JAM, Jerusalem, companionship and achievement were celebrated as more than 1,800 women marked the centenary of the Essex Women’s Institute.

Women from across the county attended to meeting to mark the momentous occasion and had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a few famous names into the bargain.

Strictly Come Dancing star Anton de Beke was among the guests of honour along with Lord Petre, whose grandmother was the first chairman of Essex WI.

Award-winning actor Alex Jennings made a surprise guest appearance and spoke about his late mother’s involvement in the WI famed for making the best jam and cakes and allied to the traditional song, Jerusalem.

Sue MacEwan, press and publicity officer for Essex WI, said: “It really was fantastic and a great success.

“Anton de Beke was amazing. As you can imagine, everyone was quite infatuated with him.

“All the members put their questions in a bag and he went through and answered them all, no matter how strange.

“It was great Alex Jennings made an appearance, he spoke at length about his mother and her role in the WI.

“Overall, it really was a lovely afternoon to mark a momentous occasion.”

The women sat down for a celebratory lunch at Crown Plaza Five Lakes in Tolleshunt Knights on Friday.

The Women’s Institute was formed in 1915 with the Essex branch being formed two years later.

Today there are 9,000 members across 215 branches of the organisation.

Sue said: “I think it was quite an honour for everyone who was involved today, especially since I don’t think many of us will be around for the next one.

“We don’t know much about numbers when the Essex WI started, but we are still growing now.

“We have just opened a new branch called Marconi Bell and each branch is constantly growing.

“I think 9,000 sounds like a lot of members but we want that number to keep getting higher.”

Essex WI officially turns 100 in May and have planned events throughout the year.

For more information visit and to get involved visit essexwi.org.uk.