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Sutton Women's Institute


Sutton WI meets every second Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Sutton Village Hall. Doors open at 7pm.


New members are always welcome.

Sutton WI Dec 2022
Sutton WI Committee 







Hall Rep           


-   Janet Potter (01767262118)

-   Catherine Brown

-   Pat Thwaites (01767261016)

-   Cynthia Brewerton

-   Jackie Ryan

​-   Ann Fowler

-   Ellie Daniels

    Kim Oatway

WI Programme 2024

9th April - AGM and social evening.


14th May - Jo Hollington - demonstration and activity. Making hanging baskets. Bring your own basket or planter. This meeting is to be held at The Old Rectory.


11th June 3pm - Meeting on wheels afternoon visit to The Old Rectory Open Garden in Wrestlingworth.

9th July - Social evening with pizzas.

13th August - Talk by Amanda Sutherland. "Creative journey" - a career in costume design.

10th September - Talk by Evan Willison. "My time as an auctioneer".

8th October - Talk by Ian Deavin. "Tai-chi history, relevance and practice".

24th October - Thursday Group Meeting. Talk by Sarah Harrison. "50 years as a writer".

12th November - Talk by David Longman. "The chase is on".

10th December - Wreath making with Vicky Holliman and Jo Hollington.

Past events 2022-2024

Tuesday 14th May 2024
Hanging basket session

After a blustery showery day, members of Sutton WI gathered at The Old Rectory in Sutton to create hanging baskets under the expert guidance of one of our members, Jo Hollington, who lives at the rectory. It was an event in some ways created to support the annual Flower Festival and Duck Race held in Sutton.

We arrived at the rectory in two separate groups, one at 5.30pm and the other at 6.30pm to ensure that there was enough space for everyone to work. Members chose from a wide variety of
plants, some trailing and some not, all of them very colourful. We were instructed to fill the baskets two-thirds full, add  fertiliser, more soil and then to add the plants to create the desired effect.

In any spare time we had, we created little baskets which would be used as prizes on the tombola stall. Sutton WI always has a tombola stall at this event, any funds made going into WI funds.

After creating the baskets, group 1 met group 2 to share the delicious refreshments made by the committee before group 2 went on to make their baskets. The baskets were transported back to cars via wheelbarrow and by Jo’s husband, William.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, time well spent. Our thanks must go to Jo and William for organising the event.

Cynthia Brewerton

WI hanging basket session.jpg
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Tuesday 10th April 2024
WI meeting minutes

Present: Cynthia Brewerton, Catherine Brown, Jeanette Frost, Val Piercy, Robbie Lewithwaite, Jan May, Mary Kingdon, Melanie Batkins Sue Mc Clymont, Ann Fowler, Jan Bush, Jo Hollington, Lynn, Janet Potter, Kim Oatway, Gina Bunker, Jean Baines, Jackie Ryan, Sue Mc Clymont.
Guest: Dot Wigg from County.
Apologies: Denise Brown, Pat Thwaites, Shirley Roscoe, Liz Baker, Libby Gardner, Ellie Daniels.

The previous minutes were read and signed.

The meeting considered the resolution, Dental Health Matters and decided that we should have a discretionary vote whereby our delegate votes on our behalf.
Esme Young of The Great British Sewing Bee is to be the speaker in Bedford on 26th April. Cost £10, monies to Catherine, 6 members are attending and Janet is the delegate.
The June meeting is "Meeting on Wheels" which has been organised by Ann to a garden of some 4 acres from the National Garden Scheme in Wrestlingworth. There will be cake and a cup of tea, cost is £10, to take place at 3pm.
Tombola items are needed for the stall in May ASAP to Janet.
The County newsletter: members were asked whether they would prefer to receive this by e-mail or as a printed copy. An e-mail was decided upon but as yet no-one has received a copy. As the secretary has changed, this has been delayed. County send a copy to the secretary who then sends copies out to members.
Jo Hollington then gave us details of the hanging basket session to be held at the rectory. She has baskets to sell for £5 and also plants but members can bring their own if they wish. If someone wishes to take part but doesn’t want the basket she
will sell it at the plant stall. There will be 2 sessions: 5.30pm and 7pm with refreshments in between. Gloves and tools were requested to be brought by members. Guests who have come to meetings before are welcome if there is space.
Janet asked for volunteers for the tombola stall and Jo asked for people to help at the plant stall and for cake donations. 

Duck race tickets are now on sale at £1 per ticket. There are 4 prizes this year, the first being £150.

Delicious refreshments were served by Melanie and Lynn so thanks must go to them.

The meeting closed at 9pm. The next meeting is on Tuesday 11th May with 2 sessions at 5.30pm and 7pm in the Old Rectory garden.

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Tuesday 10th April 2024
WI AGM meeting minutes

Present: Cynthia Brewerton, Catherine Brown, Jeanette Frost, Val Piercy, Ellie Daniels, Robbie Lewithwaite, Jan May, Mary Kingdon, Melanie Batkins Sue McClymont, Ann Fowler, Jan Bush, Jo Hollington. Lynn, Monica Morris, Janet Potter, Libby Gardner, Kim Oatway, Gina Bunker Jackie Ryan.
Guest: Dot Wigg from County as an observer.

Apologies: Denise Brown, Pat Thwaites, Shirley Roscoe, Ellie Daniels, Libby Gardener.

The previous minutes were read and signed.

Pat is standing down from being secretary after many years so thanks must go to her for her hard work. Kim Oatway was proposed as her replacement and was seconded. She was duly appointed.


Ann Fowler also wished to stand down, this time from being involved in creating the programme, thanks to her too. Gina Bunker and Sue Mc Clymont volunteered to assist Jackie in doing this in the future.

The accounts were audited by Angie Tether so thanks must go to her. Catherine summarised the accounts for us: it was a good year with £260 made on the tombola and £50 on the raffle at the Christmas meal. All in all, £1,180 was carried over into the next year.

Janet thanked the committee for their hard work throughout the year and the members for taking their turn in providing refreshments. Janet was also thanked for being our president and for doing the job so well.

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Tuesday 12th March 2024
Peta Frost - Saxon Gate Flowers

Peta had always been a keen gardener and had worked for several local growers. In 2020, quite by chance, she came upon three quarters of an acre of land that she could buy. It was full of brambles and thistles but she found that with some work she was able to cultivate half an acre of it. In many ways it was ideal, it was flat, it received full sunlight, and it had parking and water nearby. She created flower beds off a central path and employed the no-dig method of cultivation. This is where layers of cardboard are put down and compost is put over the top.  The cardboard decomposes and enriches the soil. She likes to grow a wide variety of plants and have a sustainable method of working, using no pesticides and one where she can encourage wild life.

She also talked about how she chooses plants and how to care for flowers ourselves. Peta is particularly keen to avoid becoming involved in the global flower trade. Some of the flowers we buy in supermarkets have travelled thousands of miles; their carbon footprint is huge. Workers' rights have often been undermined and plastics have been used. In her business Peta aims to have a plastic-free environment. She encouraged us to buy seasonally, buy British, buy local, avoid floral foam which is bad for the environment, and, if and where possible, to grow our own flowers.

Peta and her team recently had the honour of providing some of the flowers for King Charles’ coronation. They surrounded the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and decorated the choir stalls in Westminster Abbey. She was told that after the ceremony
the flowers would be sent to care homes. 

In her business, Peta runs workshops and can accommodate group visits. Everyone very much enjoyed her talk so thanks must go to her for a very informative evening.

Cynthia Brewerton

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Tuesday 13th February 2024
Amazing things can happen: the story of building a school in Kenya.

Ian and Penny Stimson gave us a very interesting talk about their work in Kenya. They have been working in a village there, Utangi which is 25 miles from Mombasa. About 8-9 thousand people lived there when they first went there some 16 years ago. The people there had no education and were only able to pick up labouring jobs as and when they were available.

Once Ian retired he felt that he wanted to do something to be of help and owing to a series of random connections and happenings, he and his wife have been instrumental in overseeing and funding, with others, several projects in Kenya, Cassuwara House, Make a Difference in Schools, Mombasa and Noah’s Academy. The latter was a project designed to enable children with special needs to achieve their potential. For this, a Swedish contact was able to provide computers.

In the Rainbow Unit, also for young people with special needs, a challenge he had was, with others, to be able to open a unit where people were taught usable, employable skills, such as tailoring, cookery, etc.

Ian and his team encountered many challenges and difficulties along the way, not least when money ran short and building on the project had to be stopped. A Kenyan Rotary group stepped into help there. However over time they encountered several more problems in sustaining the project:

  • replenishing consumables

  • the cost of education per pupil

  • parental reluctance to face the fact that their child had additional needs.

They were able to overcome these difficulties by receiving more charitable donations and by involving parents in planting crops and harvesting them and in making craft items which could be sold. Some young people were sponsored by overseas
benefactors. Money was lent to set up the kitchen garden and craft projects and the money made was recycled into buying more resources. In addition, the International and local Rotary groups were able to help.

Profits were divided: 40% to running the project, 30% to replenishing material used and 10% was given for education to each family involved.

The talk was most informative and much enjoyed by members. Ian and Penny have been supported in their work by many random contacts and coincidences, hence the title of the talk. Was it chance??

Thank you again to Ian and Penny

Cynthia Brewerton

Child Learning Numbers at School
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Tuesday 12th December 2023


We were treated to a lovely Kurling games evening led by Tosh and Alison Ross. They do these evenings in support of a charity which pays for the training of assistance dogs.  We had 4 guests and 20 members there. The rules were explained and we each got a chance to practise under the expert guidance of Tosh.


The idea was to push a stone along the floor towards a target which looked rather like a huge dartboard which was on the floor. There were two teams in each game, each using
different coloured stones, blue and red. The aim was ultimately to score on one of the rings but to also push off the opposing team's stones.


Allison kept the scores and at the end all the scores were very similar but winners emerged and received a small prize for their efforts. There were lots of laughs and some healthy competition. All in all it was a lovely social evening and much enjoyed by everyone.

Cynthia Brewerton

WI Kurling winners
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Tuesday 14th November 2023
Social / craft evening


On Tuesday 14th November Jackie Ryan, one of our committee members, organised and ran a craft meeting for us. There was a lot of gathering of resources that had to be done: nail varnish, buckets, water, aprons, disposable gloves and tablecloths, and little rolls of lights on thin wires. But central to it all were the clear wine bottles (empty of course!) It all looked most intriguing!

Jackie demonstrated what we had to do and after donning all of the protective clothing we put a variety of colours of nail varnish on the surface of the water and then plunged the wine bottles into the water, gently moving the nail varnish around as we did so. The nail varnish adhered to the bottles and a pretty marbling effect was transferred to the outside of them. They all looked lovely!

After letting the bottles dry we were able to unravel the thin wire of lights and push them into the bottles. Once there, we were able to turn on the lights and hey presto we each had a colourful table decoration to take home!


It was a lovely evening of creativity and chatter and it was very much enjoyed, so many thanks to Jackie.

Cynthia Brewerton

Sutton WI craft evening
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Tuesday 12th September 2023
Wimpole Hall


On Tuesday 12th September Vanessa Osborne came to talk to us about Wimpole Hall. We were especially grateful to her as she was able to come to us at such short notice. Our booked speaker had had to cancel. Vanessa began volunteering at Wimpole 5 years ago; she has done various roles from house guide to the welcome team.

Unlike many other grand houses, Wimpole has had a series of owners. In 1640 Thomas Chiudley, a Cavalier, bought it. He spent a lot of money on it but then sold it. The next owner bought it for £50,000 and built on a library but got into debt and the house and contents had to be sold by his wife. Several others owned the house and made alterations.


The Gothic Tower was built; locally we know it as the Folly but it is not in fact a folly. In 1843 Queen Victoria visited with Prince Albert and described it as ‘a pretty little place’. In its chequered history it was even bought as a property to let.


Rudyard Kipling’s daughter Elsie Bainbridge bought it after initially renting it. On her death she bequeathed it to the National Trust who have since been involved in restoring and conserving it for future generations. 

Vanessa was very knowledgeable and spoke with obvious enthusiasm. We learned a lot!

Cynthia Brewerton

Wimpole Hall
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Tuesday 13th June 2023
Wrest Park


On Tuesday 13th June Sutton WI embarked on their annual Meeting On Wheels expedition. This year the venue was Wrest Park, the visit prompted by a fascinating talk we received earlier in the year. We had a glorious summer day and we were guided by Richard Luscombe who had previously given us the talk. He was full.of interesting information about the house itself and about the paintings and renovation that had taken place.


The house in its lifetime has had various owners and uses over the years. It was used as a military hospital at one time and the upstairs rooms still house offices. One of the owners, the Duke of Kent, gave up his title and became a Marquis so that his grandaughter could inherit it as Marchioness. This was a most unusual step to take at the time, a woman taking precedence as beneficiary. JM Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan, staged plays there.

Following our visit to the house, members admired the beautifully kept grounds and had a cream tea outside in the shade where there was a breeze. All in all it was a great success and very much enjoyed.

Cynthia Brewerton

Painted ceiling at Wrest Park
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Tuesday 9th May 2023
Coronation lunch


For our May meeting, we held a Coronation Lunch from 12.30 to 3pm in the Village Hall which had been decorated with red, white and blue bunting.

The Committee made and served the members with Coronation chicken, roasted baby potatoes, coleslaw and salad, followed by Celebration trifle and Pavlova. We toasted the new King with a glass of prosecco and finished the meal with celebration cupcakes and pots of tea.

We all attempted a very interesting quiz about the Royal Family and agreed it was a lovely way to celebrate the Coronation.

Ellie Daniels

Sutton Village Hall, Bedfordshire - Tables set for coronation lunch
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Tuesday 14th March 2023
Angela Tarbox: organise your life

On Tuesday 14th March Angela Tarbox came to talk about organising and decluttering your home, work and life. Angela has worked as a professional organiser but now works for an organisation called "Your Space Freed". She is able to help and guide people through challenging times that they may be going through by helping them to organise their lives.

Divorce and bereavement present challenges for people where possessions may have to be reassessed and redistributed. She gave us advice on how to begin decluttering our homes. She advised us not to look at the whole picture but to break down what we have to do into small chunks. She said we should ask ourselves what we would like to achieve and to set ourselves a realistic timeline to achieve our objectives. She advised too on places to take unwanted items: many items to charity shops and animal  shelters; unwanted medication to the chemist; hats and gloves to homeless shelters. Some local authorities will take unwanted electrical items, food banks will accept tinned food, etc., and books can be recycled.

In her experience she has found taking before and after photos useful in motivating people. Amongst us there are those who do not have a problem with throwing things away and those who hang on to things out of sentiment or because they feel overwhelmed by the sheer task of organising their possessions. There is some evidence that decluttering can aid mental well being.

We must thank Angela for her talk and for inspiring and motivating some members to begin the Herculean task of sorting out many years of gathering possessions around them.

Cynthia Brewerton

Tidying a wardrobe of clothes
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Tuesday 14th Feb 2023
Geoff Clark: Bedford Hospital Radio

The meeting began with a minutes silence to remember Mary
Stonebridge who died recently. Next was a celebration to mark Pat Thwaites being a member of Sutton WI for 50 years. She was presented with a card and gift and thanked for her hard work and dedication to the WI.

Geoff Clark then gave a very interesting talk on the history of
hospital radio. The first in the UK was in 1925 at York County
Hospital when headphones and loud speakers were used. Records and cassettes were used in the 1950s by some well known broadcasters like Ken Bruce who began on Glasgow Hospital Radio. Bedford Hospital Radio (HRB) was started in 1975 with fund-raising efforts and opened by Gilbert Hitchcock from the local health authority. It is run by volunteers operating from a portacabin and on air 24/7 on 365 days a year with live or recorded programmes. A request show began in the 1980s with people going round the wards to get names of patients to play music for.  In those days vacuum-tube earphones were used which were very uncomfortable but could be sterilised between patients. Two studios were acquired under the X-ray department and over the years, technology has developed considerably with Wi-Fi, the Internet and Alexa!

In 2020 it became Bedfordshire Health Radio, a legal body not a
charitable one, but then Covid 19 changed everything!  Volunteers were banned from the hospital and began broadcasting from their own homes which has continued to this day in some cases. The station does outside broadcasts now with pop-up studios at events in Bedford.

The Hospital Radio is still relevant today, helping to reduce
boredom and anxiety, and helping patients maintain links with their families and the outside world, as well as providing public service announcements. It costs £3000 a year to run, using volunteers and paid-for electricity and heating, but the licences and insurances are very expensive, so fund raising is needed to keep the station operating.

See for schedules and other information.

Eleanor Daniels

Presentation for dedication to WI
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Tuesday 8th Nov 2022
RNLI community lifesaving

On Tuesday 8th November 2022 we welcomed Paul Gillins, the Water Safety Officer from the RNLI. His talk was both entertaining and informative. He gave us facts and figures alongside film clips and personal anecdotes. There are 230 boats, 420 rescue craft and 4 hovercrafts in service. 53,665 people have been helped and there are 5,500 crew in total and 1,500 life guards who are paid for by the beaches that employ them. 


The organisation began in 1824 and was founded by William Hilary. He experienced seeing a fisherman drown just 10 metres from the shore in the Isle of Man and decided that people must be trained to help in these situations. He stated that the
organisation should be staffed by volunteers and funded by public donations, which it still is. Over the years the craft used have been improved and lifejackets came into use in the 1850s. 1.2 million people still die by drowning each year which is more than those who die from malaria.

Paul described how personnel are trained at the RNLI College in Poole, Dorset, where there is a pool where rough sea conditions can be simulated and where casualty care is
also taught. We saw several clips of actual rescues. ‘The sea is out to get you’ is something that he urged us to remember while we watched films of children swept out to sea on a small inflatable craft and a person cut off by the tide whilst out walking. Vehicles have been rescued along with animals in cases where humans may be in life threatening situations. The aim of the RNLI is to ‘give someone the rest of their lives’ and they have certainly done that in many, many situations!

Looking forward, the RNLI hope to develop more fully their work in teaching water safety and floating as a means of survival. It costs £160 million per annum to run the
organisation and they are totally dependent on legacies and donations. The talk was very much enjoyed by members and we sincerely thank Paul for coming to talk to us.

Cynthia Brewerton

RNLI lifeboat
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Tuesday 13th Sep 2022
Harvest auction

On Tuesday 13th September Sutton WI began their meeting with a minutes silence in remembrance of Queen Elizabeth II who died on 8th September 2022 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She was a member of the WI in Sandringham and will be greatly missed throughout the kingdom.


We then held a harvest auction. Members brought along a
splendid array of vegetables, preserves, plants and flowers and
Jackie Ryan led the bidding.


We were especially pleased on this occasion to welcome some new members and guests.


It was great fun, everything was sold and the sale made the magnificent sum of £64 for the funds.

Everyone is welcome to join us for meetings which are held on the second Tuesday of every month in Sutton Village Hall at 7.30pm

Cynthia Brewerton

Harvested vegetables
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Tuesday 10th Aug 2022
Meeting with talk on "How to look after your houseplants" by Susie Hickman

On Tuesday 10th August Susie Hickman came to talk about ‘How to look after your Houseplants’. Susie loves houseplants and has a shop selling them. She said that they are now back in fashion after disappearing from peoples homes in the 90s.


People own houseplants for a variety of reasons and they can cost from a few pounds to thousands of pounds. She, and many others, find keeping them very relaxing and it can be a type of Mindfulness for some.

Susie outlined some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration when keeping house plants. Firstly, and most importantly, they need light. When positioning plants this is obviously a factor which must be taken into consideration. It is worth remembering where our houseplants originally came from. Plants coming from hot, humid places need those conditions in your home to thrive so very often kitchens and bathrooms are ideal. It is worth remembering too that the light changes with the seasons so plants may need to be moved according to the season. Plants need warmth so cold areas and draughts should be avoided.

Watering plants, how much, how and when are often concerns that people have. It is easy to over water them, however they can recover! Susie recommended taking them out of the pot and wrapping them in newspaper to dry them out. She also recommended watering from the bottom, maybe placing them on pebbles in a saucer so that water is not directly drawn up into the plant.

We must thank Susie for her talk and for bringing a variety of plants for us to see. It was interesting.

Cynthia Brewerton

Flowering house plant
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Tuesday 12th Jul 2022
Garden meeting with talk by Alan Gray MBE, a retired Wimbledon umpire, entitled: ‘You cannot be serious.’

In a really entertaining and informative talk, Alan told us about his life and how he became a Wimbledon umpire covering the years from 1988 to 2012. Wimbledon is deemed to be one of the greatest tournaments in the world and it was fitting that this year Wimbledon celebrated 100 years of centre court. Incredibly, it was the only venue to have pandemic insurance and having bought the vast area next to it, which was the golf club, now has a 10-year plan to develop the land and build a new show court. This year was the first time there was play on the middle Sunday so the tournament lasted for 14 days.


His fascinating talk gave us insights into incidents and experiences in his umpiring life including the time he had to accompany Boris Becker on a toilet break, only to witness him receiving physiotherapy.... which was strictly against the rules. He also discussed the common practice now of players ‘grunting’ and questioned the need for it. He told us about the development of bad behaviour on the court with special reference to John McEnroe and how his famous quotation led to him being disqualified and a code of conduct is now in place at Wimbledon.

Alan has known Andy Murray since he was 8 years old and has many memories of him. It is a little-known fact that Andy and his brother were at school in the next door classroom and witnessed the horrors of the day when the Dunblane massacre took place in 1996. It is also a little-known fact that Andy often donates his prize money to various excellent causes and this year it went to help with the Ukranian crisis .

Alan then showed us what the officials carry in the bags which they all carry on court with them: a stopwatch; a net adjustor; and a piece of paper with 50 naughty words listed and cross referenced in various languages, so he can recognise code of conduct violations from players during matches!

He amazed us with how the prize money had increased over the years and the way the venue has developed, notably now having a roof over centre and number 1 courts. One of his favourite memories was the time the Queen visited Wimbledon, 11 years ago. She spent an hour watching wheelchair tennis and an hour watching the juniors before having lunch and then she watched Andy Murray.


He also told us about the military training the ball boys and girls have to undergo from February to June, even teaching them to show no emotions on court and not to smile. They get £160 for the fortnight and use the experience on their CVs. They are selected for their co-ordination and fitness, but mostly for their attitude which makes them the best in the world.

The talk was very much enjoyed by everyone.


Cynthia Brewerton

Picnic food on table
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Tuesday 14th Jun 2022
Visit to Pulloxhill garden

On Tuesday 14th June Sutton WI visited one of the National Garden Scheme’s gardens at Pulloxhill. It is owned by Keith and Sue Miles and set in the beautiful countryside of Central Bedfordshire.


We had a wonderful sunny day to visit and were welcomed warmly by the owners. All of us were surprised by the extent of the garden and by the diversity of the plants being grown there. We first went into the flower garden which was resplendent with roses, allium, iris, salvia, really too many to mention, It was lovely.


We were then guided on to a vegetable plot and poly tunnel where there were peas, raspberries beans etc. After that we went down to a white rose tunnel, this lead in turn to a fantastic view across the countryside with Sharpenhoe Clappers in the distance.   


Keith also has an interest in old Romany caravans and there was one there for us to see which he had painstakingly restored. It was beautiful.


To finish our tour we went back towards the house where we were served tea and delicious homemade cakes (one of which was filled with early raspberries from the garden).  Keith and Sue were more than happy to answer our questions and were both very knowledgeable.


It was a lovely visit, one that we will remember fondly.


Cynthia Brewerton

Rose garden
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Tuesday 8th Mar 2022
A brief history of Wrest Park

Sutton WI welcomed Richard Luscombe to give us a talk entitled ‘A brief history of Wrest Park’.  After retiring from teaching, Richard became a volunteer at Wrest Park. He is part of the Historical Research Team and keeps digital records. He told us that the De Grey family, who first owned the house, came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. The family became widespread in England, one of the most famous being Lady Jane Grey, queen for nine days.  Wrest Park is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In Medieval times it was a huge estate having some 1700 acres, whereas today it only comprises 92 acres. Several notable buildings were built over the years, some of which still remain. In the Archer Pavilion, built in 1709, there are over 40 statues dotted around the grounds.  


In the 1700s, Capability Brown was involved in redesigning the gardens. An ornamental bridge, Chinese in style, and an ornamental boathouse were built. The garden took on a romantic air at this time. The parterres were installed and are still notable features now having been restored in 2012. Every year 20,000 plants are planted with meticulous care in its flower beds. 


As with many large houses, it was rented for a time, and in WW1 it was turned into a military hospital for rank and file soldiers at the request of Winston Churchill and given the quaint name of ‘Wrest in Beds!’ It suffered a fire in latter years and in 1917 it was sold for £450,000. It was emptied out and most of its treasures sold. It became offices for the Sun Life Insurance company and then the Silsoe Research Institute. When this closed in 2006 English Heritage took the house over.

It is now a thriving tourist attraction undertaking a revitalisation project. It hosts weddings, festivals and was featured on the Antiques Road Show in 2018 and most recently on Countryfile. It was also used for filming ‘The Serpent’, a recent television series. Richard accompanied his talk with slides and his obvious enthusiasm for the house shone through. It was very much enjoyed by members and has inspired a possible visit there by Sutton WI!


Cynthia Brewerton

Wrest Park
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Tuesday 8th Feb 2022
The agony and ecstasy of running a canal hotel

Sutton WI welcomed Barry Watson to give us a talk entitled ‘The Agony and Ecstasy of running a Canal Hotel’. He began by giving us a brief history of canals. The first canals were built by the Romans but the first canal to be built in the UK in more recent times was the Bridgewater Canal in 1761. Canals were an essential part of the Industrial Revolution in transporting goods from place to place. When canals were less used because of the advent of roads and railways narrow boats were often converted into houseboats. This was done initially by Tom Rolt in 1940. In 1946 the Inland Waterways Association was created and the canal system was saved and is still used now mostly for leisure.

Barry went on to tell us about the hotel boating that became a way of life for him and his wife. He ran his business for 6 years, 31 weeks a year and it proved to be a 24-hour job. He owned 2 boats and had 4 crew members. He obviously enjoyed his job and talked both knowledgeably and warmly about it. He described the boats themselves and the pattern of the days on them. All meals were freshly prepared and home cooked and there was laundry to do and general day to day maintenance. Often there were 50 bags of shopping! Along the way there were numerous locks to negotiate; some routes had many locks, the most being the Tardebigge with 31 to be dealt with in the morning and 62 in the afternoon!  He and his crew were rated by the authorities as being 5 star holiday company, praise indeed. The ecstasy in the title of his talk referred to the guests on the boats and he told stories of their kindness and sometimes their peculiarities which made the job so memorable for him. He also spoke warmly of the canal fraternity where everyone was very willing to help each other out along the way. To conclude his talk he sang a couple of songs and accompanied himself on the guitar, members joined him in singing the choruses; the talk was much enjoyed by the members and very well received.

Boats on canal
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