‘Goodwill Ambassador’ recalls trip to jolly old Wareham, England

Mar 21, 2023

Ahh, Wareham. A small town bordered by two rivers, with quaint architecture and a fascinating history. Its Town Hall, with a stately tower, looms over its surroundings. 

With its fine homes, beautiful old churches and delicious food, there simply is no place like Wareham... England?

Despite being founded almost 1,000 years prior, Wareham (pronounced “wear-um”), a small English market town, has a lot in common with its Massachusetts namesake.

Former Town Moderator Claire Smith and her husband Howard saw the similarities and differences firsthand when they took a trip across the pond in October 2021.

“It is very much like our town, surprisingly,” Claire told an audience at the Methodist Meeting House on Monday, March 20. 

Claire’s talk was sponsored by the Wareham Historical Society.

She made the trip as a “goodwill ambassador,” promoting friendship between the two same-named towns. 

“The moment I got off the plane, the responsibility really hit me,” she said. “We are here to represent the town. And I thought, ‘I hope that we don’t embarrass ourselves!’”

Claire said that the townspeople were friendly and welcoming — especially since they once literally built a wall around themselves. The wooden fencing, built in medieval times to protect Wareham from Danish invaders, is long gone, but the mounds of Earth they were built on remain.

“Everything they have is so much older than what we have here,” Claire said. “We have new history. They have old history.”

Wareham, England is proud of its Saxon heritage, which is on display in the town museum. When the Smiths visited, they discovered that the museum docent was a Red Sox fan. 

Wareham, England is governed by a mayor and a Town Council, which is similar to Wareham, Massachusetts’s Select Board. Both Warehams have a public Town Meeting, but the residents of Wareham, England do not get to vote in theirs. 

The Smiths had tea and cakes with the Town Council and Mayor Keith Green, who Claire said was a “gentleman.”

“I just wanted to throw my arms around him because he was so kind,” she said. 

Like his predecessors, Green wore heavy ceremonial gold chains around his neck. 

“I asked if I could borrow it, and he said no,” Claire said.

A living link to the town’s history was Town Crier Jacquie Hall. Wearing a feathered cap and ringing a large bell, she announced the Smiths’ visit in grand fashion. 

“She took a real liking to Howie,” Claire said, “and spent most of the morning shadowing him.”

Claire presented Green with a proclamation of friendship from the Select Board, photographs and books about Wareham, Massachusetts’s history and magazines about the Gatemen baseball team. 

In return, the Town Council took her and Howard out to the Kings Arms pub.

“Even the people who were in the pub came to say hello,” Claire said. “It was just like ‘Wow, this is so special.’”

The idea for a ceremonial visit came from Jon and Marie Wright, residents of Poole, England. Claire met the Wrights during Wareham’s 275th anniversary celebration in 2014. She showed them Town Hall, the cranberry bogs and British Landing.

“We filled them in on what the British did to our town,” Claire joked. “We won’t let it go, will we?”

The Wrights offered their home if the Smiths ever wanted to visit Wareham, England. Once pandemic travel restrictions were lifted, and the Smiths finally got the chance to accept the Wrights’ offer, Howard struggled to fit into their car and guest bed.

“Everything is very tiny over there,” Claire said.

Nevertheless, she said, they were wonderful hosts.

Claire’s was not the first official visit from Wareham to Wareham. In 1877, Gerard Tobey, founder of the Wareham National Bank, paid Wareham, England a visit. He presented the town with a barrel of nails from the Tremont Nail Factory, a barrel of corn and a popping machine, introducing the townspeople to the unfamiliar American snack of popcorn. 

Following his example, Claire presented Wareham, England with a bag of microwave popcorn.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime,” she said, “and we certainly made many great memories and great friends along the way.”