This year marks the 30th anniversary of the formal twinning of Southam with Marolles-en-Hurepoix in France. Marolles is a small rural town, about 25 miles south of Paris in the region of Île-de-France. How did the two towns get together? Both submitted their interest in twinning to an official organisation (a bit like a dating agency) who suggested Southam to Marolles and vice-versa. Both liked the sound of the other town, and the rest is history.
Although the towns were formally twinned in 1992 the story of twinning began five years earlier when Southam’s then Mayor, Ken Connolly, called a public meeting to discuss the idea. The meeting was attended by 34 residents and representatives of local organisations and resolved to approve the concept of twinning, and form a steering committee. Early meetings of the Committee were held in the bar of the Craven Arms Inn with everyone paying 50p per meeting to build up funds.
Southam Twinning Association was formed in January 1991, and Stan Hodges, a retired policeman, was elected Chairman, a position he held until 2007. On his retirement, Stan was elected Life President in recognition of his 20-year involvement. (Stan died in February 2015 aged 87.) Stan was one of a party of four who went on an exploratory visit to Marolles in May 1990, following a visit of four from Marolles that January. In June, 12 people travelled from Marolles to Southam and 14 people went to Marolles from Southam. Everyone got on very well and the decision was taken to twin.
Before the towns were officially twinned, children from Southam and Marolles had exchanged visits: French schoolchildren and teachers came to Southam in May 1991, visiting Stratford, Warwick, Oxford and Southam Carnival. The following weekend 39 Southam School pupils and 6 teachers made the return visit to Marolles visiting Paris and St Vrain Wildlife Park. In 1992 two trips were made in each direction and formal twinning ceremonies were held in both towns. The highlight of the Marolles ceremony in September was a dinner culminating in the filling of champagne fountains by Southam Mayor, Len Gale, and Maire Jean Farges of Marolles. In November the Southam ceremony was held in St James Church, followed by a Barn Dance with fish and chip supper at Southam High School.
Until Covid interrupted two years ago we have had a pattern of visits to Marolles every other year, welcoming our French friends in the intervening years. We have travelled by various means – car, minibus, coach, plane, train, arriving early on Friday evening and departing on Monday morning. Friday evenings and Sundays are spent with the hosts. An outing is held on the Saturday and a meal for everyone on the Sunday evening. In France this is held at a restaurant; in England it is at a restaurant or a pub!
In France the Saturday trips have included visits to Monet’s home at Giverney, Reims Cathedral and a Champagne “trail”, Basilique cathédrale de Saint-Denis and a Seine cruise by Bateau Mouche, Chantilly, Auvers-sur-Oise, home of Van Gogh, Versailles and many others. On every outing we enjoy a traditional pique-nique and more often than not, beautiful weather.
English hosts either provide our version of a pique-nique, or take their guests to a café, restaurant or pub for lunch. We always find equally interesting places to visit including: Ashorne Nickelodeon and Upton House, The Black Country Living Museum, Gloucester, with a cruise on River Severn, Tewksbury and a ride on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, Broughton Castle and the Rollright Stones, Leather Museum in Walsall, Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, Leicester Cathedral and the Richard III exhibition.
Many long-lasting friendships have been formed over the past 30 years with individuals, families and groups exchanging visits in addition to the annual exchanges. Guides from Southam stayed in the Centre de Loisirs in Marolles, and schoolchildren from Marolles stayed in the Southam Centre, School Street (now Jam Kangaroo).
If you would like more information visit southamtwinning.org.uk or find us on Facebook under Southam Town Twinning Friends. We would love to have new members to help take the link between our two towns forward over the next thirty years. To get involved, please use the contact form on the website or telephone our Chairman, Mike Hill, on 01926 814144.
If you would like to get to know more about Southam, Southam Heritage Collection is located in the atrium of Tithe Place opposite the Library entrance. We are open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 12 noon. Visit our website www.southamheritage.org telephone 01926 613503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org You can also follow us on Facebook.