Bringing People Together
The History of the British Club of the Taunus e.V.
The British Women’s Club was formed in 1966
There is little written history of the club’s origins, other than it began with a book swapping group of expat wives, desperate to get their hands on English literature. In those days the only means of contact with friends and family back in the UK were expensive phone calls or airmail. With no skype, whatsapp or even email, the BWC was a lifeline for so many women.
Our founding members were also very different to the majority of today’s members.
Very few women worked in Germany. Those who had their own career had to give it up to follow their husbands – and it was husbands only in those days. Support would not be given to the partner of a man.
Our archive starts with the committee meeting on 26th September 1974. Activities consisted of a tour of the Bad Homburg Schloss, a fashion show and a picnic for children.
The local representative had a major role in the group, they organised local activities each month and there was a monthly activity open to all the membership.
In 1974, a letter was written to Princess Margaret of Hessen (RIP) inviting her to be an Honorary Member. In response, the club was invited to visit Schloss Wolfsgarten in May 1975.
The June minutes of 1976 is the first time an agenda item appears from the Newsletter Editor with requests for articles for the newsletter ‘to be typed please’.
The British Consul in Frankfurt was often an initial point of contact for people arriving into Frankfurt and the BWC (as it was then known) was recommended for the new arrivals. People would often attend a coffee morning or similar event to get to know people. So close were the ties between The British Consul in Frankfurt and the BWC, that members were invited to the consulate to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday, including appearances by marching bands.
When describing the BWC, long-term member Margaret remembers the Newsletter Editor copy-typing handwritten articles on a huge typewriter, cutting them out and pasting on paper before photocopying the pages.
Margaret also spoke fondly of another member who, she feels, did a great deal to develop the club over these years: Margaret B. This Margaret founded the Frankfurt group and served as President in 1982. She later returned to the UK when her husband retired. Sadly, she has since passed away. Margaret B did a great deal to develop the club’s relationship with Princess Margaret of Hessen. The club was invited to her home in Schloss Wolfsgarten every two years where they were given a tour and afternoon tea.
At this time, the club had a mixed choir and they were also invited to Wolfsgarten for a Christmas Carol Concert. Unfortunately, the bus was late picking the group up and Princess Margaret said that while it was all right for them to wait in the music room, she was going to bed. After a while, one of the husbands started to play the piano and Princess Margaret returned. ‘Can you play the Charleston?’ she asked. The reply was an affirmative, and the group were given a display of Princess Margaret of Hessen dancing the Charleston.
Lesley, another long-term member, remembers meeting in the Trinkhalle in Bad Soden and the Hardtwald Hotel in Bad Homburg. As young mothers, they would take it in turns to babysit each other’s children so they could join in. Activities included helping each other translate knitting patterns from German to English. There were also bus trips to various places of interest, such as the Elizabeth Arden cosmetic factory, Marks and Spencers in Strasbourg and, of course, fashion shows.
One of the benefits of our club is that members are given the opportunity to make lifelong friends. Thanks to Lesley, we discovered that a group of past members still meet in London,, so we wrote to them. In response, we received this email from Linda:
‘How lovely to know that the BCT is still going strong. I was a member from August 1977 to July 1981 and it was the best organisation to help me during the settling in months. I had three small children and no German, and my husband was away in the Middle East for three weeks out of eight. Pleased to say I made lots of friends in the community and learned to speak German. Our eldest is almost bilingual.’
Many people remember the BCT Bonfire Night celebrations. Viv recalls parking the car and walking across a field to get to the site. The men would build a bonfire and set off fireworks from bottles pushed into the ground. Joan describes members buying fireworks in the UK and bringing them back in the boot of their cars. The women would prepare and bring food to share around, and the next morning a party of members would return to clean and tidy the site.
As interest and participants grew, more organisation was required. Gas barbeques were borrowed from FIS or oil drums used for cooking. The fire brigade had to be paid to attend and portable toilets were hired. On one occasion, Phil set up some strong spotlights only for the organisers to discover at the end of the evening that one particular spot light shone on the plastic coating of the toilet, outlining in silhouette anyone inside! Who knows what the locals would have thought was going on if they had seen that!
Margaret also remembers those Bonfire Nights fondly. She talked about going into the forest with Rudi, her two boys and other families in the morning to collect wood for the bonfire. All the children would run around collecting twigs, delighted with their efforts.
To some BCT members, St Patrick’s Day means a morning and afternoon at Margaret’s. Although other members have also hosted lovely St Patrick’s Day celebrations, many members automatically assume it will be held at her home. She began celebrating St Patrick’s Day with the BWCT in the late 80s. It all started when she was asked to host a coffee morning for her local area in Kelkheim, where she lived at the time, in the February of that year. She agreed but thinking of the timing, suggested she did it on March 17th and call it an Irish Coffee Morning, promising to give it an Irish flavour.
That first year she served Irish coffee, and as the years went on more members started to come and offer to bring food. These days, anyone attending a St Patrick’s Day hosted by Margaret will see many dishes and drinks coloured green. She initially put some green colouring in the cream for the Irish coffee, but over the years has experimented with green colouring in a number of foods – the green scones are delicious!
Since that first coffee morning, the day has become something of a festival, with Irish music, dancing and songs. One year, when Beryl was President, she asked her son Kevin to come along and talk to her guests about leprechauns. Knowing he was a good storyteller, she imagined he would sit beside the fire and charm all the ladies with his stories. Kevin arrived after the revels had begun. He walked through the door dressed as a Leprechaun, much to the delight of the guests. He then, (all five foot, four inches of him) stood on a chair and proceeded to entertain everyone with his Irish blarney.
In 2006, the BCT celebrated its 40th anniversary with a Gala Dinner and children’s treasure hunt. The dinner was held at the Villa Borgnis in Königstein and the president, Kate, was joined by a number of past presidents.
2011 gave us the opportunity to celebrate the Royal Wedding of Katherine and William. We organised our own version of a street party in Alison’s lovely garden. Local newspapers were keen to find out how we planned to celebrate the day and Mary, the president at the time, gave an interview on television. A carry-in lunch, naturally accompanied by sekt, was organised, and then members sat in Alison’s living room to watch the wedding on a huge screen set up for us by Tim.
2011 also gave us the chance to hold a party for two events: our 45th anniversary and the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The Peter Schall Haus in Bad Homburg was the venue for a garden party with activities for children and adults.
In 2016, the most recent big anniversary of the club, the big 5 0, was celebrated with a family day in October, and a Gala Dinner in December. Both events were well attended by old and new members keen to mark the occassion.
Looking back on the long history of the BCT, it is clear that changing times have meant changing needs. Thanks to the likes of Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp, people coming into the Frankfurt and Taunus area are not as removed and isolated from home as they once might have felt. What is still needed, however, and what the BCT provides, is a community where members can find support, local knowledge and lifelong friendship.
With Special Thanks to Theresa who prepared a series of articles on the topic of our history for the magazine in 2016