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Is Wellington really a slow city?

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

Many Kiwis would have been astonished if they had read a report on the internet last month that Wellington, like Perth, wants to be labelled a slow city. While they may regard the attractions of their capital city, Wellington (population, including outlying areas, nearly 400,000) as being unexciting, who would have thought that anyone living there would skite (boast) about it being slow?

They would have been even more surprised if they had seen another newspaper heading "Wellington won't come down clean," above a report that the city's "worst eyesore building, the Wellington Hotel, is finally coming down.

"The Wellington and the entire block of adjoining vacant buildings at the top of State Street hill have been a prominent embarrassment for a city claiming to be reinventing itself physically. They have just sat there and sat there, crumbling away for years."

The first report said that Wellington Economic Partnership had recommended that the council should apply to join Cittaslow, an international movement of towns working towards a set of goals to improve the quality of life.

"The council's chairman Dave Mitton said the idea of establishing Wellington as a Food Town would involve it becoming the outlet for local food producers and being developed as a place known for the excellence of its food and drink," read the report.

"He said that open spaces in Wellington could be used for a food festival, which could potentially draw in people from a wide area.

"Cllr Bob Bowrah suggested residents should be involved in coming up with a name for the event.

"Running alongside the plans, Cllr Mitton said individuals and businesses could be encouraged to become part of the Slow Food Movement, which would complement the Food Town plans, a food festival and Cittaslow."

There are many indications that Wellington is already a slow city. Type WELLINGTON SLOW into the Google search engine, and you find nearly two million citations.

These are among the first 10:

  • Scoop: Slow progress to save Wellington-Auckland service.
  • Hepburn Shire Council Calendar of Events. $50 ($45 Slow Food Members)... edition of "The Silver Spoon" and founding member of the Wellington Slow Food convivium...
  • DHBs slow to stockpile Tamiflu - 13 Mar 2006 - Wellington Region.
  • Duxton Hotel, Wellington: Well located, slow restaurant...
  • Slow-Down Habits That Bring Greater Health - Terra Wellington Slow/Unable to connect to..

Only a few weeks ago, there was a report on the internet that Perth also wants to be called a slow city. Investigation quickly revealed that it's Perth in Scotland, not its namesake in Western Australia, that wants to slow down.

So it was no great surprise to find that the Wellington in question is not New Zealand's capital city, nor the country town in New South Wales, but a small town in Somerset, England.

"There are hopes that Wellington could flourish in becoming Somerset's dedicated 'Food Town' and play host to an annual food festival rich with local produce," Helen Rossiter wrote in the Somerset County Gazette.

Somerset's Wellington lies between the River Tone and the beautiful Blackdown Hills. It has a population of 13,700. The website says:

There are gift shops, craft shops, a music shop and an old-fashioned ironmongers where you can buy just one of an item. Local meats and cheeses are available and there is an excellent fish shop. A farmers' market is held every third Saturday of the month.

The earliest reference to the town is to be found in a grant made between 899 and 909 where it was called "Weolingtun". The town was also mentioned in the Domesday Book, which recorded that land at "Walintone" and West Buckland was being worked by 61 farmers, 65 smallholders and 32 serfs.

Wellington Monument, built in honour of the Duke of Wellington, is a major landmark in the area and visible from many parts of the town.

Although Arthur Wellesley took his title of "Viscount Wellington of Wellington and Talavera" from Wellington in Somerset in 1809, and later became Duke of Wellington, he is reputed to have visited the town only once (in 1819), even though he had an estate in the area.

Apart from the connection with the Duke of Wellington (the reason he chose Wellington for his title is unknown) the town of Wellington was also involved in the Monmouth Rebellion. The secret of the Duke of Monmouth's advance was discovered at the Half Moon Inn in North Street (now a small garden area) and this began a chain of events which led to Monmouth's eventual defeat at Sedgemoor.

Sir John Popham (1533-1607) was a Lord Chief Justice of England who took part in the trials of Guy Fawkes, Mary Queen of Scots and Sir Walter Raleigh. The mansion he built in Wellington was destroyed during the Civil War and stood where there are now playing fields, south-east of The Court. His monument stands in Wellington Parish Church.

With all that going for them, Somerset's application to Cittaslow headquarters to be officially declared a slow city must be a mere formality. They're home and hosed!

The story about the imminent destruction of the Wellington Hotel referred to a building in Albany, New York State.



Here are some of the many other Wellingtons around the world, and a few comments from their websites:

Wellington, Shropshire, UK:

This is a friendly Shropshire market town, nestling under The Wrekin [a wooded hill of 1,335 feet set in its small forest]. We have a large and thriving market, many efficient specialist shops, banking and other professional services, pubs, schools, colleges, churches and everything else needed for a good town...

As a market town Wellington is over 760 years old. Our earliest market charter dates from 1244 though we are sure there was a market before then. The modern market opens four days a week and has 120 stalls selling almost everything...

The Duke of Wellington was nothing to do with us and we have never made rubber boots.

In Australia, we have Mount Wellington, a scenic landmark in the Tasmanian capital city of Hobart, and there's a small town called Wellington in South Australia. at the junction of the River Murray and Lake Alexandrina.

In South Africa, Wellington in the Cape Winelands region lies in a valley known as Val du Charron, or Valley of the Wagon Makers after the trade of many of the early French Huguenots who settled in the area at the end of the 17th Century.

The town was originally named Limiet Vallei or the Frontier Valley, but the name was changed in 1840 in honour of the Duke of Wellington and his defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo.

Canada has a Wellington in Ontario. "With its waterfront and wineries, hotels and harbours and fine old architecture, including a 1786 cobblestone home that is one of the oldest in Ontario, Wellington wears its history with pride.

"Wellington's Main Street is the Loyalist Parkway that dates back to 1799. The street that once bustled with hotels and taverns and horse-drawn wagons today offers boutiques and galleries, cafes and B&Bs as well as groceries, hardware, library and LCBO [Liquor Control Board of Ontario]."

Ontario once had a town called Wellington Square, but the name was changed to Burlington in 1873.

The United States Gazetteer lists 20 Wellingtons, and one mistakenly called Willington. These include:

Wellington, Maine: Wellington is a town in Piscataquis County, settled in 1814 and incorporated on February 23, 1828 In 1885 it ceded some land to the Somerset County town of Cambridge. Named for the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, this small town has a history of lumbering and farming.

Wellington, Florida: The Village of Wellington was incorporated on December 31, 1995. "Today the Village of Wellington is both a thriving family-oriented community of 50,000 full-time residents and the winter equestrian capital of the world," said Wellington Mayor Thomas M. Wenham. "Wellington continues to offer its residents and visitors some of the best neighborhood schools, equestrian trails, and more than 30 park locations."

Wellington, Texas was named for the Duke of Wellington.

Wellington, Kansas calls itself "wheat capital of the world." More about it at this website.

Wellington, Wyoming was settled in 1900 by Germans. Named after Wellington Rupp, son of A. G. Rupp, storeowner. Washakie.

Wellington, Colorado is a town in Larimer County, in the Fort Collins-Loveland metro area... named for C.L. Wellington, railroad official.

And Willington, Connecticut was originally named Wellington in 1725, from Wellington in Somersetshire, birthplace of Henry Wolcott, whose grandson Roger was chief purchaser in 1720. The town was incorporated May, 1727, as Willington.

  • The Wellington (NZ) independent news agency SCOOP has published an edited version of this story.

Story first posted November 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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