"A wonderful experience. All the party was thrilled to bits.”
This was the way the Mayor of Stalybridge (Councilor W. E Taylor) summed up the civic visit to Stalybridge’s French twin town last week. It was roses all the way for the guests of Armentieres; flowers, confetti, reception and toasts, in the best traditions of Anglo-French friendship.
The visit was not simply a joy-ride however, the Mayor was able to report that, after the meeting of the delegation and the Armentieres Twinning Committee, " a number of misunderstandings have been cleaned up and the way ahead should be aright." Contacts have been made with heads of the ‘boy scouts’ and Chamber of Trade in Armentieres and it is hoped that, exchange visits between organizations will now take place,facilities have been discussed for exchange visits of schoolchildren.
Highlight of a six day trip was the experience of shearing in the Fete Des Nieulles, the annual carnival which attracts about 200,000 visitors to Armentieres
“We had never seen anything like it,” said the Mayor. “The people are massed in the square the whole of which finishes up several inches deep in confetti."
Making up the official party with the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor (Alderman J. Healey) were Mr. C. Hargreaves (Chief Clerk) and Mrs N Heap, of the Twinning Sub-committee, who acted as a translator. The Deputy Mayoress (Mrs Healey, the Borough Engineer (Mr J H. Shepherd) and Mrs Shepherd, along with the four members of the French-speaking class at Stalybridge Evening Institute also travelled with the party.
Wonderful weather favored the visit, although members of the delegation were told that, like stalybridge, Armentieres had a rather wet summer. On the Saturday of their arrival, the party was received by the mayor of Armentieres Monsieur Gerard Haesbrouck , who visited Stalybridge last year. He and the councilor Taylor then received some of the personalities taking part in fete Des Nieulles and four brass bands played the national anthems of Britain and France. After laying a wreath on the war memorial, councilor Taylor was entertained, with the rest of the delegation, at a reception at the Town Hall, where there was a toast to celebrate the success of the fete. In the evening, there was an official dinner, at which the guests included the perfect of the Northern Province vice consul from Lille. A ball lasting till 4 a.m followed the dinner. Sunday was the day of the local habitants. In the morning everyone assembled in front assembled in front of the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) to watch the procession of the Queen of the Fete and her attendants. They were received in the town hall by the Mayor of Armentieres, and afterwards there was a banquet provided by Raymond Oliver, a chef who is known as the “Philip Harben of France”. Then came the carnival itself with a big procession of huge decorated floats depicting scenes from French folklore, country dancing and music with some humorous tableaux thrown in. As each float reached the town hall, a microphone was lowered down, and each company acted a short scene for the benefit of onlookers. Tons of confetti were thrown whilst this was happening. The Stalybridge party and civic heads of Armentieres then went on to the Town Hall balcony for the distribution of the “Nieulles”- “little cakes.” “We threw hundreds of thousands of packets of biscuits to the crowd” said Councilor Taylor “They were massed below trying to catch them"
In the evening there was a concert in a huge Marquee seating 4,000 people. The concert, which was broadcast featured Petula Clark, Annie Corby (a well-known French cabaret star) and the other well known artistes. The concert finished at 12-30 a.m. Monday was a public holiday with the folk of Armentieres still in festive mood. There were daylight fireworks in the morning, with paper figures popping out if there cases to be caught by the waiting crowd. A cycle race was the principal attraction in the afternoon, and in the evening the festival closed with a massive firework display. Whilst the residents went back to their work on the Tuesday, the Stalybridge delegation enjoyed a 370 k.m coach tour, visiting Le Touquet, Boulogne, Calais, Dunkerque, and several Belgian towns, before returning to Armentieres. Wednesday was spent visiting the local factories, schools and other places of interest in Armentieres, and in the evening there was a meeting of the Twinning Committee and the Stalybridge delegation followed by a dinner. The singing of “Mademoiselle from Armentieres” and “Auld Lang Syne” brought to a close and a most enjoyable and successful visit.
The Mayor said the visit would not have been half as successful had it not been for Mrs Heap who had done a magnificent job of work as translator. Members of the delegation subscribed to buy her a bouquet of flowers in appreciation of her services. Mr Hargreaves took copious notes on the visit and also made a colour film of many of the events which is hoped to be shown at a later date. In addition, the delegation brought back hundreds of souvenirs, to be shown at an exhibition at the library. The Mayor of Armentieres presented Councilor Taylor with a beautiful wooden tray with built in cigarette box lighter and copper ash tray. Councilor Taylor said he had been much impressed with the town and people of Armentieres. There was an excellent shopping centre, with decorated lights in the streets throughout the year, and the town hall was most impressive. The people had been most hospitable and friendly. When they set out to enjoy themselves, they really did, but they also knew how to work during the days of the Fete, it was always in the early hours of the morning when they went to bed, but afterwards the streets were completely dead by 10 p.m
The image is from http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/huddersfield/hnc53i.htm taken by Mr M. Clark. Located via Google showing the square in 1999 pre canal restoration.