Southam Twinning Association was formed in 1991. This was the culmination of some four years of preparatory work following an initial public meeting called by the Mayor, Ken Connolly, in 1987. During the intervening years a steering committee held regular meetings, usually in the bar of the Craven Arms, on Market Hill, Southam, and in 1990 a delegation of four visited Southam from its future twin, Marolles-en-Hurepoix. Marolles is about 27 miles south of Paris, and at the time had a population of just over 4,000. After further reciprocal visits, the first party of French children and teachers arrived in Southam on 24 May 1991, visiting Stratford, Oxford and Warwick and attending the Southam carnival. On 29th May, 39 pupils and six teachers from Southam School made the return visit, making trips to Paris and to St-Vrain Wildlife Park.
In 1992 two trips were made in each direction, and twinning ceremonies were held in both towns. Former Mayor Len Gale recalls that the first of these, in France, was a lavish event at which he and the Mayor of Marolles each poured a champagne fountain. The dinner included a whole roast pig. Recognising that Southam would be unable to match this, the Southam Twinning Association treated their French guests to a traditional British fish and chip supper accompanied by Newcastle Brown ale, and a barn dance. At each of these events the respective Mayors and Chairmen of the Twinning Associations signed the Twinning Charter, pledging:
to encourage such visits, activities and exchange of information as will bring European people more closely together.
The signatories in Southam were Len Gale as Mayor, and Stan Hodges, the retired Southam Police Officer who was Chairman of the Twinning Association from 1991 to 2007 and subsequently Life President. Their French counterparts were Jean Farges and Robert Gillot. The French visit in 1992 coincided with Armistice Day, and in a moving ceremony Jean Farges joined the Rector of Southam, the Reverend Ralph Werrell, in reading out the names of the fallen from their respective towns.
In subsequent years visitors from Southam have enjoyed trips to Monet’s garden at Giverny, Reims Cathedral, Orleans, Chartres and the Basilique de St-Denis, a Champagne trail, and trips on the Seine by bateau-mouche, to name but a few. Their French guests’ visits have included travel to the Black Country Museum, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, the Rollright Stones and the Richard III exhibition in Leicester.
With the exception of the Covid 19 lockdown years there has been an annual visit either from Southam to Marolles or vice versa for thirty years without interruption. In 2022 the two Associations celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the two Charters. To commemorate this event and the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, a planter was commissioned by Southam Civic Ideas Forum (SCIF) constructed out of reclaimed oak timber from the Holy Well palisade. Built by Mike Wood, a local joiner, the planter can now be seen close to the entrance to Tithe Place in the centre of Southam.
Information provided by Len Gale. This article comprises part of a longer chapter in the forthcoming book Southam: The Timeline of a rural Warwickshire Town, to be published by the Southam Heritage Collection.