West Midland Markets go back more than 40 years while the roots of the market go back to the efforts of a Canadian visionary, Mrs. Alfred Watt in the First World War. When the first English Women's Institute was established in 1915–1916, it was patterned on the style of the groups in British Columbia.
The first undertaking of the Women’s institutes in Britain was to increase food production. Markets were set up in rural communities, but the produce was also sent into towns.
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.