The Countess was greeted on a snowy afternoon by the deputy Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Mrs Perdita Hunt, who presented Mrs Doreen Nash, president of Bagshot WI, and other dignitaries including Dr Helen Bowcock, High Sheriff of Surrey; Beryl Durham, chairman of the Surrey Federation of Women’s Institutes and former mayor of Surrey Heath Coun. Keith Bush and his wife Sue.
A traditional WI tea was served – but on this occasion it was prepared by Richard Waller, one of the chefs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst whose mother is a member of the WI. He made a special birthday cake for the occasion, together with a miniature replica which was presented to the Countess to enjoy at her home in the village.
The Countess spent more than an hour sitting and chatting to members at their tea tables. Among them were Ruth Stockley, who celebrates her diamond wedding anniversary this month and still helps in a charity shop; Betty Osborne Hewitt and Gret Woodason, who were treasurer and president respectively for 12 years – Gret travelled from her new home in Cornwall to be at the event; Jean Bristow, who served with the WRENs during the war and has been a WI stalwart for almost 60 years, 40 of them in Bagshot, and who helped to make the robes for the first Mayor of Surrey Heath; Jessie Woods, a member for almost 40 years and talented quilter and needlewoman who has celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary, and Barbara King, who is the committee’s minutes secretary – a job she took on “temporarily” 15 years ago.
On display were the first minute book covering the years 1923-33 and other items of WI memorabilia.
The Countess was presented with a bound copy of a series of articles compiled by WI member June Green detailing items from Bagshot’s past – such as HMS Bagshot, a minesweeper which the WI adopted during the war; the Duchess of Connaught’s Memorial Nursing Home which the WI supported with egg collections; a description of the village in 1923; the minutes of the first meeting on April 24, 1923 and the entertainment programme for its first year and what it was like to be a WI member in the 1920s.
The WI has met continuously in the parish hall in Church Road since the hall was completed 1925.
Member Pat Randles presented the Countess with a posy she had made herself, and before leaving the Countess unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion.
The WI movement began in Canada in 1897 but it was not until September 1915 that the first WI was formed in Britain – in the Welsh village of Llanfair PG (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch) in Anglesey.
Images with thanks Alan Meeks & Mike Hillman