Tuesday 22 September 2015

Kirkham and its twin towns

Kirkham is sometimes thought of as a bit of a backwater, an insular place where people know little and care even less for the world beyond this part of rural Lancashire. Not fair, not true.

Kirkham is the oldest town on the Fylde, long pre-dating Lytham, Blackpool, Poulton, Cleveleys and Fleetwood, and was most certainly a key place of strategic importance in Roman times. The Roman fort on Carr Hill, the highest point on the low-lying Fylde, to the East of the town centre, was an important staging post on a spur of road, a Roman M55 if you like, leading from Ribchester to a port somewhere around Stalmine.

In more recent history, Kirkham was the de facto capital of the area, with its huge Parish covering much of what we now call the Fylde, and the enduring presence of a preeminent Parish church and an ancient grammar school stand as evidence of the town's historic importance. The flax mills gave the town a period of relative prosperity, and agriculture has always flourished thanks to the mild, relatively sunny climate and fertile soils. However, social and economic change has left Kirkham as a more humble and anonymous town, yet one which has strong appeal as a small community within easy reach of centres of employment in Lancashire and beyond.

Kirkham, along with its neighbour Wesham, has much to be proud of: the aforementioned Parish Church and Grammar School; five vibrant primary schools each of distinct character; a much-loved and successful special school; a large, genuinely comprehensive school which serves young people from a wide catchment area; a prison whose inmates do good works in and for the community; a resilient high street with a number of small independent businesses well used by locals; manufacturing industry providing jobs in food, pharmaceuticals and light engineering; a football team rapidly ascending the leagues as it prepares to move to a state-of-the-art stadium; a holiday park attracting visitors from far and wide; a small railway station from which you can catch a direct train to London; a motorway near enough to be convenient but far enough to be hidden; and a variety of residential areas, reflecting a community which is diverse but well-integrated.

And then there's our twin towns. For a community which is reputed to be insular (I once overheard a conversation about a couple from Kirkham who had "moved away" but then came back because they couldn't settle…...the move was to Wesham!), Kirkham boasts a flourishing friendship with two towns in the most beautiful parts of France (Ancenis) and Germany (Bad Brückenau). This three-way reciprocal twinning arrangement is not unique, but certainly unusual, and has given the people of three small towns the opportunity to get to know each other, sharing what unites them and enjoying what makes them different.

Kirkham first twinned with Ancenis back in 1973, thanks to a Lancashire businessman, Gordon Himsworth, who had met and married a young woman from Ancenis when she was studying in Manchester. They still live in Ancenis. Twinning was fashionable in those early days of the European Community, and Ancenis and Kirkham were a good match: similar sized market towns in rural areas, with an economy dependent on agriculture and mixed light industry. The initial twinning was of Rotary Clubs, but that limited relationship led to a full and formal agreement between the two towns, backed by the civic authorities of both towns.

Ancenis subsequently twinned with Bad Brückenau, and in 1995 Kirkham formally twinned with Bad Brückenau, completing a triangular relationship between three towns of similar size and approximately equal geographical separation.

Ancenis is an attractive town on the River Loire, with an iconic bridge which forms a crossing point between the historic provinces of Brittany and Anjou. Ancenis is in Brittany, although does not have the distinctive celtic atmosphere of the ports on the Breton peninsula. 

Ancenis  - the famous bridge
In many ways, it feels like an archetypal French town, and as such it is a perfect place to absorb the culture, gastronomy and way of life which makes our nearest neighbours such an enviable place to visit or live. It is a fast and easy half-day’s drive from the Channel ports of St Malo or Caen.

Bad Brückenau is also a very attractive town, set in gently forested hills of North Bavaria, in the province of Franken, with an economy based on its fame as a spa town, to which Germans have traditionally flocked to take the waters. 

Bad Bruckenau - the main street
It is a neat, clean and well-ordered place, with the influence of Bavarian culture very apparent in, for example, the willingness of even younger people to dress in national costume as a sort of "Sunday best". Like Ancenis, it seems somehow archetypal of its country, meaning that people from Kirkham visiting either town have a real insight into the lives of our European friends.

Both towns have a wonderful musical tradition, with thriving bands of amateur musicians who provide spontaneous and enjoyable musical accompaniment at our get-togethers, which are always convivial and involve much good food and drink.
A typical twinning meal - this one was in France, but the people are from all three towns

Perhaps the best thing about Kirkham's twinning is that on all three sides, it is used by ordinary townsfolk, who in the main have no linguistic expertise, but who just enjoy meeting others in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. We meet every year in one of the towns, on a three-year cycle.

Our recent meet-ups have been as vibrant and successful as ever, most recently when 85 visitors, a coachload from each of the two towns visited Kirkham in August 2017.

You will see more information and photos on our website at www.kirkhamtwinning.org and we are also on Twitter as @Kirkancenau.

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