A former 'leading light' of the WI is being commemorated with a blue plaque in Ugley.

Nancy Tennant, described as a 'champion of women's voices', will be remembered just over a century after the first meeting of Ugley WI in 1920.

The plaque honouring her achievements - the first for a Federation of Essex Women's Institutes (FEWI) member - will be unveiled on May 17 at Ugley Village Hall.

Born into the wealthy Scottish industrialist Tennant family, the self-effacing Nancy was diametrically different to her flamboyant Glenconner cousins - famous for discovering the Island of Mustique and their links to royalty.

As former vice-chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI), and lifelong resident of Ugley, Nancy is best remembered as the mastermind behind the national network of amateur WI choirs.

Her work culminated with WI choir members gathering in their thousands in the Royal Albert Hall in 1950, with world-famous Ralph Vaughan Williams composing the music and Sir Adrian Boult conducting.

Nancy had a long life, living until 105. She began working as a secretary for Ugley WI with her mother as president in her early 20s, after the First World War.


Deeply affected by the horrors of war, in which her brother, brother-in-law and two male cousins were killed, Nancy found purpose when she saw how the WI provided community, education and the possibility of independence for women - many of whom still could not vote.

In 1933, Nancy was made chair of the international sub-committee for NFWI, and travelled extensively to Europe to encourage the development of the WI abroad.

As a supporter of the League of Nations, Nancy was sent by the NFWI to campaign for peace at the Peace Demonstration in Brussels in 1934.

In 1941 she was made vice-chair of NFWI and continued this role through the Second World War and beyond.

From the very start of her WI career in the 1920s, Nancy recognised the importance of music and amateur choral singing - and also realised she could teach.

A talented singer herself - singing with the Bach Choir among others - Nancy made it he mission to ensure that ordinary women's voices were heard and music could be enjoyed by all. She began to conduct, teach conducting and adjudicate choirs nationally, making her way in a male-dominated field.

Like many women of the post-First World War generation, Nancy's love life was empty due to so many men her age being killed in the war.

By the mid-1930s she embarked on a lifelong platonic relationship with a man 12 years her junior, Humphrey Waterfield. They transformed each other's lives by ensuring his creative vision for a nearby village rubbish dump became Hill Pasture, a famously beautiful garden.

The unveiling of the plaque is the first in a series across the county by the FEWI, in conjunction with the Essex Women's Commemoration Project (EWCP).

Each will commemorate the life of an Essex woman who has been overlooked by history, with full details to be announced.