01403 878 026
01903 892 899


Members of Normandy WI craft group (©AAH/Alan Wright Photography)

How will future generations look back on the cultural impact of 2023? Will it be defined by Taylor Swift’s record-breaking world tour, or Elon Musk’s persistence of ‘successfully’ launching rockets that explode? Perhaps historians will reflect on 2023 as the year humanity failed to quash the threat of ChatGPT, opting to sit back and watch as AI brought about the dawn of the robot age? Or maybe, they will look back and marvel at all of the rather wonderful post-box toppers that the ladies of the Women’s Institute knitted across the land!

Few towns having embraced post-box toppers in the way that Horsham has. In recent years, the toppers have represented a range of themes, from Royal occasions to raising awareness of climate issues, all the while creating points of interest in the community. Many of the local toppers have been made by the ladies of Normandy WI, one of more than a dozen groups in the Horsham District affiliated to the West Sussex Federation of the WI. The toppers have become such an integral part of the Normandy WI that one of the group’s monthly meetings is dedicated solely to knitting and crochet. 

Pam Tedder, Secretary, said: ‘The WI is the largest women’s organisation in the UK and is a place for women of all ages to come together and share experiences. The Normandy WI is affiliated to the West Sussex Federation, which is the oldest in England, and has supported national WI campaigns that focus on issues such as clean rivers, climate change and gender-based violence.’ 

‘Normandy is one of the most popular local WI groups and organises several monthly events, with members welcome to come to whatever ones interest them. Our WI meeting is held at the United Reformed Church on the third Thursday of every month. There, we discuss national campaigns, discuss official business and often have welcome a guest speaker. Our reading group meets at John Lewis Café on the fourth Wednesday of each month, our walking group comes together on the second Tuesday or Wednesday, and the luncheon group meets on a Thursday every other month. We also have a coffee morning, currently held at Panino’s in the Carfax. So, there is a strong social network and at least once a week, women have an opportunity to get out of the house and meet friends. During COVID, we went online and did the best we could, helping those who didn’t know how to use a computer so they could stay in touch. This really did provide a lifeline for some. But it was lovely when we finally came together once again for a coffee morning and in a way the experience of lockdown brought us all closer together.’

‘It also helped inspire the post-box toppers. We now have a craft group that meets at John Lewis and that has become topper focused. It wasn’t intentional, but they have become so popular and are a great way to highlight some of our campaign issues.’

Kath Smithies, President of Normandy WI (©AAH/Alan Wright)



The idea came about when the country was recovering from lockdown. Normandy WI chose to support Big Green Week by crafting small birds and bees, placing them around Horsham Park. With the members enjoying the project, the group continued the wildlife theme by making toppers to support COP26, the climate change conference held in Glasgow in 2021. The public again embraced the idea and so the ladies knitted more toppers with a festive theme for Christmas. 

Inspired by a post-box topper campaign in St Albans, the WI added a QR code so that members of the public could make a donation and to date this has helped raise £3,000 for Horsham Matters. The craft group is now one of the most popular at Normandy WI and the interest in the toppers shows no sign of abating. 

Kath Smithies, President of Normandy WI, said: ‘As well as our environmental campaigns, we have made seasonal toppers for special events like Remembrance Sunday and have also been commissioned to make them in support of the St Catherine’s Hospice Midnight Walk, which involved lots of orange wool! Fortress Theatre Company in Horsham also asked us to make a topper to support their production of Calendar Girls at the Capitol. Knitted poppies have become a popular alternative for people to wear on Remembrance Sunday and last year we joined in with other local WI groups to knit more than a thousand poppies, which were donated to the British Legion. They were flabbergasted when they saw how many we had made, yet they managed to sell every single one of them! 

‘The support we receive from the community is fantastic and we’ve had a huge amount of wool donated to us. As well as the toppers, we have made knitted hats and scarves for Horsham Matters to support their Winter Fuel campaign and also for Age UK. We have also made blankets and cardigans for the Special Care Baby Unit at Worthing Hospital, as well as baby hats, some of which were sent to the Ukraine.’ 

‘Something else we have made is twiddle or fidget muffs, which help dementia patients keep their hands active. In February, we will support a national WI campaign called Show the Love, which has an environmental focus, so expect to see knitted green hearts popping up around town. We’re hoping our local MP  Jeremy Quin might even wear one in the House of Commons. So, as well as doing things for ourselves, we help local organisations and charities, bringing a little bit of joy into the community.’

Janey Evans with a Calendar Girls themed topper (©AAH/Alan Wright Photography)



Unfortunately, several of the post-box toppers have disappeared. Whether it is a case of children being a touch too fond of a cuddly knitted Father Christmas, or climate change sceptics taking out their frustration on a crochet polar bear remains a mystery. However, the most divisive toppers to date have been those made to celebrate Royal occasions, with the Queen in the Carfax being the only knitted version of the late monarch to have escaped the thieves.

The latest theme is aimed more at younger generations. Three Normandy WI members have been making toppers based on children’s books, placing them near primary schools for the benefit of pupils.  

Janet Evans said: ‘We thought perhaps we ought to diversify our output and that’s how the storybook toppers came about. One of the ladies’ granddaughters suggested we make a Room on the Broom topper, and it seemed a good place to start as children love the books of Julia Donaldson. After that, we made toppers of The Gruffalo, Alice in Wonderland, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.'

‘By working in a small group, we can bounce ideas around, so it becomes a fun project for us while others in the WI focus on other themes. We have placed the toppers around Trafalgar Road and North Parade and children love seeing them on their way to school. Lots of them stop to look at them and see if they recognise the characters in the toppers, which is lovely. They have become a talking point for the town, which we didn’t really expect, and that has given us all a positive boost in the past couple of years.’

Further information: www.west-sussex.thewi.org.uk/find-wi/horsham-normandy

Article published in the January 2024 edition of AAH Magazine. Report by Ben Morris, with photography by Alan Wright for AAH