Why 'Henfield Wild Violets'?
From 1903-1951 two women, the Misses Allen and Brown owned and ran the famous Violet Nurseries on Henfield Common. They were enterprising, pioneering women selling their products all over the world. The business grew and prospered and had many distinguished patronesses; these included Queen Mary and the Duchesses of Norfolk, Westminster, Marlborough and Wellington.
Their friend and neighbour was Elizabeth Robins, an American actress who lived at Backsettown. She was a great supporter and campaigner for Women’s Suffrage. She refused to fill in her 1911 census return, instead writing on it, "The occupier of this house will be ready to give the desired information the moment the government recognises women as respectable citizens."
Elizabeth went on to become the first president of Henfield WI and another feisty woman, Margaret Macnamara, a playwright, socialist and feminist was the first secretary. Miss Allen was also a founding member, Miss Brown having died in 1915.
In 1918 Elizabeth went to London to the WI's Annual Meeting as delegate for Henfield WI and proposed that the words "non- political" should be replaced by "non-party" on all official literature, and this wording remains in the WI constitution today.
These inspiring women and founding WI members, and Henfield’s Violet Nursery, were the inspiration for our name and will ensure our history is not forgotten.
Henfield Museum has more information about the Violet Nursery, its owners, and fragrant products. For further information about the WI please go to www.thewi.org.uk