Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...

Friday 27 March 2015

The historic ship and the German spy (allegedly)

At her launch in 1891, La Touraine was the finest and largest liner in the fleet of La Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (known as Transat), and the fifth largest in the world. The only limit on her size was her home port of Le Havre; any longer and she would have been unable to get onto her berth.

The liner La Touraine in her original configuration with three masts
For her 506 first-class passengers she was the height of luxury and modern equipment, with electric lighting throughout. "At need, she could also carry 540 emigrants" and many of today's Americans owe their nationality in part to a voyage on La Touraine.

La Touraine - the grand staircase leading from the first class dining room to the 'conversation room', 1891

She was capable of crossing the Atlantic at an average speed of 17.5 knots, driven by the most powerful, up-to-date engines (capable of providing 18,000 hp) that Transat's money could buy, yet she was fully rigged for sail, the last of her kind. There is no evidence that her sails were ever used and one of the masts was removed as part of a major refit in 1902.

La Touraine leaving New York, from the Library of Congress. Two masts now, and shades of Belleville Rendezvous in the style of the depiction.

Her history is remarkable:  throughout, she had one exciting adventure after another. I learned:
  • How thousands boarded La Touraine before she was even built
  • Why her telegraphed warning failed to save the Titanic
  • When her entire crew was awarded Sea Gallantry medals by King George V for saving 41 passengers of a stricken emigrant ship in mid-ocean
But the strangest of all is a story from spring 1915 unfolding in the pages of newspapers across the world, from which we have a teaser in just one corner of our old bit of newspaper. In the dry words of Transat's publicity machine,
Steamship La Touraine, bound from New York to Havre, with an inflammable cargo, was discovered on fire on the morning of March 6. The vessel was 400 miles west of the Irish coast. The SOS call was answered by the steamships Arabic, Cornishman, Swanmore, and Rotterdam. The fire was finally brought under control by the crew. However, the Rotterdam remained near by ready to take off the passengers of the La Touraine should this be found necessary. The appeal for help was heard by a British cruiser, which vessel also responded to the call for assistance, but when she reached the La Touraine assistance was not necessary. The La Touraine was convoyed as far as Prawle Point by Rotterdam, and two French cruisers escorted the injured vessel as far as Cherbourg.
On April 1, 1915 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:
Raymond Rolfe Swoboda, an American citizen, was arrested for causing the fire on board La Touraine the previous March 6, and for espionage. The enquiry had already established that the fire had started in Hold 2, where three heavy trunks belonging to Swoboda were located. It was claimed that he had expressed fervent pro-german sympathies, that he had wandered around at night dressed as a workman, and that he had lied about his origins.
French newspapers lapped up eye-witness statements from various parties, claiming exclusive reports from La Touraine's captain, Swoboda's girlfriend, his business associates, members of the Bourse, the American ambassador who issued his passport, variously quoting his place of birth as New York, or San Francisco, or Quebec, or Fresno, and his antecedents American (for 200 years), Swedish, French, Russian or German, and his claim that he did or did not speak German.
Raymond Swoboda, from Le Matin, 4th April, and the only picture of him I have been able to locate.

What appears in our cutting is another of these exclusive witness interviews. The names Barbe and Sarnac* appear in no other paper that I have located to date.
If you were born in Fresno, wouldn't it be nicer to say you were from San Francisco?
And the link to our house, well this is La Touraine du Sud, isn't it?
The rest of the Swoboda saga is for another post.
* for Sarnac read Sanarens - ref. le Petit Journal 5th April 1915

Touraine departed on her first transatlantic voyage from Le Havre to New York on 20 June 1891 and her last at the end of 1922. Her last voyage of all left Le Havre on 25th November 1923 for the breaker's yard in Dunquerque.  

Le Conservatoire numérique des Arts et Métiers (CNUM) (**) has the full text of an article by an anonymous, albeit rather excitable, engineer in the scientific publication La Nature of 1891, sketching the luxury of the passenger decks in order to get to a description in immense detail of the new ship's engines.

(**)CNUM is a digital library of the history of science and technology, with the objective of making scientific matters accessible to the general public and preserving that sector of France's heritage.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Demise of a once-great newspaper

The first French newspaper, La Gazette de France first appeared on 30th May 1631 as a weekly under the name of La Gazette.The first edition consisted of a single sheet, printed on both sides and folded in four (en quarto) to give eight pages.

Its founder was Théophraste Renaudot, a medical man, doctor to king Louis XIII. Renaudot's wish was to make available to anyone who could afford a centime or two all the news of the affairs of state and from abroad. Cardinal Richelieu supported the enterprise, seeing yet another way to manipulate public life by propaganda. The king himself participated for amusement. In 1635 the state gave Renaudot and his successors a state monopoly of news from government.

Théophraste Renaudot. Drawing by Eustache Lorsay after a contemporary print. Magasin pittoresque, 1869.
Renaudot became known as commissaire aux pauvres du royaume - commissioner for the poor of the Kingdom - not just for giving alms to the poor and tut-tutting behind his beard, but for actually doing something about it in an age where the homeless were imprisoned or whipped out of town. The activities of this dynamic bundle of energy in just ten years were:
  • He established the world's first employment agency, le bureau d'adresse et de rencontre in 1628 or 1629, with the objective of bringing together artisans seeking work with those seeking skilled workers. 
  • In 1633 the state obliged the unempoyed to register with this bureau. 
  • Renaudot in the same year started to publish a journal, La Feuille du bureau d’adresses, where for anyone with 3 sous to spare could advertise propositions for employment, sale or rent.  This effectively made him the inventor of the small ad
  • His direct, low cost approach to journalism upset the bookselling, publishing and printing establishment. Eddie Shah, you weren't the first! He also upset the medical establishment by offering free consultations to the poor, anticipating the birth of the British NHS by over 300 years.
  • In 1637 he opened the first pawnshop in France, le mont de piété, giving someone forced to sell their property at least the prospect to get it back again if times got better.
 He lost his two most powerful backers, the king and Richelieu, in 1642 and 1643 respectively. All his activities except the newspaper lost state support and were closed down. The regency did not risk antagonising its enemies by suppressing La Gazetter as well. At Renaudot's death in October 1653, the state monopoly was confirmed on his son, but he was unable to protect it from an increasing number of rivals.

There is a museum dedicated to his life and work at Loudun, in our neighbouring Département of Vienne, where he was born.

La Gazette became La Gazette de France in 1762. It remained royalist throughout the revolutionary period, but was careful to toe the government line, and survived. Its association with the royal family is indicated by the report of the Chambord fire, to which I can find no other reference. The Bourbon Parma family were a junior branch of the French royal family. Was the person who bought the paper a royalist?

La Gazette de France closed forever less than five months after our scrap of paper was printed, on 30 September 1915.

***UPDATE*** La Gazette de France has nothing to do with the scrap of newspaper. My thanks to Christian Bach of BNF for his assistance.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Special train to...

To... Senlis!

I found the destination of our special train from La Bibliothèque Nationale de France's Gallica document retrieval system.
To extract anything from the major French newspapers of the WWI era has required a wrestling match with Gallica. I found this to be a slow business compared with, say, the New York Times's smoothly cross-referenced site, but I got a lot better at it as the weeks went on.

The Gallica beta test site Galicalabs gives much more flexible access to BNF's resources. The searches are easier to formulate, and it pays to know that separating words with full stops is the way to search for a particular phrase. Like "train.special".

There are four occurrences of this phrase linked with the name Bourgeois in Gallicalabs. You can find a sample query here

None of these pages is from the publication that supplied our scrap of newsprint, because the surrounding items are different. One (Le Journal of April 3) is identically worded. Le Gaulois of April 4 is the same except "toutes classes" is omitted.. The other two (Le Petit Parisien and La Croix, both of April 4) are clearly the same train, but Bourgeois' address is given as 1, Rue de Helder, 1. La Croix has an extra line "La Glorieuse Mutilée" - the Glorious Maimed. 

The full text of the La Croix ad reads:

Départ Lundi 5 avril, midi 55 Retour 19. h 25
Toutes classes.– Billets et Programme.
Chez G. LE BOURGEOIS, 1, rue du Helder, 1.

La Croix 4 avril 1915

Le Journal 3 avril 1915

Le Petit Parisien 4 avril 1915

Le Gaulois 4 Avril 1915

Why Senlis? This old town in the Oise département of northern France was swept up in the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914. A full description of the battle can be found in the 1917 Michelin Illustrated Guide to the Battlefields 1914 : Battle of the Marne  here in book form or here in scanned text. The Germans, having smashed two armies through Belgium into northern France, were aiming for Paris. The capital was expected to fall "like a plum" into German hands, and the citizens began to flee southwards. But the Germans met unexpected resistance, not just from the French, but the Belgians, a British Expeditionary Force, and a Moroccan brigade. The Germans were driven back to the Somme and the Belgian border towns whose names resonate today: Ieper, Passchendaele ...

The battlefields became a place to visit, the Michelin guide in its description of its itinerary explains why:
" This tour, of which a plan is given below, covers the ground on which the fate of Paris was decided in September 1914.

" In the course of the journey the traveller will live over again the anxious moment when the Germans, having arrived within gunshot of the capital, had to decide whether to continue their irresistible march on Paris or attempt just to put the allied army out of action: he will then reconstruct the tragic struggle which for five days confronted Gallieni, Maunoury and von Kluck.

" The country traversed has the varied scenery of the Ile-de-France ; from the vast forests of Valois, the tourist will come to the fertile up-lands of Brie, intersected by lovely valleys. He will become acquainted with Chantilly, the great Conde's town, afterwards Marshal Joflre's Headquarters; Senlis, a jewel of ancient France, which narrowly escaped the fate of Louvain; Meaux, with its cathedral, its old mills, and the ruins left by the war in the surrounding villages.

" This is the war pilgrimage which should be made by all Parisians and all tourists passing through Paris who have a day or two to spare."

Tuesday 24 March 2015

A little piece of newsprint

It was just a torn-off piece of newspaper, buried in a hole in the fireplace beneath a couple of layers of plaster. Un bout de papier. But we would never throw something like that away. It was a little piece of the history of the house, somebody had a reason for putting it there.
So we unrolled it.

"Page two" - the two detached pieces are facing the wrong way...

.... although I didn't realise until I had begun the transcription. The transcripts below are corrected.
A word caught my eye: tsar. Then a name: Venizelos. I knew that name, Elevtherios Venizelos, prime minister of Greece at the outbreak of World War I. He is still a hero on the island of Crete and I have visited his grave in Mournies, in the foothills of the White Mountains, overlooking the north coast of the island, a place of tranquility shaded by pine trees.

The scrap of paper was rapidly scanned and tucked away in a jiffy bag. Transcription took a lot longer, but the end result was most satisfactory.

The news of the day, 4th April 1915
The more we picked out of the piece of newsprint, the more convinced we were about a wartime date. The news items were dated 2nd and 3rd April, a short advertisement for a day trip by special train to an unknown destination was dated 5th April, that was our terminus ad quem.  The news indicated the year: 1915. The date of the edition: almost certainly 4th April 1915. Easter Sunday. Possibly the 3rd or the 5th. Le Matin of 4th April 1915 carries some of the same stories, including the Havas agency report of Venizelos' proposition heavily rewritten, but the paper was not torn from Le Matin.

... and on the reverse, one of those interminable sentimental serials. Transcription can await another day.
So what was the paper? The present local paper, La Nouvelle Republique, was not published at that date. And it had to be a national newspaper. The travel agent for the special train trip, le Bourgeois, gave only a street address - where? Why, in Paris, of course, no need to spell it out, everyone knows old Bourgeois, let's save on the price of the advert!

The tantalising words Gazette de F ... at the beginning of the item about German schoolboy conscripts (écoliers allemands) gives a huge clue. There are plenty of local Gazettes in France but only the one national existed: la Gazette de France.

Is the Gazette de France on line? No it isn't.With some trepidation I ordered a photocopy from the Bibliotheque National de Paris. This great library has an on-line ordering system for copies of its paper files, and the order form fortunately gave enough space to explain what I was looking for, and why. Only one title is present in full, so I had to quote that one: Menées Allemandes in Italie (German Machinations in Italy). I have a feeling that it's the back page. I should get a quote for a photocopy of the full page to be sent as an e-mail attachment, at the price of however long it takes a librarian to do it. Fingers crossed.

And I've always wondered if the message for A.-G Corbes was some kind of code....

Sunday 22 March 2015

A change of focus... a change of name...

Touraine Flint has changed its name and header...
it is now...

Following Others' Footsteps.

The change came about when we realised that there is so much history to this area...
and, for us particularly, that of La Forge itself and its environs...
that Touraine Flint was a "bloggers handicap"...
especially that Flint word.

When we arrived here, one of the first things we found....
carefully preserved in a tin box...
probably a biscuit tin...
were the last milking records....

Sad reading to watch the production tail off...
Whilst cleaning up the old fireplace in the longère, we found a strip of paper...from 1915... a strip of newspaper...
that had been rolled up and used as a Rawlplug...
Pauline has spent hours deciphering the wording....

One side of the clipping. When we did the scan we got the two smaller pieces back to front.

Second part of the clipping

We have been looking at the old cadastral maps....
and made interesting discoveries about the buildings that are here now....
and the ones that aren't...
the ones on the other side of the bief...
and the layout of the bocage field system in the pré...

Cadastre Napoléonien 1812  - extract, Moulin de la Forge and Bezuard
The millstream - le bief - existed in its present form in 1812. So...
when did the forge come into use?
When did it stop? And why?
What was made here?
When did it become a farm?

All that remains of the forge is some piles of slag (scorie or laitier) like this

And there are things yet to discover about the longère...
we know that it was a set of three buildings...
possibly four...
some very old...
and they and the barn were no longer in use when the forge was running in 1812...
judging by some of the older timbers in the longère, there was no roof.

The loft - le grenier - above the Long Room has a rendered wall, which is weathered just like the barn.
Possible building sequence from C11th...
click on picture to decipher!
Thanks to remnants found during re-tiling,
we know that the "magenta" building
had a pyramidal roof.

And, whilst we find used bits of flint...
almost every day we work on the land...
that Flint word was blocking our brains....
and any posts...
decent pictures of flint are hard to take.

We get fossils, too...
like the little cluster found only yesterday...
a fossil that links straight to the present day...
because the species still exists!

All things that need somewhere to be written about...
that didn't quite fit under the original header!