Annual meeting

In 2019 it was our turn to visit our friends in Great Dunmow, from Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th May. Contrary to the custom, it was not the weekend of Ascension, because this one fell at the beginning of June while our town celebrated the medieval festival and also received a delegation of our Québécois friends of Lac Mégantic.

So, we went on an ordinary business day, which gave us a lot of traffic to Roissy and a delay at the Shuttle Terminal. Unfortunately, the trains were also late, and in England, the M25 was very busy. We only joined our friends in Great Dunmow at 7:30 pm. Nonetheless, the welcome was, as usual, very warm and each host family was eager to overcome this long journey by offering a tasty dinner to their guests. Many families had come together to make the meal even more friendly.

Our friends had wanted to spend the next day visiting two remarkable sites, close to Dunmow, located in the District of Uttlesford, to avoid a long trip by bus. The programme included visiting the small historic town of Saffron Walden in the morning and visiting the beautiful Audley End House. Some ancient twinners had already seen one or the other in the past, but this new visit allowed them to discover new details. And for those who did not know the places, it was a very popular dive in English history.

Saffron Walden's visit was free. We had been given a plan where the main places of interest were listed with an explanatory text in French, very well done.

The small medieval town of Saffron Walden (population 15,000) is located in the heart of one of the most beautiful hilly landscapes of Essex. Market town, it takes its name from the saffron culture (Saffron Crocus) of ,which Essex was a great producer until the 18th century when it was supplanted by the productions of the Middle East.

In the centre of the town, the market square is dominated by the elegant building of the Guildhall and its arcades. One can also see a beautiful fountain erected in 1863, in commemoration of the wedding of Prince of Wales with Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

 After the conquest of William the Conqueror, a castle had been built by the Norman Lord Geoffroy de Mandeville, of which, unfortunately, only a few ruins remain. Next to it we could see a very romantic garden (Bridge Ends Gardens) with a maze. St Mary the Virgin church dates back to the 13th century and had been modified between 1470 and 1525. Its size makes it the largest in Essex and one of the largest in England, reflecting the town's prosperity at the time of saffron culture.

Following the map, we passed several medieval timber framed houses among which Old Sun Inn, The Rows, Cross Keys Hotel, Myddylton Place and many others (the town has more than 400 historic buildings).

Once the town tour over, we then moved to a nearby pub for a meal that allowed us to enjoy a traditional English pub food dish: "Bangers and mash": grilled sausages with mashed potatoes.

                                    Audley End - The great hall

The afternoon was spent visiting the beautiful mansion of Audley End House. Arrived in the great hall, a guide told us its turbulent history: Originally, the site was a Benedictine monastery founded by Norman Lord Geoffroy Mandeville in 1139. After the suppression of monastic orders by Henry VIII in 1538 the buildings were transferred to Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor who converted them into a residence. His grandson Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer demolished them and instead built a grandiose mansion, in order to receive King James I. History similary to what hapened to Fouquet and the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, Howard was accused of embezzlement and jailed in the Tower of London.

The house was after abandoned and King Charles II acquired it in 1668 for a derisory sum. It was restored to the Suffolks in 1701, but its very bad condition forced the demolition of two thirds of its structure. Sir John Griffin, Baron Howard of Walden and first Baron Baybrooke restored the house and gardens in the late eighteenth century in the style of fashion at the time. Richard Griffin, 3rd Baron Baybrooke reinstalled the original Jacobean style and refurnished the castle. During the 2nd World War Audley End was occupied by the army and served as HQ to the special Polish Special Forces. After the war, the 9th Lord Baybrooke ceded it to the institution "English Heritage", who opened it to the public.

During the visit we were able to admire the grandiose ceremonial rooms with exuberant ceilings and an amazing collection of naturalized birds. We also passed through the Babrooke family apartments, as well as the nursery, before ending with the commons. A little time was available to admire the romantic park, created by the famous landscape designer Capability Brown (1716 - 1783) and the large vegetable garden, with a huge greenhouse in which vines and       fruit trees grow. Fortunately, the sun made a shy appearance which allowed us to enjoy the outside of the castle.                                       

Back in Dunmow, our host families provided very good dinners which often combined excellent French wines with no less excellent traditional English cuisine.

The following day, Saturday was, as usual, left to the initiative of the host families who took their guests through the beautiful green hills of Essex and their pretty villages with many cottages, often featuring thatched roofs. In the evening, the official dinner brings together the members of both town twinning and the Council of Great Dunmow at the Foakes Hall. Before the meal a pleasant musical interlude was given by a group of young singers and dancers from Great Dunmow. These young teenagers expressed the wish to perform at Dourdan, which all welcomed.

In their introductory speeches the two chairmen of the twinning committees: Wendy BARRON and Gérard PATURAUD emphasized the pleasure of meeting and the strength of the links that have been tieding English and French families for almost 30 years. They confirmed that a group of musicians from Dourdan will go to Dunmow at the end of next June to give a concert with the local Wind Band. They congratulated David BEEDLE for being the instigator of this meeting and wished that the reciprocal could take place in Dourdan in 2020. They also wished that the meetings between the swimming clubs of our two towns, for the moment at a standstill can be continued next year .

Sunday was already time to return home, not without having previously attended the traditional reception of the French delegation by the Town Council of Great Dunmow, led by its mayor, Barrie EASTER. As the mayor of Great Dunmow has only a one-year term, which was to expire the following week, Mrs. Emma MARCUS, who is to takeover, was also present. After the usual thanks and congratulations, the two mayors exchanged gifts: Mrs. Maryvonne BOQUET, Mayor of Dourdan gave Mr. Barrie EASTER a sculpture made by a Dourdan craftsman and received in return an old photograph of one of the emblems Great Dunmow: The Pond "Doctor's Pond".

With his usual sense of humor, David BEEDLE closed the ceremony by making an appearance dressed in a yellow vest, just to nicely laugh at the political situation in France and perhaps in response to the jokes that the situation more than confused about "Brexit" had not failed to generate from the French.

After the reception, it was time to return to our coach, for a safe return to Dourdan where our delegation arrived shortly before 22 hours. See you next uear in Dourdan.

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