UPPER NORMANDY April 2010
Our base for the first three nights was to be Rouen, the Regional
capital, on the River Seine and the upstream limit of the Port of
Rouen which extends 120km along the river to Honfleur at its mouth.
Our first visit was to the Port Autonome de Rouen Capitainerie where we learnt about the four sets of port facilities along the 120km from the sea Honfleur; Port-Jérome, Radicatel; Saint-Wandrille and Rouen, which is by far the largest. These make up the fifth largest port of France. Rouen and the Seine have formed an important trade route since Roman times. We then had a coach trip to the port facilities on the left bank in Rouen.
The spectacular modern lift bridge, the Pont Gustave Flaubert - named after Rouen’s famous author, was built to allow ocean going vessels access to the city quays. It is a distinctive landmark. Sadly cruise ships to not pass under it; the operators being frightened of ship ‘kidnapping’ by breakdowns or strikes!
Specialist facilities for a wide range of bulk cargoes,
including the inevitable containers and a small landing point for
cruise ships which visit in the Summer.
A remarkable architectural feature is the waste incinerator cum electricity generating station shaped to look like an ocean liner with three chimneys a la Normandie.
An interesting two way trade with Algeria was the export of wheat and the import of wine which is largely used to blend with French wines to raise the alcohol content.
Following this tour during which we were rather
overwhelmed by the scale of things we went to the valley
of the river Cailly on the right bank. In the 18th and
19th centuries this became a major centre of the textile
The purpose of our visit was to see the Musée Industriel de la Corderie Vallois. The building is an 1822 cotton mill that now houses machinery which makes braided and plaited textile products. The machinery is driven by a water wheel and we saw the various machines in operation.
Next was the ‘Musée des SAPEURS-POMPIERS de France’ at Montville . It had a
truly impressive collection of all things related to fire fighting,
from a 1772 hand pump to a late 20th century 36m extended ladder
The automobile builder DeLaHaye was much in evidence, also Citroen, Renault and Hotchkiss. A fine collection as long as you could stand all the red paint!
Amongst the exhibits was a set of Magic Lantern Slides
depicting the epic rush of a horse drawn fire engine to a fire and
the dramatic rescue of women and children by the heroic fireman.
[ In MS IE you may need to click "Allow blocked content" to run the slide show. Settings in other browsers may block the script from running ]
|The next morning we went to see the Barentin Viaduct. A very impressive 27 arch brick structure, 100ft high and 600 yards long, designed by Joseph Locke and built by Thomas Brassey in 1846. It collapsed soon after its initial completion. The reason is not known for certain. Brassey rebuilt it at his own expense. Near one of the arches is a statue of Locke erected by the people of Barentin; a copy of the original by Marochetti in Barnsley, Locke’s home town.|
|This was followed by a visit to the Musée Maritime, Fluvial et Portuaire de Rouen. There are interesting displays about the history of the port at Rouen itself. Of particular interest was one about the ships which were used to bring nickel from the French colony of New Caledonia. In 1911 a five-masted sailing ship was built in Rouen for this trade. She must have been one of the last such sailing vessels to be built. We also saw the restoration workshops where a wide variety of wooden ships were being worked on: from a rowing skiff to a large yawl which had suffered machine gun damage during WWII. A good museum which we felt is worthy of support from the Port Authority.|
That afternoon we were free to visit Rouen as we wished. It was
known that there was an interesting stationary steam engine at a
water treatment plant ‘de la Jatte’. A group of eight set off to
After introducing themselves they were given a complete tour of the whole operation including the modern pumping and filtration plant and then had the opportunity to see the two rotative, compound, beam engines made by Windsor et Fils of Rouen.
The engines had been installed to pump water up to a reservoir to provide a head for the supply to the city. They operated from 1891 to 1959. The opportunity for the visit was very much appreciated.
On the Thursday morning we visited the Moulin de Hauville. A windmill had first operated here in the mid 13th century. It was owned by the Abbey St Pierre Jumièges and there is archival record of the mill from then. By the 19th century it had become a tower mill made of banded flint and limestone with a thatched roof on the rotating cap.
| The Parc authorities have financed a complete
restoration/rebuild which we were able to visit. Close by is a
museum which is also in an interesting relocated and restored
The mill was introduced to us by Alain Joubert who had been the first director of the Musee Industriel de la Corderie Vallois, had founded the Musee Marine de la Seine which we were about to visit and had been head of the Parc administration and responsible for the restoration of the windmill. A good man for us to meet!
|After lunch we visited the Museée de la Marine de la Seine. There was a good display which showed how the tide is used to enable ocean going vessels to go all the way up to Rouen, and downstream again, also concerning the constant dredging programme which is necessary. All this and a special exhibit about the 18th century navigator/explorer Jean-Baptiste Denoville and another about the past of both wood and steel shipbuilding on the Seine; a very pleasant and interesting museum.|
|Then to Fécamp to see the Palais Bénédictine. In 1863 Alexandre Legrand,discovered how the monks in the local Bénédictine monastery had made their medicinal herbal beverage and had realised that if this was used to flavour an alcoholic spirit it could make a good liqueur. He obtained copyright on the formula, the trade name Bénédictine, the shape of the bottle and the design of the label and so established a successful brand which is now owned by the drinks group Bacardi.|
|The Palais Bénédictine is an amazing building. The guide book uses the adjectives ‘eclectic, monumental and refined, characteristic of the end of the 19th century’. The main rooms are named Vestibule, Salle Gothic, Salle du Dome Salle Renaissance, Pinacothèque, Oratoire. Their contents as eclectic as the architecture. Alexandre Legrande clearly had the means and the interest to drive this grand project, sadly he died before it was completed. Under the Palais are the facilities for making the Bénédictine liqueur - collecting and blending the herbs from all over the world, distilling, ageing and bottling. The Palais was an extraordinary factory.|
|Our final visit was in Calais to Cité Internationale de La Dentelle et de la Mode. heritage of Industry may be the first company to take a group of Industrial Archaeologists to look at Lace and Fashion. In the 19th century Calais had a large lace industry. It was started by English businessmen following the restitution of the monarchy in 1815 and the renewed interest in court and fashion.|
|The displays in the museum showed the processes for making lace by hand and by machine. All labels had English, and Dutch wording on them and at the small video displays with commentaries in French, English captions could be selected. We saw a Leavers lace making machine operating – there were too many things happening to permit a quick understanding of its working. Following this technical display there were further rooms devoted to the place of lace in fashion and the place of fashion in society from 18th to 20th centuries.|
Members of the group interested in early computing were fascinated
to see the application of punched cards to drive the lace making machinery.
This museum, which is based in two old lace factories with a modern entry building, has star quality. Plan an hour or two before your next ferry from Calais and make a visit.
Words: Copyright (c) 2010 Richard Hartree
Pictures: Copyright (c) 2010 Bill Barksfield