Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Sole Sister on Cape Cod?

Exeter, Exmouth, Otterton, Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary... What do they all have in common apart from being in East Devon? The answer is that they are all officially twinned with towns or villages abroad.

Most of the 'twinned' Devon communities have been linked to partners in France, although Sidmouth has a Swiss twin and Ottery chose Otari in Japan.

Yet it's on the other side of the Atlantic that our county has the strongest historic connections, based on the voyages across the pond made famous by Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552-1618) and Roger Conant (c. 1592–1679), founder of the city of Salem, Massachusetts, and of course by the Pilgrim Fathers in the Mayflower in 1620.
No surprise then that Plymouth and Barnstaple have official twinning links with their namesakes on Cape Cod.

The photo shows Sir Walter Raleigh's statue in East Budleigh, his birthplace. I lent him the Stars & Stripes for Independence Day.

It was one of the Pilgrim Fathers, Elder William Brewster (c. 1566 -1644), seen here, who gave his name to a Massachusetts community with which Budleigh Salterton has a special link.

Thanks to an initiative led by two American visitors to Devon, Janine Getek and Joan Orr, our community was proposed in May 2001 as the sister-town of Brewster, Massachusetts.

Located 65 miles directly south-east of Boston, the Cape Cod town is bigger than its UK relative but shares many characteristics with Budleigh apart from its coastal situation.

Brewster is notable as an historic sea captains’ town, boasting many architecturally distinctive and splendidly preserved houses, and situated in a noted conservation area.
Stony Brook with the grist mill, Brewster
Photo by Byron Cain

The picture of our famous beach on the Brewster Chamber of Commerce website inspired me to investigate further what had happened to this attempt at a special relationship. Early enthusiasm for twinning was noted at the time by newspapers like The Cape Codder and The Cape Cod Times, reporting that more than 500 Brewster citizens had voted for the idea and had "unanimously approved the symbolic joining of the two towns."

But no official recognition ever took place and in time the idea fell by the wayside. The tragedy of the Twin Towers in September that year put paid temporarily to transatlantic air travel, and the link between Budleigh Salterton and Brewster became for most people a distant memory, revived only by occasional references to it on the internet.

Many Budleigh residents, including the Town Council, have welcomed the revival of the connection as "a good idea." East Devon Councillor Ray Franklin "could not think of a better part of the USA to link up with" and Devon County Councillor Christine Channon found Brewster "a delightful town" when she visited New England in 2007.

Brewster's Paines Creek in winter
Photo by Byron Cain

The distance involved means that a traditional twinning arrangement based on regular group travel would be too expensive for most people. But I hope that we will see the occasional Cape Cod visitor drawn to discover more about the birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh and Roger Conant. "It would be wonderful to welcome guests from the USA," says Budleigh’s Jane Crosse, who runs a thriving bed and breakfast business at Simcoe House on Fore Street Hill.

For those residents of both communities who would like to keep in touch with their transatlantic cousins I set up a community news website. It's been a quick way of learning about the local area since my wife Anthea and I moved here two years ago, and it's been interesting to discover the similarities - historical, cultural and environmental - which we share with our neighbours across the pond. The website is enjoyed by readers with internet access on both sides of the Atlantic and was the subject of a feature in June last year by Times journalist Alex Wade

It's even read in Transylvania thanks to the link that Brewster First Parish (Unitarian Universalist) Church has had with the Romanian Jobbagyfalva Unitarian Church since 1989.
Pictured is Brewster by the sea, one of the town's many inns providing accommodation for visitors.

With over 15 bed and breakfast inns and more than 30 art galleries, craft shops and antique shops, Brewster is a popular holiday destination for Americans and Budleigh visitors can be assured of a warm welcome. Meanwhile the internet is a wonderful and free resource for looking outside our community and into another continent to see how "they do things differently there." The exchange of ideas among those involved in running our various businesses, clubs, museums, theatres and festivals is a valuable resource which can benefit an entire community.

“An internet based version of twinning sounds an interesting idea,” commented Geoff Beech, Secretary of Exmouth Twinning Association. “It could even be described as a ‘green’ version, which may become more relevant in the not too distant future!”

If you would like to be kept informed of progress on the revival of the Budleigh-Brewster link, please contact me on 01395 446407 or email

A slightly amended version of this post has been published in the February 2010 issue of Budleigh Salterton St Peter's Church newsletter

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