All Local, No air-miles, Planet Friendly


The story opens with the origin of the W.I. in 1897 at Stoney Creek in Ontario, Canada1. From Canada, Margaret Rose Robertson Watt (known in her time as Mrs Alfred Watt), a Scottish-Canadian philanthropist brought the W.I. to the U.K. The first W.I. group was set up in Anglesey at Llanfair PG in 19152. Mrs. Watt united rural women, whether privileged or poor, through shared concerns and shared goals. One of the first of these goals was to increase the food supply in war-torn Britain. Starting with a market in Lewes, Sussex, in 1919 the drive to garner and market local produce led to a significant increase in home food production. Mrs. Watt was awarded the title Member of the British Empire.

Wythall Country Market

She didn’t stop there. Mrs Watt wanted an international body to further the aspirations of rural women and by the Second World War, she was president of the Associated Countrywomen of the World. That organisation is a continuing force and has non-governmental status at the United Nations.

 After the war pressure from local tradesmen brought about the closure of all these markets except for the one in Lewes, still trading today.

In 1932 The National Federation of the Women’s institute, with the help of a grant from the Carnegie Trust, appointed Vera Cox as marketing organizer. She drew up model rules and wrote the first marketing handbook. W.I. Markets rapidly proliferated.

 The W.I. is a charity while the Markets were not. They were run as co-operatives and enabled not only WI members, but the unemployed, retired ex-servicemen and women, to earn a little pocket money whilst working from their own homes, by selling surplus produce. The Market organization was kept at an “arms length” relationshiup with the W.I. until finally, in 1995 the Markets were separated as W.I. Country Markets Ltd. In 2004 the use of the W.I. initials was discontinued.

The Four West Midlands Markets started at different times, the oldest (Bentley Heath) starting over 40 years ago.

 It’s a wonderful social mix at the market and having things you have made being bought by appreciative customers makes for a great atmosphere. On your own, there are only so many friends and relatives you can knit jumpers for before they start crossing the road to avoid you! In the market your goods go to customers who really want them and the money they pay covers the costs of the materials plus a little more besides. Also, the market takes you by the hand as far as rules and regulations are concerned. You know that you are acting legally and you are insured.

 Producers are the life-blood of the Country Markets but of course we need customers too. Are you looking for a small gift for a friend? Forget the anodyne (and over-priced) offerings of the shopping centre. In a Country Market you’ll find something charming and unique. Whilst you are at it treat yourself to some good, honest, home-cooking. Have a proper cup of tea or coffee, with home-made cake at old-fashioned prices. The Home Fires are still burning at Country Market near you.