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Malverns across the globe are uniting in friendship

Cora Weaver and Bruce Osborne of Malvern, England, formed Malverns Worldwide to foster friendships among places named Malvern. They've identified about two dozen so far.

Malvern is a borough of 3,260 people living in 1.3 square miles in Chester County.

It is also a town in England with 10 times as many people. And a village in Ohio, a town in Alabama, cities in Iowa and Arkansas, and an unincorporated community in Wisconsin. It is a neighborhood in Toronto; a town in Jamaica, and suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, and Johannesburg, South Africa.

"And we thought, wouldn't it be a nice idea to bring everybody together and get them all talking?" said Bruce Osborne of Malvern, England.

He came last week to the Chester County community's borough hall with his partner, Cora Weaver, to kick off a friendship between the municipalities and encourage tourists to visit their town. They said the Pennsylvania Malvern's hills and springs reminded them of home.

Historians and authors, Osborne, in his early 70s, and Weaver, 65, founded Malverns Worldwide last year to connect places across the globe that share the name. (They pronounce it "MUL-vun.") They have identified about two dozen sites so far, including battlefields and places too small to even be recognized by the U.S. Census.

They run a website,, and send a bimonthly newsletter by email across the globe.

For decades, U.S. cities have developed overseas partnerships for economic reasons, art and culture, and community. Through Sister Cities International, 500 communities worldwide have established more than 2,000 relationships. Chester County is developing a business partnership with a province in China. Such partnerships often start as friendships such as the one the Malverns are establishing.

The idea for Malverns Worldwide grew out of the planting of a mulberry tree in 1936 by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw in Malvern, England. A storm destroyed that tree in 2000. Weaver, Osborne and a tourism-related organization they belong to, the Friends of Malvern Springs and Wells, discovered that a piece of it had been planted in Malvern, Australia. They returned parts of the tree to their Malvern in 2009. Their hope is to one day plant pieces of the tree in every Malvern.

Through Malverns Worldwide, they have invited residents of the sister communities to visit and encourage collaborative projects. One man told them he plans to write about railway stations in the Malverns. Someone else wants to write about health care in the Malverns.

Weaver and Osborne have visited half a dozen Malverns so far, including the Civil War site of the Battle of Malvern Hill in Virginia. Last year, they went to a village on Long Island named Malverne. It still counts.

When they ask themselves where they should go on vacation, Weaver said, the answer is often: "Schedule another Malvern."

The pair sent letters to borough officials in Chester County a few months ago asking to visit. They stayed last week with Mayor David Burton and his wife, Linda.

Over the years, at least a few people from the British Malvern have spotted a "Malvern" sign and stopped to see their Chester County counterparts, including a newspaper editor in the 1980s and some tourists to the Philadelphia region last summer.

The name Malvern comes from the Welsh words "moel bryn," which means "bare hills." Welsh immigrants who bought land from William Penn in the 17th century settled what became Malvern, Pa. In 1873, the Pennsylvania Railroad named the land "Malvern," although the borough's historical commission has not yet figured out why.

In Malvern, England, about 150 miles outside London, the reason for the name is clear: The Malvern Hills range is a fixture of the countryside. During their visit here, Weaver and Osborne spotted some hills while at the Wegmans off Route 30 that "from a distance look exactly the same as our range of hills," she said.

What else did they want to see while they were in town?

"Anything old," Weaver said.

"Our old stuff is not your old stuff," Lynne Hockenbury, president of the Malvern Historical Commission, told them.

On a tour, Weaver and Osborne saw Victorian-era homes, churches and the Old Malvern Fire House. They went to Valley Forge National Historical Park and then back to the Paoli Battlefield, a Revolutionary War site in Malvern. During the Paoli Massacre in September 1777, British forces killed at least 53 Americans and wounded more than 150.

Osborne and Weaver called the attack "horrendous."

They found a taste of home when they toured a former pumping station built in 1902 that Malvern used when it supplied its own water. Osborne estimated the borough could pump enough for a bottling operation similar to the one Coca-Cola ran in his hometown until 2010. Bottled water from the Malvern Hills of England used to travel with the queen wherever she went.

The spa town of Malvern, England, developed a hydrotherapy treatment using spring water in the late 18th century that drew such notable people as Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, and 7-year-old future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The town's residents recognize their heritage at a "well decorating" each year, a tradition Weaver started.

She and Osborne showed pictures of their town's hills, homes, and businesses to 30 residents at Malvern's Borough Council meeting. The Morgan Motor Co. makes sports cars in the town. Its oldest building, Great Malvern Priory, is a former monastery that is now a church and dates to the 11th century.

The pair also brought a painting from their town council and a letter from the mayor of Malvern, England, who sent greetings and hopes "that this will result in a flourishing relationship."

Zeyn Uzman, vice president of the Borough Council, called the people of Malvern, England, "our new friends." Weaver and Osborne received books about the borough, a Pennsylvania state flag, and a book about murals at the state capitol.

"It's just starting to snowball, the project,"  Osborne said, "and we thank you for your interest and participation tonight."