Oct 5th | Craft Evening with Linda Bloomfield

There were furrowed brows and serious looks of deep concentration at our October Capel Ladies Meeting. The person to blame was Linda Bloomfield who, once again, had set us the task of being creative and producing an attractive decorative item for the festive season!

As it turned out, it was 100% success rate this year – and we all managed to make a rather cute little fir-cone gnome, one which could be hung on a festive tree or stood in pride of place on a mantelpiece amongst the cards! Some skilful members even graduated to bauble-making using string wound round and glued to a sphere and then decorated with sequins, but the majority were more than happy with their fir-cone gnomes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Linda buzzed about with felt and needles, and there was a hum of conversation in the Library, punctuated only by “Mmmmm!”s as we chomped our way through the home-made “chocolate bark” slabs which Linda had thoughtfully placed on each table. Naughty but very nice!

Several people bought Christmas cards, again home-made by Linda, and in so-doing raised £25 for the East Anglian Children’s Hospice. A very enjoyable evening was had by all!


Sept 7th | Turkey and the Ottomans – a talk by Jenny Gibbs

Capel Ladies were delighted to welcome back Jenny Gibbs, along with her partner Mustapha, to talk about the Ottoman Empire, the  Hidden Treasures of Istanbul and a Glimpse into the Harem. Jenny wore a traditional costume with head dress, pantaloons and apron, and a gorgeous sparkly top. She gave us a quick introduction as to how she came to live in Turkey for twenty four years, having fallen in love with the country after a brief holiday there. She lives in a two hundred year old farmhouse, which is apt because – as the Ottoman Empire only ended in 1923 – her home is an Ottoman house.

The Empire was created in 1299, and from the 15th to 17th centuries was the largest empire in the world. The Ottomans came from Mongolia and while some went to Turkey others went to Finland, which is why there is a similarity in their languages. Eventually Istanbul became the centre of the Empire. The Palace there is magnificent and covers 173 acres. All the roofs are domes, and the walls are covered in ceramic hand-painted tiles. The kitchens are vast as they would have served upwards of 10,000 people.  Jenny has visited the palace  several times as it takes many days to see it all.

The Harem in the Palace was also very large. Harem means women’s quarters and this is where all the women in the palace lived. The Sultan was allowed four wives, while other men could have seven! These would all be Turkish but his concubines, usually about eight hundred of them, would come from conquered nations. They would be the most beautiful girls, and in the harem they were well educated, taught to play music, dance, sing and do exquisite embroidery. Each girl would have her own servant and there were also about four hundred eunuchs to keep order, so you can understand why it was so large with that many people there! A sad fate awaited these women, however. When a Sultan died all his concubines would be killed – often weighted down with stones and thrown in the Bosphorus! Fortunately this practice died out as the centuries passed.

It wasn’t too good to be the son of a sultan either, since only one son could take over when his father died. They often killed all their brothers to ensure no one tried to depose them! Later on this custom, too, died out and the brothers would be put in a special place known as the Cage to live out their lives. Although called a Cage it was a good life with every luxury and plenty of concubines too. However the brothers were never allowed out and frequently went mad.

Jenny went on to tell us about some of the buildings in Istanbul including the fabulous mosques, The Grande Hotel de Londres, built for the passengers of the Orient Express in 1892, remains unchanged to this day and is often used by film companies. She also described a vast underground cistern where water had been stored and they had used Greek and Roman columns to support the roof, but many of these were put in upside down! She said it was beautifully cool in there after the heat of the streets.

Jenny brought with her examples of Ottoman clothing as well as scarves, tablecloths and bags to sell, all very beautiful and eagerly bought by our members. We look forward to the next time Jenny comes, she is always a delight to listen to.

(Report by Di Barker)

July 20th | The Shelley Centre & Riding for the Disabled Charity – talk by Chairman Jan Derbyshire

Our July meeting saw Jan Derbyshire, chairman of The Shelley Centre for Therapeutic Riding, accompanied by her deputy Chairman Margaret Fowler, come to talk to us about the Riding for the Disabled charity.

Jan started with the words “It’s what you CAN do that counts” and then read a poem entitled “I Can”.

Jan explained to us that she was an unlikely character to be where she is today, at the head of a riding centre for disabled people.  She was raised in Uganda, later moving to Hong Kong. She eventually came back to this country and was a “Townie” living and working in London, in nursing, in banking and also in recruitment, then moving to Dedham 30 years ago. After retirement a chance meeting with a neighbour got her volunteering for an hour a week at the Shelley Centre, which is set in picturesque countryside.

An hour a week led to a day a week, she learnt to lead a horse, then to ride a horse; she trained to be an instructor, then she went on the Committee and eight years ago became Chairman of what is now a Trust.

We found out that riding has long been known to improve mental and physical health, even as long ago as in Greece in the 5th Century B.C., and it was used to help First World War victims. The Riding for the Disabled Charity officially came in to being in 1969, and there were 80 groups scattered throughout the country. Now there are 600, including The Shelley Centre for Therapeutic Riding, which has been open since 1989. It has seen many changes over the years, with the introduction of Health and Safety regulations, CRB checks, First Aid requirements, etc.

The Centre has 10 horses and ponies, lots of tack and specialist equipment, and even a side-saddle. They have a carriage for driving and Ebony the computerised mechanical horse. (You may have read ‘Ebony’s Blog’ in Capel Capers.)  There are between 95 and 100 volunteers and over 100 riders attend each week. The Centre costs £70,000 a year to run, so much fund-raising is needed.

Jan impressed upon us that RDA is a therapy, not just a ride on a horse. Riding uses every muscle in the body, improves internal organs as well as posture, and gives the riders more self-confidence. They also have to try to fit the school curriculum into lessons, using colours, letters and numbers, amongst other things, in the arena. She also told us that many of the Paralympians, like Sophie Christiansen, have been discovered through the RDA.

We saw several film clips showing children and adults riding, and so obviously enjoying every minute of it, and we heard from families what a big impact RDA has had on those they were able to help. In some cases the riders said it was the first time they had ever been able to achieve anything which made them feel they had been set free from their disabilities for that short time when they are sat on their horse.

Jan was an excellent speaker, full of information delivered passionately and with wit. At the end of this very informative and enjoyable evening we presented Jan with a cheque for £100 to help The Shelley Centre’s funds.

For more information visit their website:

June 1st | Summer Social – “Ladies Day at Ascot”

There is no such thing as “Ladies Day” at Ascot Races. It’s actually known as “Gold Cup Day” – but however you call it, Capel Ladies held their own SPECIAL “Ladies Day at Ascot” as part of their Summer Social in the Vine Lounge.

Everyone wore their posh outfits, complete with hats and fascinators, to add to the atmosphere of the occasion, and there was bunting round the room and flower arrangements (made by Shirley and Pat) on the tables.

Barbara Faulkner was on hand to tell us all about the history of Ascot from its origins to modern times, and she also organised some real horse-races for us to participate in! We were in groups of 4 or 5, with a small bundle of monopoly money, a racing card listing the horses, a jockey’s cap and a dice. One of us was the jockey, one was the owner of the horse, one the trainer and the others punters. The jockeys had to go and stand by the “track” which was a board marked out in lanes and grid lines, each lane with its own toy horse waiting at one end for the “off!”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At Barbara’s whistle, each group rolled their dice and shouted the score to the jockey at the trackside, who would then move their horse along the track for the required number of spaces. The winner was presented with a rosette and a cup, and also received their winnings if they had bet money on their own horse! It was great fun, and the overall winners were Table One who had amassed a total of £800! The jockey and owner received the Gold Cup from “the Queen” in a special presentation!

After all the excitement there was our bring-and-share high-class buffet to tackle, and a glass of prosecco for each lady! All in all it was an evening to remember!

If you fancy your chances and are willing to put up your membership fee you’ll be made very welcome – come and join us!

May 4th | Chocolate Making Evening with Sarah Knights

What to choose?

Our May meeting was not an evening for Weight-Watchers or Slimming World Members! Sarah Knights from Chappel Chocolate House, near Colchester, was on hand to give us a demonstration of the chocolate-making method, and to let us sample and buy her wares! Assisted by her friend Julia, Sarah talked us through the process of “tempering” the chocolate by adding cool chocolate button drops to a bowl of melted chocolate at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius and stirring constantly until all the buttons melted.

Once the chocolate has been tempered it sets easily in moulds, has a sheen to it and snaps crisply when broken. These are the signs of good chocolate – not forgetting the taste, of course! The skills needed for a qualified chocolatier are similar to those of a chemist, and a chocolate-maker must have technical skills and a grasp of the science behind the art of chocolate-making!

Lots of goodies to buy!

Sarah Knights has an engineering background and she once worked for the M.O.D. as well as in the telecoms industry. Having gone to a patisserie evening class as part of a leisure pursuit she found she had chocolate-making skills and set up a small business 3 or 4 years ago doing Birthday Parties and  Easter Eggs as well as selling her chocolates at local Farmers’ Markets. She has attended a number of courses in the art of chocolate-making and her business has grown over the years since then.

Birthday Girl Dorothy gets to scrape the bowl!

Qualities needed to produce a good bar of chocolate depend on where it is grown and on the fermentation and roasting processes which can create different flavours, and the vital ingredient of cocoa butter.

On display was a wide range of chocolate bars, plus small filled chocolates in every flavour you could wish for! We sampled various types of chocolate, from plain (with up to 80% of cocoa beans and 5% sugar), to milk chocolate (with 30% cocoa beans plus milk and up to 33 ⅓% sugar), and also white chocolate (containing no cocoa beans and 54% sugar, plus milk solids and cocoa butter). We could then decide on which we preferred and make our purchases. The only problem was deciding which ones to buy! A very interesting and enjoyable evening was had by all!

Apr 6th | “Knickers – What we wear underneath, and why” with Liza Jones

I’ve heard of some unusual collections in my time, but historical and vintage underwear must be one of the strangest! Liza Jones has a suitcase full of the most amazing garments worn by ladies through the ages, which we passed round to look at while she told us of their history.

The underwear market in the UK is a thriving business, worth £1.6 billion a year, but it has not always been so. Women have not always worn underwear, but from the 15th century onward began to take more interest in showing off their own body shape under clothing. They began wearing laced corsets which were stiffened with whalebone to keep their shape and provide support. Liza wanted to add one of these corsets to her collection but was unable to find one so made her own! Instead of using whalebone she stiffened each section using modern parcel ties and the result is a work of art!

Apart from this garment she has pantaloons, knickerbockers, a Victorian night-shirt and cap, a liberty bodice and a wonderful collection of vintage bras and underwear sets from more recent times! We were taken on a journey from busks to Madonna’s bullet bras, and from loin cloths to G-strings! A fascinating and enlightening talk and slides, which was brought to life as we passed round the various items of clothing, many of which were hand-made and edged with delicate lace or broderie anglaise. Thank you Liza for a lively and interesting talk!

Mar 2nd | “The Funny Side of Policing” with Gary Egerton

The police theme from our museum visit cropped up again at our March meeting, when Gary Egerton, a retired police officer and Blue Badge Tourist Guide, made a welcome return visit to the club to tell us about “The Funny Side of Policing”. He had a wealth of amusing yarns to tell from his various experiences – first, as a rookie cop, pounding the beat at the tender age of nineteen, then as a member of the C.I.D., solving crimes, and finally as a police protection officer responsible for guarding V.I.P.’s like members of the Royal Family, pop groups and politicians.

Gary is a great storyteller and has a proper ‘policeman’s voice’, so we had no trouble hearing the hilarious accounts of incidents from his time on the force.

At the end of the evening he received much enthusiastic applause from a smiling crowd of Capel Ladies Club members who had been treated to large doses of “the best medicine” – LAUGHTER!

Our next speaker promises more amusing anecdotes when she reveals facts concerning the subject of “Knickers”- so do come and join us for a jolly evening! New members always welcome!