100th anniversary for Sussex Federation of the Women’s Institute

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Almost 100 women gathered earlier this month to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Sussex Federation of the Women’s Institute with a tea party.

On September 5, members from WI groups across Sussex gathered in the grounds of Great Ote Hall in Burgess Hill for a reception with cakes and sparkling wine to commemorate the day in 1917 when the federation was founded.

Gill Nokes, chair of the East Sussex Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “I wanted us to celebrate the centenary not only on the very day, but at the same location – the Godman family home.

“It is wonderful to see my vision become a reality and thank you to everyone who made this possible.”

Toni Whewell, who organised the event, said everyone did their best to protect the tea and cakes from the sudden showers.

“Beautiful hats and outfits - some of which had been worn to Buckingham Palace garden parties - had to be protected. In true WI style all obstacles were overcome.”

Toni Whewell organised the reception to celebrate the centenary

Toni Whewell organised the reception to celebrate the centenary

Historian Anne Stamper shared her knowledge with guests about life for WI members in 1917 which included boot-making, goat-keeping and mending pots and pans.

Ms Stamper has also produced a small book commemorating the centenary of the Sussex Federation of the Women’s Institute.

The special day was to commemorate the work of those women who helped form the federation 100 years ago, including the founders of the national movement Josephine Godman from Little Ote Hall and Lady Denman from Balcombe.

The Ote Hall property has been in the Godman family for almost 500 years, according to event organiser Toni Whewell.

Ms Whewell said: “That the event happened at all was all down to the generosity of the host Carola Godman Irvine who kindly opened up her lovely home helping make the afternoon a great success.”

Ms Whewell presented Ms Godman Irvine with a WI centenary rose bush, a signed book on Sussex and a contribution for the charity of her choice.

Ms Whewell said along with their tea, cakes and bubbly, the guests joined in singing ‘Jerusalem’ accompanied by two harpists.

“Modern WI members do not have to contend with the conditions of 100 years ago,” said Ms Whewell, “but the WI spirit is as vibrant as ever.”