Your better half

Most British cities have a foreign partner tucked away somewhere. Stewa rt Hennessy reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The idea of twinning was founded on a misconception. In the aftermath of the Great War, the government thought promoting bonds between British and foreign towns would heal wounds. Indeed, the first twinning impetus came in 1919, when the mayor of Blackburn visited the town of Peronne, France, where his son had been killed. The first officially recorded twinning, however, was in 1920 between Keighley, in industrial North Yorkshire, and Poix-du-Nord, a farming village north of Calais.

Curiously, twinning failed to avert the Second World War. But it did alert City Fathers to the fun of foreign freebies. After the war, the trickle of twinnings became a stream. Oxford twinned with Bonn, Bristol hooked up with Hanover, Portsmouth invited Duisburg "to find the way back to each other". Coventry had led the way by twinning with Stalingrad, both having sent sympathetic messages to each other during the war.

By 1972, more than half of all twinnings were with German towns, but France became more popular during the late Seventies and Eighties, as bonds became based on shared interest, such as that between Llanelli and Agen, two rugby towns. The stream of twinnings became a flood in the Eighties and choices became adventurous, with places such as Whitby twinned with Nukualofa in Tonga.

Associations with names like Friends of Backofbeyondsky are still springing up, developing the twinning industry and partly shifting the powerbase away from the political sector. These groups are bigger on cultural exchanges and visits; more interested in making friends than money.

To date, more than 1,700 UK communities are twinned. Devon, Cornwall and Scotland, the Celtic parts of Britain, are the biggest twinners, while the South-east and Midlands remain the most aloof.

Germany and France are still popular providers of twins, but the former Soviet states are the most fashionable twin providers.

Many towns have a couple of twins. Durham would be part of a sextet if its twins ganged together, and Coventry would be lost trying to bond its 23 twins, which include Belgrade and Sarajevo, along with the very attractive holiday destinations of Kingston, Jamaica and Caen, France.