The history of Cheltenham’s 5 twin towns

PUBLISHED: 11:49 29 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:06 07 November 2019

Cheltenham seen from Leckhampton Hill (c) Adrian Pingstone

Cheltenham seen from Leckhampton Hill (c) Adrian Pingstone

Adrian Pingstone

Stephen Roberts delves into the history of Cheltenham’s five twin towns, and discovers special links that have endured since 1947

Forming, or being one of, a closely related or associated pair, esp. of children or animals born at birth. So, my dictionary defines "twin" for me. "Twin-towns" meanwhile are, "two towns (usu. in different countries) establishing special links."

I was interested in the fact that Cheltenham is twinned with five other towns and cities. Why, and why these five? Is it significant that all five come from countries that fought WW2? Well, almost certainly it is. When you consider that WW2 cost a conservative estimate of 60 million lives, you can understand why there was a move to foster friendship and understanding between nations in its aftermath. The modern concept of 'twinning' was launched into this brave new world in 1947.

A finger post in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania (USA) points the way to lots of other Cheltenhams around the globe (c) Peetlesnumber1A finger post in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania (USA) points the way to lots of other Cheltenhams around the globe (c) Peetlesnumber1

Cheltenham itself had suffered during WW2. The town was bombed for the first time on December 11, 1940, a raid that killed 20, with many others injured, and 600 bombed out of their homes. The word is that German planes were returning from a raid on Coventry. A subsequent raid on July 27, 1942 killed a further eleven people.

Of Cheltenham's twin towns, Göttingen also experienced the war at first hand, via air raids, although only about 2% of the city was destroyed, with the historic old town left comparatively unscathed. Two of the churches were badly damaged, however, as were several buildings of the famous university, and more than 100 citizens lost their lives. Cheltenham and Göttingen would twin in 1951.

The Cheltenham Township Municipal Building (c) SmallbonesThe Cheltenham Township Municipal Building (c) Smallbones

There are quite a few Cheltenhams dotted around the world. There's a finger post in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, which points to its 'official twin' in Gloucestershire, a mere 3,450 miles away, as well as those other namesakes in Auckland (New Zealand), Ontario (Canada), St Louis (Missouri, USA), New South Wales (Australia) and Victoria (Australia).

Now, Cheltenham, Pennsylvania is an interesting twin. A township of just over 37,000, it is the smallest of our Cheltenham's twins, and yet the connection is far closer than just sharing a name. It was established in 1682 (towards the end of the reign of Charles II), when 15 Quakers from Cheltenham (G) headed across the Atlantic to free themselves of religious persecution. It wouldn't be until the next reign (James II) that persecution all but ceased. We know the names of the 15 individuals who founded Cheltenham (P) and divided up over 4,000 acres of land between them, one of whom was a woman, Mary Jefferson.

Annecy’s Thiou River – one reason it’s dubbed ‘the Venice of the Alps (c) Dmitry A. MottlAnnecy’s Thiou River – one reason it’s dubbed ‘the Venice of the Alps (c) Dmitry A. Mottl

Cheltenham (P) would embrace industry very quickly, with the first mill established on the Tookany Creek in 1690, a site that went on to become the second-largest producer of shovels in the States. I'd imagine they call a spade a shovel there. The railroad also came to town and Cheltenham is blessed with no fewer than five stations today as quite a few lines come through here: it's become an important junction town. Cheltenham (G) would have been the same in the past, but today we make do with just Cheltenham Spa for national rail and Cheltenham Racecourse if we fancy a tootle down the GWSR.

Annecy has had a colourful and itinerant history because of its location close to the French-Swiss border (it's only just over 20 miles from Geneva and has been dubbed the 'Venice of the Alps', or 'the Pearl of the French Alps'). The place has been passed around like a parcel and was only finally annexed to France in 1860. It makes much of its location with its lake (Lake Annecy) and waterways (canals and the River Thiou) and earns a lot today from tourism.

Cupid Fountain in the Arboretum, Sochi (c) YufereffCupid Fountain in the Arboretum, Sochi (c) Yufereff

Because of its situation in south-east France, tucked away in the Alps, the city was not especially affected by WW2, so did not have to rebuild post-war, as many communities did. It's not just been a pretty face either. In the 19th century it became noted for silk manufacture. There were also iron mines and a celebrated bell foundry. Famous bods gravitated here too, perhaps the most noteworthy being the French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), who spent some time in Annecy.

Returning to Göttingen, the German city on the River Leine in Lower Saxony, we have somewhere that escaped the worst of the Allied bombing during WW2, so happily retains the vast bulk of its old buildings. It's particularly famous for its university, which welcomed is first students in 1737, and was established by King George II, who was not only our monarch, but also prince-elector of Hanover.

Panoramic view of Annecy and Lake Annecy (c) MyrabellaPanoramic view of Annecy and Lake Annecy (c) Myrabella

Some noteworthy individuals have passed through its august corridors, including the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm, the collectors and publishers of folk tales) and Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), who was the first Chancellor of the German Empire.

I like quaint tales (as did the Brothers Grimm who popularised stories such as Cinderella, The Goose Girl, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White). In Göttingen, when students receive their degrees, the local custom is that they leg it up the Gänseliesel-Fountain (Goose Girl Fountain) in front of the Old Town Hall and give the lass a kiss. She's reputedly the most snogged girl in the whole wide world!

The Junges Theater and Wochenmarkt (weekly market) (c) Ian HowardThe Junges Theater and Wochenmarkt (weekly market) (c) Ian Howard

If you like your sport, you'll have heard of Sochi. The Russian city is situated on the Black Sea, near the Caucasus Mountains, and is the nation's largest resort city, with a subtropical climate. Its prominence as a fashionable resort really dated to the era of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), who had his favourite 'dacha' (seasonal or year-round second home) built in the city. Sochi hosted the 22nd Winter Olympics in 2014, as well as staging a Formula I Grand Prix for the first time in the same year, and football matches during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Sochi has certainly embraced the fun and symbolism of twinning, which it began with our Cheltenham in 1959. Since then it has linked up with a further 15 towns and cities around the globe, beginning with Menton (France) in 1966 and including such luminaries as Rimini (Italy), a childhood holiday destination for your author, Long Beach (California, USA), Trabzon (Turkey), Vancouver (Canada), where my wife's cousins reside, Baden-Baden (Germany), and Weihai (China), which we'll be coming on to next.

Pedestrianised zone, Göttingen (c)  Daniel SchwenPedestrianised zone, Göttingen (c) Daniel Schwen

So, finally, Weihai, by far the largest of Cheltenham's twin towns & cities, which lies in China's Shandong province. It couldn't be much different to its twin, as it's a major commercial seaport, and fishing centre, with a total population pushing three million. Weihai was once under British rule (1898-1930), being known as Port Edward, before being returned to the Republic of China. Apparently, British sailors referred to it as 'Way High'.

The city has the Yellow Sea on three sides, with mountains on the fourth, so the setting is picturesque. In the same way that Sochi attracts the tourists, so does Weihai, with trippers from all over China (and South Korea) rocking up for the summer sun.

Sochi’s Quay (c) Vir2ozSochi’s Quay (c) Vir2oz

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.

Regarding Cheltenham (G), one thing I've learnt is that its choices of 'twins' not only celebrate similarities, but also great differences. For Cheltenham, those links with five other towns and cities in nations that suffered from conflict (and not just in WW2) remain in place and remain strong.

Weihai city skyline as viewed from the sea (c) JiangWeihai city skyline as viewed from the sea (c) Jiang

Local artist Katie B Morgan designed this beautiful illustrated map of Cheltenham for July's issue of Cotswold Life. To see more of her illustrations, and to purchase any of her works, visit below the map for points of interest...


Cheltenham map, by Katie B Morgan, map, by Katie B Morgan,

- Cheltenham Spa: 1716 mineral springs were discovered by Captain Henry Skillicorne… with the help of pigeons!

- Motorhead: The guitarist Michael 'Würzel' Burston born in Cheltenham

- Jazz Coleman: The founder of Killing Joke in 1978, was born in Cheltenham

- Dancing Ken Hanks: Charity fundraiser and lover of country music

- Eddie the Eagle: Olympic ski-jumper, 1988

- Superdry: Fashion brand founded in Cheltenham, 2003

- Brian Jones: Founder member of the Rolling Stones logo on shopping bag

- The Bank Building: Three sculptures by Barbara Hepworth

- Montpellier Gardens: With its 200-year-old copper beech tree

- Great Nassau Balloon: Landed in 1837

- Montpellier Bandstand: Erected in 1864. Possibly the oldest in England

- Twin towns: Russia, France, Germany, China and The Netherlands

- Wishing Fish clock in Regent Arcade: Designed and made by Kit Williams

- Gustav Holst: The composer of The Planets born in Cheltenham, 1874

- Boer War Memorial: Erected in 1907

- Neptune's Fountain: Designed by Joseph Hall and carved by Richard Lockwood Boulton and his sons, 1893. Fed by the River Chelt

- Caryatid: 32 armless ladies, 1840

- The Minotour and the Hare: Sculpture by Sophie Ryder

- Emperor Penguin by Nick Bibby: In the foyer of the museum, renamed The Wilson, after Edward Wilson of the Antarctic

- Sir Ralph Richardson, actor: Born in Cheltenham, 1902

- Everyman Theatre: Designed by Frank Matcham, opened 1891

- Gloster E.28/29: The first British jet aircraft prototype, built at Regent Motors (now Regent Arcade)

- Through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll, the father of the real Alice lived in Charlton Kings

- Rocky Horror Show: Writer Richard O'Brien was born in Cheltenham, 1942

- PJ Crook and Richard Parker Crook: Artists live in nearby Bishop's Cleeve

- Arthur Negus: Died in Cheltenham, 1985

- Inkubus Sukkubus: The band formed in Cheltenham, 1989

- Geoff Hurst, footballer: The only man ever to score a hat-trick at a World Cup Final, in 1966, lives in Cheltenham

- The Whistle Blower: The 1986 British spy thriller, set at GCHQ

- Synagogue: Judged by Nikolaus Pevsner to be one of the architecturally "best" non-Anglican ecclesiastical buildings in Britain

- Butterflies: British TV sitcom written by Carla Lane and filmed in Cheltenham 1978-1983

- If: Filmed in 1968

- Dowty Group: Founded by George Dowty in 1935

- HH Martyn and Co: Founded by Herbert Henry Martyn, 1888

- Dawn Run: The only horse to win the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, ridden by Jonjo O'Neil

- Gilbert Jones: Test cricketer

- John Neville Maskelyne: Designer of the pay toilet and creator of some of Harry Houdini's great escape tricks

- Martin Jarvis, actor: Born in Cheltenham, 1941, and subject of 'This is Your Life' TV programme

- Robert Hardy, actor: Born in Cheltenham, 1925

- Whitbread Brewery: Founded in 1760 and now shopping centre

- Chimney sweep: Over-the-door sculpture at The Wilson

- Music Festivals: Greenbelt & Wychwood

- Cheltenham Minster: St Mary's medieval building. One of two notable rings of bells; the other is in St Christopher's, Warden Hill, which has the lightest ring of bells in the world

- Festivals: Science, Music, Jazz, Literature, Folk, Cricket, Paranormal, Christian, Design, Comedy and Performing Arts


Cheltenham and its twins:


CHELTENHAM (Gloucestershire, England)

Population: 117,100.

Twinned with 5 towns/cities.

Motto: 'SALUBRITAS ET ERUDITIO' - Health and erudition.

Foundation: First recorded 803 AD (as 'Celtan hom').

Regency spa town on the edge of the Cotswolds.


ANNECY (France)

Population: 124,400.

Twinned with 5 other towns/cities, including Bayreuth (Germany).

Motto: Sometimes called 'Venice of the Alps' or 'Pearl of the French Alps'.

Foundation: There's been a settlement here since the Romans.

Awarded a 'Golden Flower' (2015) as one of most-flowered French cities.



Population: 37,100.

Twinned with 1 other town (Cheltenham, England).

Motto: 'The Pride of the East Side'.

Foundation: Established 1682 by Quakers from Cheltenham, England.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli PM, graduated from Cheltenham High School.



Population: 119,000.

Twinned with 4 other towns/cities, including Pau (France).

Motto: Known as 'the City of Science'

Foundation: Origins lie with a village, 'Gutingi', first mentioned 953 AD.

44 Nobel Prize winners have studied or taught in the city.


SOCHI (Russia)

Population: 340,000.

Twinned with 16 other towns/cities, including Vancouver (Canada) & Long Beach (USA).

Foundation: ancient, with the first settlements certainly during the Roman era.

Motto: Russia's Sochi Olympic slogan (2014) was 'Hot, Cool, Yours'.

Sochi, on the Black Sea, is notable for sports facilities, including hosting F1.


WEIHAI (China)

Population: 2,800,000

Twinned with two towns/cities, the other being Timaru (New Zealand).

Foundation: Dates back to the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China from 1644.

Motto: Weihai was once under British Rule (1898-1930) and was known as 'Port Edward'.

A minor planet is named after this city.


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