Last weekend I had the honour of taking a group of French visitors on an historic guided tour around the beautiful downland village of Alfriston. I showed them some of the interesting buildings including the church and the pubs. I pointed out the red lion ship’s figurehead attached to the side of the ancient Star Inn.
The jolly red lion came from a Dutch battleship which was lost at the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690. This naval skirmish saw a combined English and Dutch fleet face a French flotilla and it pleased our French visitors when I told them that they had won the day.
The French moored their ships off the Eastbourne coast for several days which must have caused a panic throughout the whole of Sussex.
How the figurehead was recovered is not known but it was probably found floating in the Cuckmere River and was later attached to the corner of the Star Inn.
It stood here for centuries before being moved for safety in 2004.
Our French friends were visiting from the pretty Normandy village of Veules-les-Roses and they were in Alfriston for the formal Twinning Agreement between the two towns. As a member of the Seaford Twinning Association (STA) I was happy to assist the Alfriston group to host their visitors.
Despite the villages being 70 miles distant they are similar in many respects; the are both on a river, close to the sea and also have towering chalk cliffs nearby. The two villages both have a population of about 600 people, their churches were built at a similar time and both have an ancient village cross.
The Cuckmere River is a little longer than the Veules which, at less than a mile long, is officially the shortest river in France! Despite this the French managed to build several watermills, three of which have been carefully restored.
Seaford has been twinned with the German town of Bonningstedt since 1984. I visited Bonningstedt with the STA a couple of years ago.
I have also visited Appen which is twinned with Polegate and the beautiful French town of Blois which is twinned with Lewes.
Only a few months ago Newhaven twinned with La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin near Orleans.
Twinning became popular after the Second World War when communities tried to heal the wounds of the then recent conflict by forging people to people links. Although the scheme was promoted by the Council of Europe, twinning is not constrained to Europe and links have been made with many towns outwith the union including Norway and Switzerland.
The 1970s saw the restoration of democracy in countries such as Spain, Greece and Portugal and many new links were made. There were further connections made following the fall of the Berlin Wall and Seaford has a friendship link with Crivitz in former East Germany.
The chairman of the STA is Town Cryer, Peter White and he was present, resplendent in his uniform, at the signing ceremony between Alfriston and Veules-les-Roses in the War Memorial Hall on Saturday. Councillor, Dr June Goodfield and Babette Kundrat, who had done so much to make the links across the Channel were joined by Nick Beechey, the Chairman of Alfriston Parish Council and Jean-Claude Luca, the Deputy Mayor of Veules who both exchanged gifts. The bells of St Andrew’s Church rang out and there was later a delicious meal at Deans Place Hotel.
Does twinning work? My experiences with the twinning association in Seaford certainly proves it does and long lasting friendships have been forged. The new Alfriston association has already not only made many family friendships but links have been made with the local schools, musicians, artists and other organisations.
As Veules is just 12 miles from the channel port of Dieppe I do hope that you will take the opportunity to visit the village on your next cross-channel visit. It is not far and you will be assured of a warm welcome. Members of twinning associations arrange exchange visits which are always informative and fun. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language - friendship is a common language.
Further information about the Alfriston & Cuckmere Valley Twinning Association contact Babette Kundrat on 01323 491707. For Seaford Twinning Association call Peter White on 01323 897360.