Category Archives: History

All post that talk about what happened in time.

Roman miles in the French Ardennes

I always like to imagine what a place looked like in ancient times. Who walked here, what happened and how did it became what it is today. Tourteron build on a small ridge must obviously have a rich history. And we’re not talking about the two wars of the last century.

During the Gallo-Roman period the Ardennes were a part of Gallia Belgica. It was populated by the Remi and other tribes. Possibly the Remi lived here since the ridge offers natural protection. There are still only two ways into town. It must have been a good choice to settle here.


France during the Roman period

As we know the Romans build routes in all directions. Reims (60km south of Tourteron) was a true interchange of that time. For instance it’s on the road from Rome to England and from Central France to Cologne. That road must have passed Tourteron in a certain radius since it connect Reims and Charleville-Meziérès. Although back then there was only Meziérès. Charleville was erected from scratch only 1600 years later.

In the Roman period Meziérès was called Castricum.

The best proof that the Ardennes played a role in ancient Roman time is a forgotten battle.
Julius Caesar himself went to battle here at Bibrax, now an insignificant little village south of Laon. The so called Battle of the Axona (Aisne) was fought in 57 BC, between the Roman army of Gaius Julius Caesar and the united Belgae. Over 300.000 soldiers were defeated by the only 40.000 men under Caesar.

You can still see the fortress of Bibrax in the fields between Laon and Soissons.

The Roman almost paved the Ardennes with roads and military camps. Some camps turned into towns. The traditional shape of the castellum can still be seen in Ambonnay, La Neuville-en-Tourne-à-Fuy and Suippes. Mostly with a rectangular north/south and east west lay-out.

map of ambonnay

Both castra were carefully planned to protect the road. Ambonnay to protect the road between Reims (Durocortorum) and Chalons-en-Champagne (Durocatalauni). Suippes to protect the road from Chalons-en-Champagne to Cologne passing Attigny and possibly Tourteron.

So maybe – really maybe – we might have seen ox carriages passing our mill a little 2000 years ago.

ox carriage

About the battle of the Axona

About castellums

About Roman roadsée_romaine

About Miles

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Unexpected history nearby


Helmets (Photo credit: GregPC)

Are you a home historian? An amateur archeologist?

Well, –I must admit– I am. 🙂 I truly love to talk about history, interpretend facts and figures and make up stories when I’m at historical locations. I like to watch docs on ancient battles like on BBC or History Channel. And I’m totally addicted to visit monasteries. I even tried to start a blog on the subject. It’s probably the boy in me.

Yet, sometimes I make a real discovery.

This time I’ve found the remains of a giant castle Continue reading

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“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.”

Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen by Étie...

Image via Wikipedia

People who know me in person could think it’s a quote by me. It’s not though. It is by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), born in Charleville. As part of the decadent movement, Rimbaud influenced modern literature, music and art. He was known to have been a libertine and quite restless, traveling extensively on three continents before his death from cancer.

I love this quote as it stands for a fearless, open minded, free and (un)controlled state of mind, being close to yourself and not bothered by convention or opinion. Especially the ‘at will’ is interesting because it reflects the power of the mind to provoke / create.

Rimbaud (age 17) began a short and torrid affair with Paul Verlaine, also a poet but 27 and Continue reading

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Who’s Saint Lambert?

Death of S. Lambert

Vallon du Saint-Lambert (Saint Lambert Valley) starts north from Saint-Loup-Terrier and ends up at Attigny holding villages like Guincourt, Tourteron and Suzanne. The stream by the same name ends up in the Aisne. Ok, but who’s this saint Lambert? Where did he come from? And what made him a saint? And why is this little valley carrying his name?

Saint Lambert (c. 636 – c. 700 AD) was the bishop of Maastricht (Tongeren) from about 670 until his death. Lambert was from a noble family of Maastricht, a protégé of his uncle, Bishop Theodard of Maastricht. In company with Willibrord, who had come from England in 691, Lambert preached the gospel to the pagans in the lower stretches of the Meuse, in the area that came to be called the Landgraviate of Continue reading

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How the Watermill used to Work

The Watermill of Tourteron has been built as a gristmill in the early 19th century, in 2013 200 years ago. In 1808 the French government did a country wide research and discovered that the mills were not all producing the same quality of flour. Because of this the government developed a new law to control the quality all over France. It’s probably why they built the mill of Tourteron. Maybe on top of a previous one – we don’t know.

The Watermill of Tourteron used to divert the water from an impoundment between Tourteron and Guincourt. The force of the water’s movement drove the blades of the wheel, which in turn rotated an axle that drove the mill’s other machinery. The water leaving the wheel drained through the tail race what is now the stream running next to the house. The passage of water used to be controlled by sluice gates that allowed maintenance and some measure of flood control. The mill-pond, the wheel and the sluices are all gone. Now only the fountain that runs from underneath the mill fills the tail race.

The mill

The Mill and appending houses

The watermill has probably had a breast-shot system .. meaning the water fell half way the axe on the wheel and rotated it downwards. The horizontal rotation of the wheel was converted into the vertical rotation by means of gearing. This big wheel was based in the basement room behind the current kitchen.

The breast system

The breast-shot system

The waterwheel turned a horizontal shaft on which is also mounted a large pit wheel. This meshes with the wallower, mounted on a vertical shaft, which turned the (larger) great spur wheel (mounted on the same shaft). This large face wheel, set with pegs, in turn, turned a smaller wheel known as a stone nut, which was attached to the shaft that drove the runner stone. This took place on the first level of the mill, the current bedroom 1.

The way the first floor might have looked 200 years ago

How it must have looked 200 years ago

In the 19th century it was common for the great spur wheel to drive several stone nuts, so that a single water wheel could drive as many as four stones. Each step in the process increased the gear ratio which increased the maximum speed of the runner stone. Adjusting the sluice gate and thus the flow of the water past the main wheel allowed the miller to compensate for seasonal variations in the water supply. Some research shows that this mill must have had more than two stones. The smaller stones and other machinery were placed on the second level , the current bedroom 4.

The different levels of the original mill

Section explaining the mill

Another pulley drove the sack hoist. To set it in motion, the miller tightened the belt on the pulley – not unlike a slipping clutch – by pulling on the hoist rope which passes through each floor. The end of the chain was looped round the neck of the sack of grain which was then raised by the hoist from the ground floor, through two sets of clapper doors to the bin floor for emptying into the storage hoppers and bins. The clapper doors were to prevent from falling in. One set of clapper doors is still visible at the attic.

The original clapper doors at the attic of the mill

The original clapper doors still at the attic

The living room has probably been two small houses and some flour storage at the attic. The two sided chimney is the proof. One next to the mill with the monumental door that show the year * 1813 * must have been the miller’s house. The house at the front must have belonged to the blacksmith who used the barn for his job.

Bedroom 2 and 3 have certainly been a bakery – so we were told by the older people in the village.

The whole placement of the mill, the small houses and the barns are called an hameau (hamlet). That’s why the whole Supergite feels like a small village all to yourself.

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Old Habits and New Owners

We know the water mill is ancient. In 2013 it’ll reach its 200th anniversary. Everything about the mill feels old. The thick, stone walls are at some parts of the house more than 100 cm thick. The wooden structure of the roof has more joints than a wooden ship. There are windows that are long gone but have left a permanent mark on the outside. There are engravings with names of people who are old enough be the village grandparents.

three fishes in a bottle behind stone

While restoring the mill we’ve found an old custom that we’d left behind a long, long time ago–we’d even forgotten all about its meaning. As he was digging in a wall to reopen a door that was blocked, our builder discovered a glass bottle containing three dried fish.

How freakily superstitious were the miller and his wife when they moved in? Was it witchcraft? Black magic ceremonies? Or maybe they were following some weird, local religion and held gatherings around an open fire in the garden?


Some quick research told us that the hiding of three fish in a bottle has a Christian background. It might sound pagan to keep dried fish in a wall, but its explanation has in either way a deep religious meaning. One tells the story of the three fish symbolizing the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Another tells the story of the three fish being a symbol of Saint Peter, who was originally a fisherman. He’s closely related to stories from the New Testament about harvesting fish and the dividing of the Fish and the Bread. This dividing is a sign of God’s endless care for humankind.

In any explanation, the three fish are meant to protect the house and its owners in general and to ward off hunger and poverty. So we’ve asked the builder to put the bottle back into the wall where it came from.

One never knows–nor should one question everything.

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10 Tips for People Who Want to Buy French Property

As you know from reading this blog, we’ve been through a lot of stuff to buy our French mill. I thought it was nice to turn some of our experiences into tips. If you’re interested in a little French place to spend the next level in your life at, read these carefully…and then do as you please. 🙂

1. Target wisely.
France is HUGE. Compared to the Netherlands or Belgium or even other European countries, France is simply enormous. So be very specific about where you’d like your home. This sounds logical but-–trust me–-a distance that feels a bit far away the first time does NOT get any closer. Use a pair of compasses to divine a range.

2. Check distance.
Calculate whether you could drive the distance on your own. Your partner might not come with you every time and you might need to drive to and from in one day or overnight. Four to six hours is OK. Over six to eight hours is stretching it. Over eight hours is crazy. You can fly, but you never know how expensive that might become in the future.

3. Check route.
Some places, even within the logical distance, take much longer to drive to. For instance: passing Antwerp on a Friday means one hour extra. Also, yet of a different order, check whether there are more ways to get there. Driving by Charleroi is NO fun. It’s an ugly town and the route is not the most pleasant. (We prefer to drive by Namur; this means green landscape until our front porch.) The route should be relaxing. You drive there when you need some extra peace, not to arrive stressed because the traffic kills you.

4. Make up your mind.
What kind of house are you looking for? What will you use it for? Do you plan to share it with friends and relatives or just use it yourselves? There’s a large variety within types of houses to buy. Make a checklist of things you like to do in and around your house. Do you feel like doing nothing at all for the next 10 years? Then buy a small house without a lot of land. Do you want to entertain friends at your place? Buy something with an extra room, and make sure there’s some sightseeing within a 50-km drive.

5. Seek out peace (in yourself).
If you’d like to find peace in France, make sure the house offers it. A sweet, hidden place in the forest might look serene, but it’s remote and available for anybody–meaning unwelcome strangers–to pay a visit. There’s nobody to check. We preferred a place that is within walking distance from a town. Why?  Because everybody knows the property and will know you and your car. The French do check who drives into and out of their village. This neighbor patrol might be unwanted by some, but it’s also keeping an eye on what’s happening when you’re NOT there. Your French house should give you peace, not fear and worry.

6. Go there more than once.
The French and the real estate people want you to decide quickly. “Listen, you are the first to see. I have other people waiting. Blah blah.” Don’t buy it–it’s just a way to pressure you. If it’s true, then bad luck for you, but most of the time it’s bullocks. Try to lengthen your decision period. Going there more than once gives you a better insight of the house, the sounds, the town, the light. You don’t want to wake up next to a railway that you really can’t see but definitely can hear (at night).

7. Spend money on advice.
I guess this goes for everyone buying property. If you’re not a regular buyer of properties, ask someone to come and check your future house. Ask an independent and impartial French/English speaker to help you negotiate. This person should not have any chauvinistic feelings towards the French, nor should they have a relationship with any of the other participants. It can be a building constructor with an eye for the construction or just a businessman with a nose for saving you money. Everybody will tell you a different story. You need him/her to get the message straight.

8. Do not agree on any price before you’re sure.
The French really don’t like you to come back on a deal. Nobody likes to hear: “Wait a minute, we’d like to renegotiate.” Sometimes it’s inevitable, like when we discovered our land floods twice a year. They forgot to tell us: yeah right. So back to the table. We got 10% off in the end, but we surely didn’t make any friends. Also, you could make a wish list of what you like and be so direct to add that list to the requirements for the deal. We added the permission for a tennis court and swimming pool. Granted.

9) Ask around.
We found a chambre d’hote in the area where many people with the same mission stayed over. That helps BIG time for multiple aspects. A) During dinner you can ask who’s who in the area, B) find property for sale that’s not being listed yet, C) make friends close to your property who are dealing with the same issues.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some information on the property itself that does not come from the owners. They–including attorney, agent, and whoever else is involved–-will not tell you everything. We used our French advisor to call the mayor and some neighbors to get the full picture.

10) Follow your heart.
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Stones do have a vibe.

Off the record: Learn French! 😀

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Treacle Trick

Treacle |ˈtrēkəl|noun

British term for molasses.

• figurative, cloying sentimentality or flattery: enough of this treacle—let’s get back to business.

We had this idea for a long time. Our biggest question was how to become involved and respected in the village. Since we are Dutch (foreign!), not very good with the French language, and basically exotic for most people in the French countryside, we came up with the Treacle Waffles Trick.

We bought 80 packages of traditional Dutch waffles, stuck invitations on each of them, and delivered them in all the mailboxes of Tourteron. Fifty of the 180 inhabitants came over to meet us and to see the mill. It was a huge success. We met the mayor, the noblemen, the attorney, and the baker. Most of the close neighbors came over to shake our hands.

We’ve also learned that the French do not drink wine nor eat cheese at a reception. That’s food. A reception is not for food. They prefer to drink beer, cider, gentian or even plain water. They also don’t eat meat or sausages (food), although they empty the potato chips in a blink of the eye. Next time we’ll buy only these for sure. It’s much easier, anyway.

Ever since our Waffle Reception people salute us when we drive by. They even come over to the mill to talk about the Citroen 2CV that we’d like to buy. We’re happy that we made some friends that day!

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At some point …

… you start to doubt. OK, we decided, let’s fly in a specialist. Someone who knows what to look for and how to assess the value of the property in all its aspects.

The wooden construction of the mill is ...

The wooden construction of the mill is ...

So we contacted a retired building inspector and asked him what he thought of the project.  He’s undeniably a decent man and a skilled negotiator. he said: “Marco, you’ve bought a beautiful barn, but I doubt whether you will be able to live in it.” And he smiled.

“OK, so the roof is not so good?” “No.”

“OK, the tiles are not so good?” “No, not really.”

“OK, then, and the wooden construction?” “Son, it needs some work.”

“Great! So it needs some work. Fine! How much?” “Over 200k euro’s worth,” he said quietly.

Silence. That we could calculate.

In the photo here you can see the outside tiles. In January 2010 you’ll not be able to see any of this. It’ll all be covered and hidden behind fresh, new white plastered walls.

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Just the beginning

When you think you have seen it all, it’s usually just the beginning. In the period while we were still working on the finance we got a call from Madame Picard. During the heavy rain of that night the stream didn’t hold the extra water and…you guessed it: flooded the Mill.

The clay residue of the flood

The clay residue of the flood

Now that was a big surprise. The mill apparently floods at least once every 5 years. At least! We were in shock! And so were all our friends 🙂

We claimed an extra cut on the price, but this time the French owners really said: “Pas possible!” So what to do next? We were this close to buying a mill with a high risk of flooding. We thought about it for a week or so – you know late night wine drinking, talking about risk, chances and dreams. And we decided to do it. “We’re Dutch,” we thought. “We”ll find a way to stop the water!”

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