Whenever you drive into a town or village across the country, chances are they are ‘twinned’ with some far-flung place somewhere around the world.
However, there are some people who don’t know much about their twinned town(s) and there are visitors that only get a fleeting glimpse of the name as they drive past the sign. Over the next few editions, The Moorlander will take one of our beloved towns and seek to discover more about our towns’ twins. We start with Tavistock, which is twinned with Pontivy in France and Celle in Germany.
Now a quiet market town where the River Blavet meets the Nantes-Brest canal, Pontivy was once the seat of one of Brittany’s most powerful families before becoming one of Napoléon’s ‘new towns’.
According to legend, Pontivy was founded in 685AD by an English monk called Ivy who built a wooden bridge across the Blavet, giving the town its name – Pont d’Ivy. The town really began to develop in the 12th century when Viscount Rohan settled there and in the 14th century it became the political and administrative capital of the viscounty. The main site in Pontivy is its château, which overlooks the River Blavet a short walk from the town centre. The present castle was built in 1485 by Viscount Rohan, whose aristocratic line dates back to 1120. The Rohan family seat has seen plenty of action during its 500-year history including being besieged during the Duchy of Brittany War of Independence in 1488 and taken over by Catholic forces during the French Wars of Religion in 1589. The château, which retains many original features, is open to the public and often stages art exhibitions.
Pontivy was known as Napoléonville from 1804-14, March-June 1815 and from 1852-1870. Due to its strategic location on the River Blavet and to the fact that it retained its post-Revolution Republican leanings, Napoléon Bonaparte decided to make Pontivy ‘a centre of commerce in peacetime and an important military centre in time of war’. His new town, in the style of Roman towns, included law courts, a town hall and a school, all of which can be seen today.
Celle is at least a thousand years old, the first written record referring to it as Kiellu (“fishing bay”) in 993.
In 1378 Celle became the residence of the dukes of Saxe-Wittenberg. They were ousted in 1433 by the princes of Lüneburg, one of the branches of the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg and ancestors of the British royal family.
In 1452 Duke Frederick the Pious founded a
Franciscan abbey here and, 12 years later, the town boomed thanks to its monopoly on the shipping of grain. The Reformation came to Celle in 1524, championed by Duke Ernest the Confessor, whose portrait still graces one of the best-known timber-framed buildings in the old town, the Hoppener Haus. When the last Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg died in 1705, Celle passed to the prince-electors of Hanover. Although no longer a ducal residence, the town grew in stature as an administrative and judicial centre for the region. When George, Elector of Hanover, ascended to the British throne as George I, Celle became a possession of the British Hanoverian line.
Celle has a long association with the military. There is a small air base at Wietzenbruch, a suburb on the south western corner of Celle which is a wing of the German Army’s aviation training school. This base played an important role in the Berlin Airlift operation delivering coal to West Berlin. In the 1920s a silk mill was built that later became part of the German war machine, producing parachute silk for Wehrmacht paratroopers.
On 25 July 1978 there was a hoax bombing of the prison, which was blamed on the Red Army Faction, but later admitted to have been carried out by the Lower Saxony Intelligence Service. It later became known as the “Celle Hole”.
Today, Celle is a modern, self-governing town and capital of Celle county. It lies 35 km north-east of
Hanover, the capital of Lower Saxony, to which has direct road and rail links.