The Sunbury and District Welsh Society is 60 years old this year. The present-day members were delighted to welcome to their annual garden party and AGM in July Helen Birnbaum, whose father, Islwyn Morris, founded the society with a group of fellow exiles in 1957. She travelled from Lancashire to be there.
The founders’ first meetings were held in Ashford, in a room at The Links public house, but Helen also remembers children’s parties in The Flower Pot in Sunbury.
Joan Jenkins, the society’s longest-standing member, recalls that when she and her husband, Graham, joined in 1966, the headquarters had moved to Sunbury Cricket Club where it remained until 1986.
She adds: “During this time the Society flourished and became very family-oriented; I can recall 15 teachers, six college lecturers and 36 children. We held Christmas parties, dances and musical evenings. We had coach trips to the coast and places of interest including the Bluebell Railway.
“Two annual events were set in stone: the St David’s Day dinner dance on 1st March and the Gymanfa Ganu
(Welsh singing festival) held jointly with eight other Welsh societies from Kingston, Whitton, Hounslow, Harrow, Wimbledon, Windsor, Walton and Rushmoor. Each society took its turn to host the festival but by 1993, when it came to Sunbury, only Wimbledon, Kingston and Rushmoor were still active. There were still enough lusty Welsh voices to make the rafters ring in St Mary’s Church.”
In 1986, the Society moved to the Riverside Arts Centre. To help with the fundraising, the Society held concerts at the centre and at Bishop Wand School featuring the acclaimed London- based Gwalia Male Voice Choir. Members also helped at the Centre’s own fundraising fairs with the men nobly offering to run the bar!
At the 1985 Sunbury and Shepperton Arts Festival, society members performed an excerpt from Under Milk Wood which Sarah Ash, the daughter of a member, devised and produced. Joan recalls: “Members enjoyed many happy hours rehearsing and the production was very well received by the festival audience.”
Through the 1980s and 90s the programme was extended to include seaside trips by train from Feltham, heritage evenings, arts lectures, visits to the Male Voice Choir festivals at the Albert Hall and holidays to different countries in mainland Europe.
Thereafter, membership began to fall as people retired – some returning to the homeland! Nevertheless, programmed events are well attended, especially the St David’s Day and Christmas lunches, concerts, plays, rambles, heritage evenings, and annual trips to South Wales in a vintage double-decker bus owned and driven by long-time member, Ken Morgan.
Rob Gant, the Society’s Chairman, said: “The Society flourishes. At present, over 50 members enjoy a range of social and cultural activities in true Welsh tradition. The majority have family connections with the Principality; others openly subscribe to Welsh culture and values. We are a friendly group.” If you are interested in joining us, please contact Rob on 01932 788028.