Special commemorations are being staged this weekend to honour a significant milestone between a north Northumberland village and its French counterpart.
The celebrations on Sunday will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Shilbottle and Héry, which have been twinned since 1963.
A dedication ceremony is to be held in Shilbottle’s Memorial Garden at 11am, when two rose bushes will be planted and a pair of plaques unveiled by members of Shilbottle Parish Council and representatives of the Amicale Héry-Shilbottle Association.
One of the plaques will commemorate the Treaty of 1965, while the other is in memory of the late June Raynal, who came up with the idea of creating a link between the villages more than five decades ago.
This will be preceded by a service of thanksgiving at the village’s St James Church at 10am.
Twenty people from France will be visiting Shilbottle for the occasion and staying until Sunday, August 9. It brings the total number of exchanges between the two villages during the course of the Amicale to 50, with more than 1,000 people crossing the Channel over that period.
It was June Raynal who first had the idea of creating ‘a kind of twinning’ between the two villages she knew very well, Shilbottle and Héry, which is close to Auxerre.
Northumberland girl June studied French at university, went to work in France, met and married a Frenchman – Jean - and finally settled down in Héry.
From the very beginning, she wanted to create an association which would focus on building bonds of friendship between the two villages.
June and Jean were sent to Shilbottle by the Mayor of Héry to negotiate a link.
Shilbottle was considered to be absolutely perfect for a twinning with Héry.
There were strong, personal ties between the two villages as June’s auntie and uncle still lived in Shilbottle, the villages were about the same size and they each had a rural and industrial population.
Each village had a primary school and secondary schools in nearby towns and both had a key industrial activity that were very similar – the coal mine in Shilbottle and the Davey-Bickford factory in Héry which made detonators and explosives for mines and quarries.
And so, the Amicale Héry–Shilbottle Association was founded in 1963 and the first group of French visitors were hosted by Shilbottle folk in 1964.
Then, in 1965, a group from Shilbottle made a return visit to Héry and saw the signing of the Acte de Jumelage or Treaty of Friendship between the two villages by the-then chairman of the parish council, Terry Ryder, and the-then Mayor of Héry, Roger Guéneau.
Golden anniversary celebrations were staged in 2013 and over the last 52 years, some family friendships have developed over three and four generations. New members are warmly welcomed.
Pat Rennison, past president of the Amicale, said: “It is an excellent way to make true friends, on both sides of the Channel and it’s also an excellent way to learn and understand how others live. If you would like to increase your friends and be treated like one of their family, come and join us.”
For more information, contact Anne Armstrong on 01665 606351.