Knutsford-Hartford french circle 60 years “et ça continue!”
A Gallic celebration will be taking place this month – not across the Channel but here in Cheshire when the Knutsford-Hartford French Circle celebrates sixty years as one of the longest-running French conversation groups in the region.
Originally known as the Hartford French Circle, the society was founded by two ladies, Mrs. Cheetham and Mrs. Henry, in February 1951. As the Vicar himself was a member, the club often met at the Vicarage as well as in each other’s homes.
Early on, the organization established its aim “to help both English and French members to further their knowledge of each other’s country, language, customs, etc.” and focused on grammar exercises, written work and reading classics. Over time, it has evolved into a social conversation group covering a broad array of topics and activities. Former French lecturer at Mid-Cheshire College and long-standing member, Geoff Thomas, appreciates the contributions from guest lecturers from Manchester Metropolitan University and the club’s native speakers: “The language spin-off is invaluable so that when I go to France on holiday, I am sure that my French has benefited from the practice.”
The passage of time
Remarkably, minute books of each of the group’s meetings over the course of sixty years have been kept which not only detail the various subjects covered but also highlight the passage of time.
Fountain pen flowed in the hard-bound books dating from the 1950’s and 1960’s when members formally addressed each other as “Monsieur” or “Madame”- even “Madame la Présidente” when referring to the group’s organizer. Several pages were typed in the 1970’s with French accents quickly jotted in ink while Tipp-Ex hid any ballpoint errors on written entries in the 1980’s. Progress in record keeping can be seen in more recent books which hold submissions pasted in from computer print-outs.
The evolution of technology often presented itself when, in 1952, whilst discussing future exercises, one member stated that she,”…did not see any point in continuing the course of gramophone records as they were ‘indistinct’.” In 1963, members taped themselves reading extracts from a book and found it “quite strange” to hear the sound of their own voices. As late as 1979, the society would write, bearing in mind a four-week lead time, to the Film Library at the Institut Français in London requesting 16mm films to rent.
A foretelling of future events emerged when the topic of a “tunnel under the Channel” linking England and France was debated in 1964 focusing on its cost effectiveness. Some members thought it was too great while others felt the economic gain for England would outweigh the initial expense. In 1970 a debate on the developing European Common Market led to the conclusion that a common language – perhaps English! – would emerge amongst participating countries (the UK joined in 1973).
The French Circle today
The club currently has eighteen active members and meets regularly on Monday evenings in each other’s homes. A schedule of various activities, such as viewing contemporary French films at Knutsford’s cinema and annual Bastille Day and anniversary celebrations, is set by the President and committee members each season in advance. Some recent programmes include presentations on the lives of Chopin and Edith Piaf, a lecture on “A Frenchman’s View of Victorian Manchester,” and a student’s life abroad in Lille. Debates, games and themed topics where every member is asked to contribute result in much laughter for the participants.
Some members are former French teachers or have children living in France. Others are just passionate about the language and culture and find that the Knutsford-Hartford French Circle offers much more. As one member puts it, “We meet to share a wealth of diverse experiences and in doing so, we find friendship, knowledge and support from others in the group.”
Over the course of sixty years members have come and gone, yet the aim of the group has remained constant – to share its enjoyment of France and her language. As one past President wrote in her annual report, “I am extremely proud of being a long-serving member of a society, incredibly, of no fixed abode!”
For more information about the group, please contact Lisa Senior, President, at Knutsfordfrench@hotmail.co.uk