Signpost to Cheltenham's  Twin and Friendship towns.  Located in Imperial Gardens

Sandford Park and Twinning

You may know that Cheltenham is twinned with:

Annecy in France – pop. 125,694

Cheltenham (PA) in USA – pop 37,219

Göttingen in Germany – pop. 118,914

Socchi in Russia – pop. 364,171

Weihai in China – pop. 2,836,000 

And has Friendship bonds with :

Kisumu in Kenya – pop. 344,487

Stampersgat - a village in the Netherlands – pop. 1,310 

But did you know that these links are celebrated in Sandford Park? 

In 1993, Cheltenham Borough Council decided to create a series of gardens within Sandford Park honouring its twin and friendship towns. This was something CBC had been wanting to do for some years. 

The site chosen was the ornamental area of Sandford Park, the part west of College Road, one of the most used of all Cheltenham parks. The river Chelt flows through the park forming pools and waterfalls. There are also fine specimen trees, open grass, shrubs, fountains and formal areas.   A design was prepared using this setting as a framework for the twinning and friendship schemes. 

Annecy, Cheltenham (Pennsylvania), Göttingen, Kisumu, Sochi, Stampersgat and Weihai all have their own spaces. Each of these towns or cities was asked to create a detailed design to reflect their diverse plants and planting schemes to be implemented over a number of years. 

Areas within the park were allocated as shown in the 1993 plan below.

The following notes in italics have been taken from the 1993 plan: 


A French courtyard with a formal structure and romantic planting. Most of the existing features – formal pond, pergola, stone paving, trees - are retained. The pergola timbers are stained and covered with wisteria. Existing trellis replaced in the French style. Borders are re-planted with an emphasis on scented shrubs and soft colours. Box-edged beds display seasonal bedding in pastel shades. 

It seems that much of the planting plan was never carried out or has been abandoned to present what we see today.


Along the banks of the Chelt the existing grass is enriched with native flowers, reflecting the ecological style which originated from Holland.   A brick-paved semi-circle on traditional Dutch pattern forms a new pivot point where the walk meets other routes. 

If it ever even existed, the planting certainly has been abandoned.   At the time,  a delegation came from Stampersgat bringing with them the bricks that form the semicircle paving.  The semi-circle is  still in place and seems to represent the biggest single contribution to the park by any of our twins or friendship bonders – from by far the smallest of them all. Thank you Stampersgat.


The existing garden is selectively thinned removing the majority of shrubs. Replanting is in the modern German style using easy care perennials and ornamental grasses in informal associations.

Sorry Göttingen but whatever may have been the intention was either never fulfilled or has been long abandoned. This seems a great pity that nothing remains to remind us of   a most, if not the most,  loyal of our twins.  The windy paths between the cycle path and fountain were laid to delineate the Göttingen Garden.


The best of the existing trees and shrubs are retained as a framework for a new planting of North American shrubs which give all-year interest. 

Is that it?  



An African inspired paving replaces the existing tarmac. Tall ornamental grasses form a backdrop to a summer bedding scheme reflecting the brilliant colours and exotic foliage of Kenya 

Certainly, the paving still exists but of the planting plan there remains little evidence


The best of the existing plants are retained as a framework. Further planting is carried out using a high percentage of plants native to the Caucasus and including a good many of the early spring bulbs from the region. 

Which is which?


The existing timber footbridge is replaced with one in the Chinese style. The nearby Gingko tree becomes a focal point in a new planting of Chinese style shrubs, bamboo and ferns. 

Most of these promises seem to have been kept. 

‘Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo or gingko also known as the maidenhair tree, is a species of tree native to China. It is the last living species in the order Ginkgoales, which first appeared over 290 million years ago.’ Wikipedia


The Irish yews are trimmed back to reinstate the original design.

 Although Cheltenham has no twinned or friendship connection in Italy, the Italian Garden, forming the entrance to Sandford Park from Bath Road,  is forever connected with that country presumably because of its layout. The obelisk at the far end has a brass dedication to Susan Newton who was Chairman of the Cheltenham Italian Club from 1987 until 2000


Existing yews and over-mature shrubs are removed along with young Gingko to be relocated  (presumably to the Weihai garden) opening up views of the fountain . Three specimen trees are retained to frame these views. A new path follows the existing desired line, resolving current management problems.

 A bit of a mystery as to what ceremonies were planned here as also the meaning of the final sentence. Perhaps a short cut was made into an official path.


The paved semi-circles to each side, set back from the road, are planted with sturdy low shrubs.

Perhaps that never happened either although the present tense was used.


The following is a version of the pamphlet issued by CBC in 1993 slightly edited to reflect what is now the past. 

The Friendship Circle was intended to be the focal point celebrating Cheltenham’s developing links with its twin and friendship towns.  Twinning began as a single idea to encourage friendship and cultural understanding between different international communities. Over the years this has developed into tangible concrete links in the form of exchange visits and mutual support.  The aim of the sculpture is to echo this evolution. Making a sculpture often starts with a drawing, the idea. As it is worked on it develops into a tangible three-dimensional form. The sculpture attempts to suggest all aspects of this process by focusing on the development of one form, a four faceted rhomboid. The intention in abstract terms is to describe the progressive nature of the sculpture’s theme – twinning. 

All parts of the sculpture are made in cast iron and sit on a concrete base which forms a large circular area at the meeting point of four paths that cross the Park. On the periphery of this circle, in the spaces between the paths, are four distinct parts of the sculpture. It begins with a flat drawing of iron set into the surface of the concrete. The drawing is a cross-sectional view of the rhomboid and describes the first stage of making the sculpture. When making the sculpture, Neville Gabie began with a series of drawings in the form he envisaged, which he translated onto sheets of plywood and then cut out. The resulting plywood shapes were then layered one on top of another to make the rhomboid – this is still evident in the sculptures in their stepped appearance. The remaining three parts of the sculpture are all large three-dimensional forms. One is the whole form fully realised, while the other two are split rhomboids with the inner space visible. The sculpture sits around the periphery of the circle in order to create a space or area within to act as a focal point for twinning activities – a meeting place marked out by the sculpture.I

n making the sculpture Neville Gabie also considered the landscape of the surrounding park. The geometric forms of the sculpture and the hard edge of the raw iron and concrete are intended to contrast with, or counterbalance, the natural forms of what is now a mature park. At the same time, Neville Gabie was aware of the formal qualities of the stone fountain which dates back to the beginnings of the park and of the surrounding planting which is within sight of his commission.


An important part of the commission was working within the community. To that end several workshops were run with local schools and youth groups. The aim was to develop a greater awareness and understanding of the making of this particular sculpture and of public art in general, and of their value to Cheltenham.



Neville Gabie was born in Johannesburg in 1959. He studied sculpture in Hull and at the Royal College of Art in London. After completing his MA in 1988 he was invited to take the post of Sculpture Fellow in the Fine Art Department at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education. He continued to teach in Cheltenham on a part-time basis. Alongside teaching he continued to make sculptures with a particular concern for sculpture in outside locations. He worked on a number of public sculptures, most notably at the University of Kent, Canterbury and in Chard. Somerset. His work is included in the collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain. 

For information about Neville Gabie during more recent years look up NEVILLEGABIE-CV. You will find it within the ‘About’ section of his website    Neville went on to be Artist in Residence for the 2012 Olympics in London.   Look on this link to see about his work there     

The design and creation of the Sandford Park scheme was generously grant-aided by SOUTH WEST ARTS. 

If you are interested in other aspects of the Twinning programme do make contact through the Cheltenham Twinning Association website