Sheep Worrying secretary, Brian Smedley, visits Communist Czechoslovakia during his time researching a series of socialist local history plays. The third in the series would go on to be ‘The Vernon Bartlett Show’.
Uherske Hradiste region Social Democrat chairman, Antonin Machala, puts an advert in Labour News asking for help in the ‘first post-communist elections in Czechoslovakia’. Bridgwater Labour secretary Cllr Brian Smedley replies and hitch-hikes over to visit him.
Bridgwater Mayor Cllr David Baker & Uherske Hradiste Deputy Mayor (later Senator) Jaroslav Petrik sign the twinning document at Sydenham Manor Bridgwater 18. 6. 1992.
The first Bridgwater-Czech link up. A minibus containing 10 hardy pioneers (plus an outrider) in the form of rock band The SkaCats visits Prague and Uherske Hradiste. Two of them never leave!
Cllr Patrick Daniel (Chairman SDC) and Cllr John Turner (Mayor of Bridgwater) lead the return twinning visit to Uherske Hradiste and are interviewed on Czech National TV attending the Vlcnov ‘Kings Ride’ festival.
Chairman of Sedgemoor Cllr Ken Dyer & Mayor of Bridgwater Cllr Trevor Donaldson receive gifts from an ever expanding troupe of Czech visitors as the Society flourishes. Dyer famously mispronounces the Czech town ‘Ooosky Radoosky’.
Sedgemoor Chairman Cllr Sandy Buchanan & Bridgwater Mayor Cllr Adrian Moore welcome Czech visitors from Ceske Budejovice. Both visited Prague at different times with Buchanan fronting a Somerset Czech Trade Mission which netted 6 contracts.
Sedgemoor Unison kick off their first of 10 years of Football tours starting and finishing in the Czech Republic accompanied by Antonin Machala’s ALTECH S.R.O.
As the Millenium arrived the Society was going strong with over 500 travellers a year. In this picture Czech/Slovak Chairman Cy Bartlett (himself 1/4 Czech) shows Moravian horticulturalists around his Somerset garden.
Sedgemoor Chair Jessica Healey welcomes Czech visitors with Mayor Ken Richards. Jessica visits Czech & Slovakia several times, including the 2002 Anniversary trip, hosts up to 20 Czech students at a time and even names her cows after Czech visitors!
Czech-Slovak Society Chair Cllr Marilyn Wallace, along with husband Ian, take annual trips to Czech and Slovakia with young people from their Young Somerset Organisation.
At the Somerset County Council International Links conference – Milos Salus (Slovakia) and David Pribyl (Czech Rep) addresses the audience alongside GB secretary Brian Smedley.
Mayor of Bridgwater Phillip Smeed, visits UH for the 750th Anniversary of the foundation of the town. Antonin took him flying in his personal learjet.
Rhode Lane Wanderers under 16 Football team plays three games in Uherske Hradiste and one in Kladno.
Ant and Smed both reached 50.
For the next 10 years both Bridgwater & UH toured together across Europe through their football teams. Usually it was Sedgemoor Unison representing Bridgwater and always it was Altech workers representing UH.
They’d tour to a 3rd country and play a 3 way tournament. Countries included Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Italy, France, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Montenegro. Plus several trips to both Czech and England.
Sedgemoor Unison gave up the ghost eventually and scratch teams based around ‘Bridgwater International’ teams took their place and played in La Ciotat, Priverno and Czech Republic.
The final tournament abroad was in Hungary where Smed scored a hat trick and the final UK game was in Bridgwater, on Cranleigh gardens, where Smed scored a hat trick.
One new innovation in Anglo-Czech links was the discovery of England’s canal network. Brian took numerous Czech groups as many times as they wanted up and down the Kennet and Avon Canal on canal narrowboats. One group that pioneered the new idea was Prague’s Jan and Vera Bobovsky soon to be followed by Antonin Machala, soon to be followed by Katka and Zdenek Brouci.
One of the regular features of Bridgwater-Czech links is the annual Rock Tours. But the final one to date was in 2011 when Arabian Chatline, Run from Robots and New York City Cops toured the country.
Bridgwater’s links also included the capital city of Prague where at one time 6 different schools visited Bridgwater. The main school was Arabska Gymnazium in Prague 6 where teacher Jan Soucek led the groups annually.
However, by 2012 it was time for a new teacher and Pavla Pracnova stepped into the scene, initially focusing on Bridgwater but then adding major tours to all different parts of the UK. Her first foray was to Wales.
Another area that kept in touch with Bridgwater was the city of Kladno where Zdena Biggsova eventually gave up bringing students to Bridgwater and concentrated on just bringing teachers.
These always attract European funding and happen on an annual basis. Dagmar’s group also includes workers from nearby Kromeriz. Somerset groups they link with include ‘People Can’, the Hamp, Eastover, Sydenham and Victoria Family centres, and the YMCA.
Bridgwater’s other Czech links include Ceske Budejovice where the work of Eva Kordova and the Cesko Anglicky Gymnazium continued annually and in later years mainly featured adult tourists. However, the other CAG teacher with storng Bridgwater contacts was Honza Muzik. His student tours continued and included also Scotland.
In 2012 he focused on an exchange of Civil Engineers.
Jan and Vera Bobovsky from Prague were regular customers of Bridgwater International for over a decade taking tours to Bridgwater and then on to all parts of the British isles including Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and in 2013 Scotland.
Both sides were very good at attracting Euro funding for projects. In 2013 a scheme which saw planning officers visit each others country to compare notes featured Sedgemoor council workers and Uherske Hradiste Town Hall staff. One common problem across Europe was the rising tide of asylum seekers and here we see council provided homeless accommodation in UH.
One fascinating project linking the 2 towns was a Police exchange. In February British Police officers visited Uherkse Hradiste and shadowed Czech police on their patrols and then in November the same year 2 of the very tallest policemen in the entire Czech police force came to Bridgwater for carnival.
Bridgwater College students have travelled with us to many European countries and that included the Czech Republic where our educational contacts were keen to help. Mino DeFrancesco led groups of Film students and Ian Luckhurst led regular groups of history and sociology students. One place we always visited was the town of Lidice that was destroyed by Nazis in world war 2.
The link is 30 years old….and counting