in the village. The majority decision was made that they did not like the name Young Wives and they did not want the group to be linked to the church.
- Edna thinks the large ornate Modern Wives 10th Anniversary seating plan was done by Brenda Gilpin (was teaching at this time) who was very artistic or Avowal Clitherow (both on 10th Anniversary seating plan) who was able to do that sort of ornate calligraphy.
- The top table on the 10th Anniversary seating plan was the founding, past and current and committee’s of the MW.
- By the 10th Anniversary Edna had left the MW and she and her husband were teaching and they had three daughters who were all going through school and so she did not have much spare time, though she was still doing some things in the village.
- Edna was one of the first of the MW’s to go back to work after having her children. Edna back to work partly for the money and partly to have a ‘wider life’. Also as with many of the women Edna went back to work once their children were in school because they had more time to do so.
- Edna recalls that most of the women who joined the MW did not know each other when they joined and that many were new or relatively new to the village. Audrey Consins was from Stoke.
- Edna remembers the talks as being ‘very informative and helpful…wide ranging and practical…’
- Edna was aware that some of the other former members of the MW still met up after the group finished until the Covid lockdowns in 2020. Edna was aware the Anne Jones, Betty Aplin and Pat Agar were among those that continued to meet up.
- Edna recalls the group gave many of the women something to do when their children were at school, and as a way to address how isolated they were feeling.
- Edna recalls how lots of other groups and supportive arrangements started from the MW, from the people you meet and the connections the women made at the MW. For instance, Edna and some of the members of the MW arranged a weekly coffee morning whereby they would take turns at meeting at each other’s houses. Some of the members also set up a babysitting group that took turns babysitting each other’s children. Edna said that ‘…that this is what a group, fellowship, society is for…’.
- Edna remembers the MW taking part in a scheme whereby people would bring plants to Pam Gourd’s house that they had bought at cost and then they would identify a list of local people and families that had experienced a bereavement, tragedy, series illness or other difficulties to cope with and gift them a plant at Christmas. Edna remembers everyone involved going through the list and picking out people on the list that they knew, they could most easily visit them, or that they thought they would be most suitable to speak to them. That way they covered the whole list, everyone on the list got assigned someone to give them a gift. Edna remembers going to Jack’s Patch and asking them if she could buy some plants for the scheme at a discounted rate. Taking part in this scheme gave Edna ‘a really good feeling of usefulness, without being too intrusive’.
- Edna recalls going to the Princess theatre in Torquay, that used to be near a wax rink.
- Edna was responsible for organising the MW’s version of Question Time. Edna remembers one year there being a prominent local businessman on the panel, and Edna asked him ‘…if you had a grandson who wanted to do something that you knew wasn’t really the best thing to do, what advise would you give him?’, and the businessman’s response was, ‘if you can get away with it, do it’! Edna admitted that ‘…to tell you the truth I had achieved my purpose!’ In affect she had managed to reveal his true colours! Edna followed up by saying ‘…he wasn’t quite so talkative with me after that!’.
- Edna can’t remember what year she left the MW. Edna does not remember the 10th Anniversary celebrations in the Cockhaven Arms, but the fact her name is on the table plan, suggests she that she did attend. But Edna admits that ‘…a whole slice of my life I don’t remember very well…’. The middle part of her life, as she remembers her childhood and incidents of her life during WW2. However, Edna thinks that if she was prompted by former members of MW about events and activities she was involved in as part of the MW, her memories of these might come back to her.
- Edna went back to teaching in about 1970, after taking time off to have and look after her 3 daughters. Edna thinks she decided to leave the MW’s because her life had evolved and got busier with teaching and looking after her daughters. That she did not need MW anymore as her life was full without it.
- When Edna went back to work she worked 4 days a week, as she had Thursdays off. She remembers after going back to work on her day off, baking cakes and taking them to a fair or fete, and on her return, her 15-year-old daughter who was off school ill, saying to her, ‘…do you know what mother, if you don’t slow down you are going to have a heart attack on that hill.’
- Edna was amazed that some of the former members kept meeting up after the official MW had ended.
- Edna expressed her interest in going to a reunion of the MW’ if we were able to organise one.