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Exploring the relationships of Somerset's twin towns

PUBLISHED: 11:31 15 October 2019

The Cheese Museum in Alkmaars Waag Building (Weigh House), which dates to 1582 (Henk Monster).

The Cheese Museum in Alkmaars Waag Building (Weigh House), which dates to 1582 (Henk Monster).

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Somerset towns have hooked up with some interesting buddies across the globe to form twin towns. Steve Roberts explores a few of these special relationships

It's interesting that Bath is twinned with five other towns and cities. Why, and why these five? Is it significant that all five experienced World War Two? Well, almost certainly, yes. When you consider that the war cost a conservative estimate of 60 million lives, you can understand why there was a move to foster understanding between nations afterwards. The modern concept of 'twinning' launched into this brave new world in 1947.

Bath is twinned with Aix-en-Provence (France), the birthplace of Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cézanne, and Alkmaar (Holland), famous for its cheese market (Edam and Gouda). Then there's Braunschweig (Germany), which was heavily bombed in October 1944, then suffered from its proximity to the Iron Curtain, but has recovered to be a major centre of scientific research and development. Kaposvár (Hungary) has been home to eminent artists, but its most famous son was Imre Nagy, the country's Prime Minister at the time of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Beppu (Japan), on the island of Kyushu, is famous for hot springs, so shares similarities with our own Bath Spa.

Bridgwater, meanwhile, is twinned with Homberg (Germany). If you're thinking hats, think again, that's the Homburg, after Bad Homburg. Good try though. Our Homberg is named after its castle (or schloss), the 'Hohenburg', which overlooks the town. La Ciotat (France) was at the forefront of the movie industry (several early Lumière films were shot there). It was also the place where the sport pétanque was invented and has been twinned with Bridgwater since 1957. Marsa (Malta) means 'the harbour', which connects with Bridgwater, which has been a major inland port since the Industrial Revolution. Uherské Hradišt (Czech Republic) has the country's most beautiful railway station (2011) and its own film festival. Finally, Priverno (Italy) was the birthplace of the Dominican theologian Reginald of Piperno (Priverno's name until 1927).

The Marina in La Ciotat. You can see why the early filmmakers were attracted (Raffaele Pagani)The Marina in La Ciotat. You can see why the early filmmakers were attracted (Raffaele Pagani)

I couldn't possibly cover all the communities in Somerset that have twin towns, so I apologise now to all those I've omitted. If Bath and Bridgwater illustrate the variety that twinning offers, they also confirm that France and Germany will invariably feature. In fact, the name 'twin town' usually denotes a place in one of these countries, the protagonists of not one, but two, world wars. 'Sister city' is used for towns and cities elsewhere, for example in the USA.

Mention of the United States brings me to Taunton, that's Taunton, Massachusetts, which is twinned with our own Taunton. Founded by English settlers in the 1630s, Taunton was so-named because of the number that came from Somerset. It's one of the oldest towns in the USA, is on the Taunton River, and has been known as both 'Silver City', from the 19th century (historic centre of the silver industry), and 'Christmas City' because of its large annual light display, which commenced in December 1914 (just as the lights went out around Europe). Taunton also has its French and German links. Lisieux (France) was heavily bombarded after D-Day, with two-thirds of the town destroyed, whilst Königslutter (Germany) was home to Samuel Hahnemann, the homeopathy pioneer, in the 1790s.

Having talked extensively about France and Germany, I now venture off to find destinations elsewhere. Chard has its French and German ties but has also been twinned with Șeica Mare (Romania) since 2008. Now, this is an oddity. Described as an agricultural commune of six villages, it sits in Transylvania, the homeland of Count Dracula, a fictional creation of Bram Stoker, in 1897. Chard has no blood-lusting vampires that I'm aware of, although it was one of the towns where the infamous Judge Jeffreys held his 'Bloody Assizes' after the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.

For oddities, however, you'd be hard pushed to match Wincanton, which is twinned with a place that doesn't even exist, well, only in the imagination anyway. 'Ankh-Morpork' ('Discworld') is a product of Terry Pratchett's fantasy writing and his 'Discworld' series of 41 novels. Terry and his illustrator, Richard Kingston, were regulars in one of Wincanton's pubs apparently (the Uncle Tom's Cabin). Wincanton is also twinned with places in France and Germany, that do exist. Whitehall, however, dictated that 'Ankh-Morpork' could not be added to Wincanton's signs because, 'twin towns had to actually exist.' Spoilsports.

The German church in Mighindoala, one of the villages that make up ?eica Mare in Romania (Catalin Bogdan).The German church in Mighindoala, one of the villages that make up ?eica Mare in Romania (Catalin Bogdan).

Not everything is well with the world today, so perhaps it's comforting to recall the Twinning movement of 70-odd years ago that linked communities around the globe in an enlightened attempt to nurture relationships, as an antidote to nationalism and war.

For Bath, Bridgwater and the rest, those links with other towns and cities that suffered from conflict remain in place and remain strong.

A few of Somerset's twin towns...

Taunton, Massachusetts: The City Hall. The town is twinned with our very own Taunton (c) Kenneth C ZirkelTaunton, Massachusetts: The City Hall. The town is twinned with our very own Taunton (c) Kenneth C Zirkel

Bath

Aix-en-Provence (France), Alkmaar (Holland), Braunschweig (Germany), Kaposvár (Hungary), Beppu (Japan).

Bridgwater

Homberg (Germany), La Ciotat (France), Marsa (Malta), Uherské Hradiště (Czech Republic), Priverno (Italy).

Chard

Helmstedt (Germany), Morangis (France), Șeica Mare (Romania).

Minehead

St. Berthevin (France).

Portishead

Schweich (Germany).

Street

Notre Dame De Gravenchon (France), Isny Im Allgäu (Germany).

Taunton

Lisieux (France), Königslutter (Germany), Taunton (Massachusetts, USA).

Wellington

Immendstadt (Germany), Lillebonne (France), Torres Vedras (Portugal).

Wells

Paray-Le-Monial (France), Bad Durkheim (Germany), Fontanellato (Italy).

Wincanton

Gennes / Les Rosiers (France), Lahnau (Germany), 'Ankh-Morpork' ('Discworld').

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