“. . . you have won a £350 bursary towards a course at Denman.” I looked at the letter in my hands and slowly re-read the words. I have always wanted to go to Denman, scanning the list of courses each year but never actually getting around to booking. Now was my chancel!
Denman – formerly known as Denman College – is the jewel in the Women’s Institute crown. (click here) A gracious Manor House originally established to provide courses in Cookery, Lifestyle and Craft to any WI member and today open to all – including men – with a discount for members. Thumbing through the Course Catalogue I immediately dismissed all cookery courses – not because of what they offer but because I simply was not interested. Then I carefully went through the remaining courses on offer, eliminating any which did not offer either something new or something I would enjoy spending three days on. I ended up with courses on jewellery making: either using silver clay or working with silver metal. The latter won. I rather fancied the idea of sawing and soldering. Cost? Well, the three nights/ four days full board ensuite plus tuition AND free taxi to and from Oxford Rail Station was £485 and leaving me with £135 to pay after deducting the bursary. Yes, the taxi only ran at 3:45pm on arrival day and departed at 1:30pm on leaving day, but I could easily tailor my train journeys to fit in.
The Monday the silver jewellery course started there were also Pewterwork; the etymology of English words; Festive willow-weaving; Beginners’ craft; Modular Knitting and Moorish and Eastern cooking. After an introductory talk we ate dinner then went off to meet our tutors and fellow course members. Tuesday began with making ourselves a silver ring. By Thursday morning I was becoming quite proficient at cutting, annealing, banging, bending and soldering the silver wire. Banging was exceedingly noisy but necessary to decorate the silver. I was relegated to the empty room next door! The most fun was twisting silver bracelets with two wires. After the first wire had been twisted, the two wires had to be twisted together with great care taken to remember to twist the two the same direction as the first – otherwise the original twist would come undone. When I walked into the workshop on the Wednesday morning I found my first completed bracelet all polished and shiny after a session in the tumbler. I just could not believe that I had made this myself! Besides working with the silver wires we also used a fret saw to cut out sheet silver. I had such fun that I signed up for another course next year. Where else can you get such value for money?