Brighton-Biarritz 1938 and 1946

This badge is tangible proof of the fact that there was once a close link between Brighton and Biarritz going back nearly a century.


Delegates badge 1938 – Courtesy of the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Biarritz had hosted a delegation of Brighton worthies in 1932 with a view to forming tourism and cultural ties between the two towns.

It was now Brighton’s duty to return the French hospitality.  Not an easy or cheap task for Brighton to emulate the generous hospitality of the French town.  At first, a visit to Brighton was projected for 1933 but did not take place.

There was talk of a reciprocal visit at Whitsun 1936, but the death of King George V in January and then the abdication of Edward VIII at the end of the year put all the arrangements on hold until 1938 when at last Brighton could show off her many and varied attractions.

The late May sun of 1938 shone down on the Biarritz delegation as it made the long journey by train from Biarritz to Paris, from Paris to Dover, from Dover to London and finally from London to Brighton.  First there was a reception in the Royal Pavilion at which all the delegates were handed Des insignes, veritable bijoux sur émail, aux armes de Brighton sur fond aux trois couleurs françaises, avec ces mots “Brighton-Biarritz Entente” [Jewel-like badges in enamel, showing the Brighon crest on a background of the three French colours and bearing the inscription “Brighton-Biarritz Entente.] (See image above.)  The badge was valuable, not only as a souvenir, but it allowed the delegates free travel within Brighton and free entry to all the municipal-run tourist attractions of the town.

BTNRP_BHSHVol 77 Biarritz facilites for visitors 1838

Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and The Keep, Brighton

The reception was followed by a banquet for 200 people in the exotic surroundings of the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion.  More entertainment followed:  a trip to see the Derby at Epsom, a visit to Arundel Castle as the guests of the Duke of Norfolk, a “business” meeting between the aldermen of the two towns.  The golfers in the French party even manage to retain the Coupe de l’Entente Brighton-Biarritz at the Hollingbury Golf Course.  But an event which perhaps most touched the French delegation came at the end of a music-hall performance of “Crest of the Wave” at the Hippodrome … the whole audience of 2,000 people rose to sing La Marseillaise (followed bien sûr by God Save the King).

Yes, there were mutters in the local Brighton press about the cost of such a visit, but oh! the free publicity for the town.  It far outstripped the expense.

Brighton Councillor J. C. Sherrott was outraged on behalf of Brighton ratepayers:

Of all the foolish, crazy, mad and wasteful bits of expenditure this Council has ever entered into, commend me to the Biarritz delegation. Just fancy! That small, almost forgotten seaside town on the Continent, coming over here and having good English money spent on them to take them to the Derby, and members of our own Labour party, who are supposed to be proponents of democracy going to enjoy the Sport of Kings at the expense of the ratepayers of Brighton.  It fills one with nausea. West Sussex Gazette 16 June 1938

Described as “one of the town’s financial brains”, Cllr J. C. Sherrott even went so far as to demand a Ministerial enquiry.  This demand was rejected by a special meeting of the Town Council. We must assume that for Brighton, as for Biarritz, the free publicity was worth the outlay.

And then there was World War II.  Biarritz was occupied from June 1940 and the town heavily fortified as part of the Nazi Atlantic Wall.  It was not completely liberated until August 1944. Tragically, this liberation was achieved at the cost of Allied bombardment of the town with the loss of at least 90 lives and much destruction of property.  On 1st September 1944, the Mayor of Brighton was one of the first to send to Biarritz “a message of congratulation and hope for a glorious future.”

After the war, there were hopes of reviving the Entente Brighton-Biarritz and in April 1946 the Mayor of Biarritz again extended an invitation to a large party from Brighton. Despite the damaged appearance of the town, the Biarots (townsfolk of Biarritz) were keen to have English guests at the inauguration of a memorial to Edward VII and one to his mother, Queen Victoria – the former a replacement for the monument destroyed during the war.  Brighton Town Council decided that there was not enough money in the coffers for a large contingent to go to France, but that the Mayor, the Mayoress and the Town Clerk should act as their representatives at the inauguration.

Eight years after his last outburst and true to form, now ‘former Councillor’ J. C. Sherrott was up in arms again and quoted as saying: “Surely at the present time, austerity in all directions is being preached and forced upon us by the Government; when Sir Stafford Cripps is telling us that it is impossible for women to have fully-fashioned stockings or even necessary household linen; when women have to stand for hours in shop queues on the chance of getting the bare necessities of life, it is not desirable, even for the Mayor and Town Clerk to go abroad.”

Clearly, in ex-Councillor Sherrott’s mind, the saving of three rail fares to Biarritz would solve the problem of affordable fully-fashioned stockings. True, rationing was draconian in Britain in the late 1940s, as it was in France to a slightly lesser extent.  But both towns saw this event as a move towards a brighter future.  The visit was a success. Being an agricultural country (and benefitting from the European Recovery Programme – more commonly known as the Marshall Plan) the French were able to supply the delegates from Brighton with simple but elegant banquets… even though Brighton paid for at least one of those banquets. Lunch on the day of the inauguration was:

Hors-d’Œuvre à la Française

Saumon de l’Adour Froid Sauce Verte

Poulet Reine Poëlé Ramuncho

Cœurs de Laitues

Fromage du Pays

Gâteau Basque


Lunch on the last day, 30 April, was equally refined, with wines supplied, free of charge, by the best vignerons (wine producers) of the area.  The Town Clerk, Joseph G Drew, was so impressed that he kept two of the menus during the stay, including one signed by many of the attendees. These documents are held in The Keep in Brighton.

During the six-day stay, Mayor Cllr Walter Clout and Mayoress Mrs Lillian Clout were ably supported by Joseph Drew who kept careful notes of when speeches needed to be made, what alterations had been made to the programme and indeed who they were to meet, including the British Ambassador who had come for the unveiling of the monuments.

Other activities on the programme included films (in French), a toro del fuego [“illumination of the cliffs”] followed by a ball, there was a boxing match and a game of pelota as well as a visit to Pau via the village of Ascain where the party had lunch.

Hôtel Etchola breakfast room

(c) Suzanne Hinton

The Union Jack flags on the tables do not show up well on this post card. The French and British parties probably did no more than drop into the Hôtel Etchola for le goûter [afternoon tea].

Joseph Drew O.B.E. was a careful man.  He was mindful of the criticisms that ex-councillor Sherrott might raise.  He kept a meticulous, hand-written account of all the expenses incurred by the Mayoral party, noting down the payments for everything in both pounds and francs (at what seems to have been the going rate of 480F to the pound).  As well as the items shown in the short extract below, these expenses included breakfast on the train (15 shillings) and ‘sending cables to Brighton’ (£1.3.0).  Luncheon for the Mayor of Biarritz and other local dignitaries set the party back a hefty £90.0.0 (44,000F) although laundry was a mere £1.0.0.  Most importantly, there were ‘tips to chauffeurs £1.0.0 per day’ as well as a tip to the conductor of the Paris-Biarritz train (£1.0.0).

Town Clerk's accounts

Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and The Keep, Brighton

On returning to Brighton, Mr Drew presented a long report to the Council, stressing the advantages to Brighton of a close relationship with Biarritz, both for tourism as well as cultural and educational exchanges.

And that seems to have been that. 

Brighton is not, and never has been, officially twinned with any overseas town – despite a petition in 2019 in favour of twinning with Nouakchott in Mauritania.  Hove has been twinned with Draveil, near Paris, since 1990 but the link is no longer run under the auspices of the Brighton and Hove City Council.

All the hard work and friendship that had been build up over many a long year seem to have vanished in post-war austerity and not returned, not even during the halcyon years of Britain’s membership of the European Union.

One thought on “Brighton-Biarritz 1938 and 1946

  1. Looking back to such joyous occasions of past harmony and friendship makes the present post-Brexit atmosphere of bickering and resentment seem all the sadder. Perhaps when the dust has settled, go-ahead cities like Brighton can again extend the hand of friendship to French and other European cities and begin the long journey back to reconciliation and understanding.


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