This week, the nation will be deciding its place in the European Union, and, in some ways, its place in the wider world. With this in mind – regardless of which side you fall in this debate – it seems an apt time for a different kind of article on the Harrow area, one that focuses on Harrow’s transnational connections. Of course, we have in some ways already looked at some of these connections in the past – such as last week’s article on Queen Adelaide and her connection to Australia’s state, or weeks before that with Kodak’s presence in Harrow and its roots in America. However we have yet to look at another way in which Harrow has connections across the globe, that being its twin towns, the likes of which extend outside of Europe and even have the potential to literally cross the globe.
This practice of town-twinning has been around for some time, even predating the London borough system, though it only became especially popular in the aftermath of the Second World War, when twinning was advocated as an attempt to create links and encourage understanding between different cultures. It was in this context that Harrow was paired with its perhaps more well-known twin: Douai, in Northern France.
An old town – its name likely corresponding with a fourth century Roman fortress known as a Duacum – Douai became prominent in the tenth century as a romantic location of the counts of Flanders. Yet now Douai is perhaps most famous for its Gothic style belfry, built in 1380 on the site of an earlier tower, and which consists of over sixty bells spanning five octaves – though the originals were lost during the First World War when the occupying German forces took the bells and melted them down for their metal. Indeed, as a side note, it was during this time that Leefe Robinson, Stanmore’s famous wartime pilot (who we also looked at a few weeks’ back), touched down in Douai of all places, after the German occupiers shot him out of the sky – an event that would result in his eventual death when he returned to Stanmore some years after.
Yet even before the twentieth century, Douai was a town that had long felt the impact of war. Between 1710 and 1712, the town was besieged successively during the turmoil of the French Revolution, and was almost completely levelled in this time. Then in the two world wars, Douai suffered again in the fierce fighting that took place, especially in the second. Today, however, Douai can be seen to be in better straits. Its bell tower has since been repaired, and the town remains a quiet, quaint location perfect for those seeking a getaway in lovely northern France.
Harrow’s other twin is both less well-known and outside of Europe entirely. This town is Kabwe – capital of the Zambian Central Province – and it is said that the link between Harrow and Kabwe emerged when a Zambian man brought his sick daughter to Stanmore’s Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital for treatment, though the veracity of this remains disputed.
Like Douai, if not even more so, Kabwe has quite the extensive history, originally having borne the name Broken Hill in 1902 due to the hill south of the town which had a natural shaft separating it. During this time, the town was a prosperous (at least for the colonial powers) mining site, with lead and zinc being dredged up from the ground, and this mine would remain the largest in Zambia for some thirty years.
Kabwe also has significance for the pivotal role it played in Zambia’s political history. It was in Kabwe that the movement for independence from Britain gained the momentum it needed to eventually be successful, with Kabwe having been chosen as a site of a rally in October 1958 due to its central location and its railway union base. The figures behind this rally would later found the UNIP (United National Independence Party), the group behind Zambia’s eventual independence, and would hold conferences at Mulungushi Rock just north of Kabwe – so much so that the Rock is now known as the country’s ‘birthplace of independence.’
Whilst these two remain Harrow’s only official twins, other locations have been considered – most recently in 2013, when the likes of Tel Aviv, Patton, Kingston, Port au Prince in Haiti and Tilburg in the Netherlands were discussed – although none have yet been made a formal twin.
Nonetheless, both Douai in France and Kabwe in Zambia remain interesting twin towns for Harrow to have. It may be worth keeping an eye out in the local area to see what kind of presence these twins have, and, indeed, if you’re abroad, these overseas counterparts may be worth a visit to see and take in the rich local cultures and histories that our home has since come to be a part of.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: tourisme.fr