Saturday, 18 April 2015

Châtellerault : town sights and its motor museum.

Châtellerault is a smallish town (about 30,000 people) in the Vienne department (part of the Poitou-Charentes region), 100 kilometres (62 miles) or so north of us. It's well situated on the river Vienne, very near to the A10 motorway linking Bordeaux and Paris. The high speed train line between these two cities also runs through here. We parked the car and the first thing we saw was this beautifully restored building, now apparently containing private apartments.

Lavish decoration, all done to a tight curve!

This stone plaque records the site of the Saint Catherine's gate, once an entrance into the town and through which passed the French heroine Joan of Arc in March 1429 during the 100 Years War. You will recall that Joan, a young lady of seventeen, was inspired by "voices" to raise a force to recapture the town of Orleans, held by the English. She successfully did this in May 1429 and went on to win a series of battles against them, including the capture of Reims, where Charles VII was crowned king of France in July 1429. In May 1430, Joan was captured and tried by the English as a heretic. They burnt her at the stake in 1431 in Rouen, but in 1920 she was raised to sainthood in recognition of her efforts and sacrifice for France.

Pont Henri IV. THE thing to see in the town, so the guidebooks say. The work was ordered by Catherine of Medici (queen of France, wife of King Henry II) in person, during quite a frenzy of such projects at the time and started in 1572 by Charles Androuet, whose brother built the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris. This one is 144 metres long and 21 metres wide, but it took a looooong time to build! Androuet's son Rene took over the supervision in the last 5 years up to completion in 1611.

This second bridge nearby, is the bridge Camille de Hogues, built in 1900 and notable for being the first reinforced concrete bridge in France! Chimneys at the motor museum (see later) in the background.

Église St-Jacques is yet another church on the pilgrim route to Saint Jacques de Compostelle in Spain, featured in other blogs! It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, but the towers were added in the 19th century.

The beautiful roof vaulting inside.....

....and the stained glass windows.

But now to the main reason for our visit,  the car and bike museum.  These are only a very few of the photos I took, and if you are in the region, it is well worth a visit for a modest 5 euro entrance fee.  The museum is large and there are loads of things to see. It is housed in a 19 century former armaments factory, which is eye-catching in itself, but in 1970 the space was provided for the motor museum. These two beautiful and shapely brick chimneys below form part of it and can be seen from a long way off. A masterclass in brickwork!

Below is a very small selection of those which caught my eye! I've tried not to be too technical, limiting myself to the brief descriptions on the signs in front of each exhibit.
Draisiaenne - A replica of a German design of 1820, pioneered by Baron Drais. It allowed the rider to be "seated" and the front wheel to be steered. They excited great curiosity and amusement in the public who saw them on the streets of Paris and London!

Tricycle from 1889 offering more comfort, technical design advances and manoeuvrability than available with the bicycle of the time

Werner from 1903. The 2,5 hp 4 stroke engine was started by the cyclist pedalling. it could attain 35 -45 kph. Note: 100 kph is 62 miles per hour! It won at least 2 long distance races in 1901; Paris - Bordeaux and Paris - Berlin but the marque disappeared in 1906, when regulations were changed.

Panhard - Levassor. State of the art in 1890! One of the first models with a petrol engine. Similar to the car which Levassor drove non-stop in 1895 for 48 hours and 48 minutes! Brave man!

1906 Brouhot. Four cylinder engine with maximum speed of 60-80 kph. This car was rebuilt from pieces in 1969 and is the only known surviving example.

The Darmont from 1929, developed under licence from the English company Morgan, who had started with 3 wheeled cars in 1908. This French version has an 1100cc engine powering the car to a very respectable 150 kph!

Longchamp was an engineer who built chassis and bodywork for speed recordbreaking competition cars. The engines were ordered from other specialists. This car is from 1953 and doesn't look out of place today!

1939 Peugeot 402B , although the 402 model first appeared in 1935. A 2100cc engine gave it a top speed of 135 kph. Production was stopped in 1939 with the start of World War 2.

Teilhol electric car, with Paris registration, from 1972! Useful for parking where there isn't much space. Powered by batteries to maximum speed of 75 kph. Weighing 500 kg, it could be driven for 75 km before recharging was required.

The world famous English marque, a BSA, with sidecar from 1918. Only 4.5 horsepower! Birmingham Small Arms Company (hence BSA) manufactured rifles in the 19th century but later turned to motorcycles. The sidecar was relatively modern for its era; shaped metal panels on a wood frame.

Just a glimpse of the host of interesting exhibits following the evolution of  personal transport from the wooden bike to the more familiar machines of today!

Thanks to Nigel once again for all his research and writing the article to go with my photos.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - New post 18/04/2015

Monday, 16 February 2015

Abbey of Notre-Dame at La Couronne

In May last year, we visited the ruined Abbey of Notre-Dame at La Couronne,  a small town near Angouleme. Bizarrely, some would say outrageously, contraposed only a few metres from a giant Lafarge cement works, the contrasts in building type, construction and  800 years of passing history are stark. You can see this in the fifth photo down, but as this is a blog about the abbey and not the cement works, I have tried to keep the latter out of the pictures! It's not all that easy; as one cannot walk around inside the building, snapping has to be done from the perimeter. Not only is it private property, but I guess the danger from falling stones is quite high! The decision to site the cement works here is not, however, as ridiculous as one might think. I'll reveal how it happened at the end of the blog!

The first stone was laid, it is said, on 12 May 1118, the works proceeded quickly and a monk named Lambert was elected abbot of the first, primitive, church on Easter day 1122.
The abbey proved to be very successful and further building work  proceeded over the next 80 years, the slow pace due to wars and famines, but a second, more elaborate, church was consecrated in 1201. The building and rebuilding went on; cloisters, an infirmary and refectory were added or rebuilt.
There's a distant connection between this abbey and the English royal lineage. Isabelle of Angouleme, the widow of King John (he of  Magna Carta and  lost treasure fame) was buried here, but her son Henry III of England) exhumed the body and had it reburied in the Kings' cemetery at an abbey in the Loire valley.
The monks were dispersed during the 100 Years War but for a brief period after that, more rebuilding was carried out until 1514, when it ceased.
The cement works silo looms over the ancient stonework. 
The wars of religion, lasting 36 years in the late 16th century, badly affected the abbey, parts of which were burnt and pillaged. At this time it was occupied by only eight men of faith, following the Jesuit order.

A last work programme of improvements occupied the years between 1750 and 1778 but following the great upheaval of the French Revolution which took place shortly afterwards, the site became national property and was sold in 1807 as a source of building stone. 
The beautiful stone work and carvings were dismantled, presumably in an uncontrolled fashion, over the next 120 years.

Magnificent  centuries-old abbey gateway, standing now adjacent to a suburban street in this mixed industrial, residential and rather surreal area.
Masonry and carving detail, craftsmanship of the highest order........
And now, the answer to the puzzle of the cement works! In 1928, Lafarge bought the building land for a new plant, but as a consequence of this, it also acquired the abbey, ending all the years of pillaging of stone by the local population. Since then, Lafarge has restored and looked after the building and the park. As part of its social responsibility programme, the company works with the local community to restore life to the abbey through cultural events and to provide the opportunity for the discovery of its historical heritage. So, without the deal between Lafarge and the authorities, there might well be nothing left for us to marvel at today!

Thanks to Nigel for all his research and writing the article to go with my photos.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - New post 11/02/2015

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A visit to Tusson in the Charente and four years of blogging!

On 8 February this year, I will have been blogging about My Life in the Charente for 4 years! At times it seems like I have been doing it forever! My posts have slowed up quite a lot, but I thank all of you who have been consistent followers! Since this blog started, I have set up two more, one about my Life Before Charente, (but digging through old diaries and photos is slow!) and my photo blog, the Daily Diary.

In May last year, Ann from Oxford was visiting us, and one of the many places we visited was Tusson. She has already written about it well here, so I am not going to repeat that - you can just look at her blog! I took a few different photos, so here is the village from my perspective!

The village of Tusson was situated on the old Post-Royal road from Paris to Bordeaux. Until 1950, it was very famous for donkey, horse and mule trading, which provided important prosperity for the town.

The settlement owes its existence to Robert d’Arbissel, who founded an abbey here in ancient times. Ruins of its two churches, which were destroyed during the French Revolution, still remain.

Some of the ruins.

This is the  entirely Gothic designed parish church of Saint-Jacques,  founded in 1227 for the town which had grown up around the abbey.  The supports of the West arch of the nave which date from about 1230 still remain. The church was extended in the 15th century; the steeple shown here was added at the same time. Some time later the whole church was restored. 

The murals in the bay under the steeple are the work of a Dutch painter, Emile Viagers, and were painted  in 1946.

The amazing stone vaulted ceiling. What craftsmanship!

 The Way of the Cross was painted by a Parisian artist, Robert Mantienne, who took refuge in Tusson during the Second World War.

Much older murals demonstrate their complete contrast with the 20th century works.

The monumental statue of Saint Jacques in the entrance is the work of a refugee from the Moselle during the same wartime period. Among other artefacts are a 17th century lectern and a fine 16th – 17th century crucifix which probably came from the great neighbouring abbey!!

Outside the church, life seems to go on as normal.  These are workmen from the Marpen club - see later -  on their way to lunch!

Since 1976, many houses in the village  representing the style of the town's traditional buildings have been restored by the archeological "Club Marpen", using the labour services of an international young peoples organisation.  The club also promotes public awareness of local heritage (See Anne's blog) and performs an important function in the area.

The door into the Robert Farmhouse. This imposing farmhouse was built in the Neo-gothic style, which was so popular in the 19th century. It was in this lodge that the inventor Joseph Alexander ROBERT (1807-1885) is said to have developed several of his inventions, one of which was an entirely new type of artillery rifle.

Below the farm, on the way to the fountain there is a well and a lavoir, both supplied with spring water.  I am sure that my followers are now more than aware that a lavoir is where the ladies used to meet to do their washing!

Library of old books.

The publishers Lérot, fairly recently founded by Jean-Paul Louis in Tusson (in 1982), are installed in a set of three old buildings separated by courtyards and gardens. These three buildings house an antiquarian bookstore with offices upstairs, an offset printing workshop and a finishing department respectively.

The Lodge of Marguerite

This lodge, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, was situated outside the abbey wall and close to the convent. Marguerite de Valois (1492-1549), the sister of King Francois 1, stayed there several times with the rest of her household when travelling between the kingdoms of France and Navarre (an ancient kingdom in the Pyrannean region), of which she was queen.

The buildings now house the museum of regional antiquities, the monastery garden with its medieval herbs, and plants arranged according to medieval designs and the regional heritage training centre.

The House of Heritage is an institution run by the  Marpen club, which consists essentially of a museum of arts and popular traditions and a monastery garden behind. 

Apologies for the odd spacing, Google has a mind of its own!!

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente New scanner - New post 11/02/2015