Bicton & Oxon WI

Occasional Blog

From time to time our photo gallery just isn't enough to tell the full story. This occasional blog should fill in the gaps.

...or how Bicton & Oxon WI ended up in not one, but two national newspapers!


First, the original blog, which found its way to being a full-page article in the Daily Mail

In August 2013, following a visit by Bicton & Oxon WI to Upton Cressett Hall for their annual outing, this article appeared in The Daily Mail. It is based on John Cash's post which you can read in full on Upton Cressett Hall's blog.

From The Daily Mail, 17th August 2013

Trying to round up 30 women of a certain age and herd them towards the car park was a bit like shooing wayward geese. But my blood was up and my patience at an end.
   'You're no longer welcome on my property,' I bellowed. 'Could you leave the grounds immediately!' There were squawks of outrage and indignation from some but sly grins of unmistakable enjoyment on the faces of others.
   For them, an outing that ended with an angry scene was clearly a bonus. But I stood my ground and eventually they all found their way into the cards and mini-buses and drove off.
   Phew! It was over. I had just thrown the good ladies of the Women's Institute out of my Grade I-listed Elizabethan manor house in Shropshire – and banned all WI parties from visiting for the rest of the season.
   It had been one of the most infuriating afternoons I have had in 30 years of showing people around my family home, Upton Cresett.

Read the full article...

Bicton and Oxon WI fights back via the Daily Telegraph

In response to the Daily Mail article, Cathy Swan contacted the Telegraph who sent Victoria Lambert to interview her and our social secretary, Ann Haynes, with a photo shoot near the old St Chad's church.

Women against the manor sworn
Victoria Lambert hears both sides of an escalating row between the WI and a less-than-stately home owner
Is there any finer way to spend a summer afternoon than pottering around a historic property, chatting with its charming owner, before relaxing over a cup of Earl Grey tea and home-made lemon drizzle cake in a medieval garden? And how marvellous it is, how quintessentially British, that genteel folk are prepared to open up their homes to small groups, because they want others to share in their good fortune in living in such wonderful places...
2013 the upton cresset story copyright jay williams   "I'm sorry... charming? Sharing?" Cathy Swan, a 53-year-old solicitor and member of the Bicton and Oxon Women's Institute erupts as she ponders my words. We are here in her office in Shrewsbury to hear her account of a now infamous Faulty Towers-style tour of Upton Cressett Hall, the red-brick manor house that was home for 40 years to Tory MP Bill Cash, and is now the pride and joy of his son William, 46.
   Following extensive restoration work by Cash Jr, the Hall – believed to be the inspiration for Blandings Castle as P G Wodehouse grew up in the area – was named the winner of the "hidden gem" category at the 2011 Hudson's Heritage Awards.
   Last week, it was revealed by Cash on his blog that a recent tour of the hall had gone awry. As a result he had banned the entire Women's Institute for the season. In Cash's view, demands to use the indoor lavatory had kicked off a sequence of events in which his solicitude had been, frankly, "monstered". In a subsequent newspaper article he wrote: "My blood was up and my patience at an end. 'You're no longer welcome on my property,' I bellowed. 'Leave the grounds immediately!'"
   Cash, editor-in-chief of Spear's, a magazine for the super-rich, and former flatmate of Elizabeth Hurley, continued: "Phew" It was over. I had just thrown the good ladies of the Women's Institute out of my Grade I-listed Elizabethan manor house in Shropshire – and banned all WI parties from visiting for the rest of the season."
   Yet Cash's troubles are far from over. Firstly, because he confused the WI (membership 210,000) with a group from the 30,000-strong Townswomen's Guild (TG), which has its roots in the Suffragette movement. He has since apologised to the WI on his blog. But both organisations have taken offence – not just for his comments on the day, but for his characterisation of women as "arch-moaner" who would have behaved better if they had brought their husbands. It's fair to say is now Upton Cressett on a black list, rather than the WI.
   So what really happened on August 7, at the Battle of the Loos? Cathy Swan was there, together with Ann Haynes, an events organiser who arranged the trip for the WI branch. She explains: "There were 27 members, husbands and friends in our group, pre-booked for a tour of the hall, and tea and cakes, and we turned up promptly at 2pm.
   "When we arrived, William Cash emerged and he didn't look like he was expecting us at all. He sent us off around the 'gardens', which was just a big area of grass really. When we came back, another group had arrived from Worcester [the TG], who he said hadn't booked.
   Cash suggested that one group have tea first and then the tour, and the groups could swap round. But then – catastrophe! – a member of the TG party requested to use a loo and all were surprised to learn that the visitor toilet block in the car park was locked and the key was lost.
   Mr Cash had to open up his private lavatory – "the loo under the stairs" – for the lady. Unfortunately, when she came out of the house, the front door slammed shut behind her. "'Oh dear,'" Cash recalls saying. "'You've locked everybody out. I don't this either the tours or the teas are about to happen any time soon.'"
   Reluctant to break in via any of his newly restored windows, Cash allowed his gardener Pedro's son to break an older pane to climb in and release the lock. The first tour got under way, but Cash's patience was, he says, sorely tried, and, afterwards, when one woman (he described her as "Ms Knotty Hair – think Linda Snell in The Archers") berated him for being rude to the guest who had needed the loo, he let rip – ordering them to "get orf my land".
   "You don't expect everything to be perfect on a tour," says Ann. "But this was farcical." Cathy adds: "At one point there were women queuing down the hall, with the last one holding a loo roll to take in.
   "We were taken round the three rooms of the house on show. Mr Cash is informative and knows his history. But afterwards, we could hear him berating this other group. It was a rant; he cleared has a short fuse; they were all distressed. We weren't involved, but it upset us too. Our mouths were hanging open at his behaviour."
   Both groups left, and although it was unlikely they would have recommended a visit to Upton Cressett to friends, they thought no of it. Until a week later when Cathy found out that a blog described the women in derogatory terms as "60-plus, blue-rinse members of the jam-making and Order of the Battle-Axe variety" and "the sort of queue you expect on a Saga cruise ship when it docks in Tenerife".
   "It's just so offensive," sighs Cathy. "Not to us but to all women."
   When it emerged that Cash had regurgitated his blog in a newspaper the women were infuriated. The WI felt they were being slanderously scapegoated. The TG was horrified.
   "My reaction was absolute disbelief that Mr Cash could be so pompous as to label all 'bossy, middle-aged, middle-class women' in such terms." says Margaret Key, TG chairwoman. "I have spoken with a TG member who was in the visiting party. I gather many of the problems were brought on by his own incompetence and mismanagement, and the Mr Cash insulted the members of the group throughout the tour. He was eventually challenged, at which point he did, by his own admission, 'bellow' at them.'
   What stunned both groups most was Cash's suggestion in the blog that the presence of a few men could have made all the difference. "Why is it that an all-femail, en masse brigade of brickabats will often bring out the worst side of otherwise normally charming people?"
   Ouch. Misogyny much?
   Certainly not, says William Cash when we speak. "This is not about women, this is about manners. I do not expect anyone to be abusive to me in my home. But women en masse can be very rude, I find. This group came in baying for teas, tours and toilets. I bent over backwards for two hours trying to please them. I wanted to be civil; and I was abused. They treated me as if I was a lavatory attendant at Waterloo."
   With hindsight, would he have done anything differently? "Why should I?" he exclaims. "I was the model of politeness."
   Perhaps we should be kind. With two failed marriages, William Cash may not be the greatest fan of the gentler sex. He has described how Upton Cressett "rescued him" during the end of his second marriage.
   Some take a less sympathetic view. Mrs Kay says: "To generate such animosity by making broad, sweeping statements about the female gender, in particular on personality, looks or age, is very unfortunate and will not win him any friends or extra visitors. I suggest all TG ladies avoid visiting unless a sincere apology is forthcoming from Mr Cash for his insensitive, repugnant, vitriolic comments."
   At the WI, members are waiting for their personal apology. "What would I tell other women thinking of visiting? Boycott it," says Cathy.
   Back in Worcester, the TG member whose personal needs sparked the row is too distressed to talk about the day, especially in light of Cash's later remarks. It seems an awful shame – and a high price to pay for spending a penny. Will the Battle of the Loos cost Cash dear, too?
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