The National Anthem was always played and sung, and a Birthday Cake was a regular feature!
The Townswomen’s Guild movement has been hugely popular in this area since the early 1930s. The local Townswomen’s Guild started on 23rd September 1935, with the first meeting being held in the Town Hall, North Shields. The Mayor of the time took the chair and Miss McKowan, the National Union Organiser, was the speaker. There was such a great interest that there were enough ladies joining to make two guilds, Tynemouth 1 and Tynemouth II. In a very short time, Tynemouth 1 had grown to 142 members, meeting at the Congregational Church hall. The first meeting was on the 10th October 1935 when Miss McKowan again took the chair.
Dame Maud Burness was elected President. (She continued to hold this office until her death in 1950. She had a great influence on the guild and its work. She proposed that ten minutes each month be given over to current affairs). From then on, they had demonstrations, talks, classes in needlework and drama. A choir was formed, and fundraising whist drives held to provide funds to send a delegate to the Annual Council Meeting in London. Although the meetings were happy and varied, the main object of the guild was, and still is “The Further Education of Women”.
Venues changed over the years, the National Anthem was always played and sung, and a birthday cake was a regular feature. In 1939, when war was declared the guild programme changed, taking up responsibilities for: Hospital Requirements, Knitting for The Forces, and the “Aged Poor”, Make Do and Mend, and clothing for Shipwrecked Sailors. Fundraising continued and NUTG HQ sent a letter saying “Stand Fast” with quotations from Churchill. MORALE STAYED HIGH.
After the war the guild became an even greater movement with a large range of activities, taking women out of their homes, sometimes for the first time. Where else could a miner’s wife from Backworth, with little education, go as a representative of her guild to the Albert Hall in London?
One of the popular interests was drama and in Tynemouth they had an excellent coach, in a local elocution teacher, Ria Thompson. Two other elocution teachers, Belle Holmes and Kitty Chirnside gave their services so that the Tynemouth group grew more experienced until finally some men indicated that they would like to join. Of course, the guild was for women only, so Ria Thompson broke away from the guild.
She and her friends worked tirelessly, the aim being to found a theatre in Tynemouth. They performed in church halls. When the council gave them a strip of land, they sold it and when the Methodist Mission in Percy Street, Tynemouth came up for sale they bought that and formed the Priory Theatre Group. Newcastle YMCA gave them cast off curtains, seats and equipment to get them started and with hard work by everyone concerned they became hugely successful.
The Drama Group and Entertainment Group continued in the guild with enthusiastic support. The last few years it has been under the direction of Miss Brenda Nicholson until her death, before which she helped produce several popular musical shows.
The guild enjoyed many successes in the competitions held between local guilds, with day trips and week-ends away for everyone who wanted to go. Alas, young ladies have other outlets for their energies. Women are no longer tied to the home and prefer other pastimes. We can no longer interest ladies in taking office, and without Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary we can no longer function.
The Tynemouth Village Townswomen’s Guild held its last meeting on 19th January 2004.
Editor’s Note – It’s really sad to hear about organisations such as this closing down. Were you a member of a Guild, or other similar organisation? If so, we would love to hear your recollections about being a member, so we can keep some of the memories alive.