At just around 150 square miles, Rutland, 100 miles north of London, is one of the smallest counties in England. No more than 18 miles from one side to the other, and with a total population of just over 38,000, Rutland is also one of England’s least populated areas; it might be 1/7th the size of Rhode Island, but it only has 1/28th of its population.
In fact, Rutland is so small that there are only two towns in the entire county, although alongside those, the countryside is dotted with numerous smaller hamlets and settlements. Among them is the tiny picturesque village of Whitwell, which at the last available census recorded a total population of just 41 people.
Despite its small size, however, anyone driving through Whitwell along the A606 from Nottinghamshire to Lincolnshire will no doubt be surprised to pass a road sign welcoming them to “Whitwell—Twinned with Paris.”
So how did one of the most unassuming villages in England (population: 41) end up as sister city to one of the most famous metropolises in the world (population: 2.3 million)? Like all good stories, this one starts down at the local pub.
In early 1980, a group of local Whitwell residents met in the village’s only bar, The Noel Arms, and conceived of a plan to twin the village with a much more famous partner. The concept of twin towns and sister cities dates back to the years following the Second World War, and typically the two locations involved are either of similar size or significance (hence London is twinned with New York, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow), or else share some kind of historical or cultural association (and so Whitby, a city where Captain Cook spent much of his time, is twinned with several places associated with his voyages, including Anchorage in Alaska, Porirua in New Zealand, and Nuku’alofa, the capital city of Tonga). Whitwell and Paris, however, have little in common besides both being in Europe. In proposing that the two should become partner cities, it’s fair to say Whitwell was punching above its weight.
Nevertheless, it was soon decided that the head of the local Whitwell Parish Council should write a letter to his Parisian equivalent (namely, the Mayor of Paris and future French President Jacques Chirac) to suggest that the two places should come together as official partner cities. Unfortunately, his first two letters received no reply. But, preempting another rejection, a third letter was written that included a clever proviso: it clearly stated that if the people of Whitwell received no reply to their suggestion before 8.30pm on June 13, 1980, roughly five weeks later, then Parisian officials' consent would be taken as implied. Predictably, no reply came—and so the partnership went ahead.
Signs were soon erected in the village to mark the association, and a celebration was arranged in The Noel Arms to mark the occasion (sadly without a single Parisian delegate in sight). The partnership has remained in place ever since—for the citizens of Whitwell, at least.