Did you know that Henfield’s WI was the second group to be formed in West Sussex? 

The Women’s Institute movement was spreading from Canada, and Henfield WI met for the first time in 1917. The Great War had been dragging on for three years and food was getting short. The government stressed the need to grow more fruit and vegetables.

The first business meeting was held in the Rainbow Coffee Tavern (later to become the Eardley Memorial Hall). On October 26th 1917, Miss Elizabeth Robins was in the Chair, she gave a brief resume of the objectives of the Women’s Institute and intending members were invited to come forward and enrol. 59 women joined that evening and within a few days other names were added. In 1918 members were using a plot of ground to grow potatoes, onions, beans and roots, and grazed goats on the Common. They also formed rabbit and pig clubs and sold their produce at a weekly market in the twitten at the side of the Plough Inn. 

During the Second World War, the WI again concentrated on food production and providing clothing for, amongst others, victims of bombing. The WI Handicraft Guild knitted 2,214 articles of clothing, 1,757lbs of jam was made, and 12,329 cans of fruit and tomatoes were sealed. Nearly ¾ ton of rosehips were collected and 1,274 pies were made and distributed to farm workers. In 1941 a Fruit Preserving Centre was established at the Women’s Institute Room, which was behind the Assembly Room. Women from the village were encouraged to bring any surplus fruit to the centre, this was bought wholesale at a price fixed by the Food Ministry. Suitable fruit was made into jam and sold to retailers, hospitals, canteens, schools and similar institutions. 

In 1957 a new branch was formed called the Henfield Tipnoak WI. The first meeting was held at the George Hotel. This group ran successfully for many years, but folded in 1993. Woodmancote WI reformed in 1991 and then merged with Henfield in 2007. Henfield now has two groups, the Woodmancote and Henfield WI and the Wild Violets WI who both meet monthly in the village. Henfield Museum holds several scrap books compiled by the WI.

Steve Robotham, Assistant Curator, Henfield Museum

Image © Henfield Museum

Taken from the October 2017 edition of The Parish Magazine.
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