Lille 14th - 16th April 2000
Researched and led by Sue Hayton
The modern Lille Métropole includes two other ancient and famous textile towns, Roubaix and Tourcoing, and other outlying villages. A modern claim to fame is the Métro, VAL, or Véhicule Automatique Léger, a fully computerised, driverless system which can be overridden by a central operative who has access to live pictures along the whole length of the track.
Friday afternoon was devoted to Lille itself. It would be tedious and take too much space to describe everything we saw on our perambulation around the city. The sights/sites, both words are applicable, can be considered, like Gaul, in three parts - around the Grand' Place, around the Place de la République, and along the old canal, now filled in. Before we got to the Grand' Place we passed the FNAC Bookshop, the former print works of the newspaper, 'La Voix du Nord' the Garage du Centre, an early example of city centre parking, and a number of old shops and restaurants, the decor of which reflects their age. The Grand' Place, is now the Place Général de Gaulle, Lille's famous son, whose grandfather was a Lille lace maker. Here are the early 1930s offices of 'La Voix du Nord', more fine shops and the Old Bourse, built 1652-53 in an elaborate style designed to rival similar buildings in other cities, but it has been renovated a number of times. Of particular interest are the large plaques round the walls of the inner courtyard commemorating many scientists and industrialists who were important locally. The Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie of 1921 is another fine building. In the area of the Place de la République we passed the rather pedestrian Post Office, the surprising Théâtre Sébastopol, the impressive Coilliot mosaic works and the art nouveau house designed by Hector Guimard of Paris Métro fame for M Coilliot himself. There was also a statue to Louis Pasteur, who was Professor and Dean of the Faculté des Sciences 1854-7, with scenes relevant to pasteurisation.
Past a series of interesting old shops we came to the Avenue du Peuple Belge which was once part of the Canal de Lille de la Haute Deule which linked Lille to the waterways of Northern France and thus to Calais, Dunkerque and Douai. There are a number of old warehouse buildings extant of which the most impressive is the old sugar market (the north of France is a big sugar beet area) which is now in municipal use, including a Police Station and a Post Office. Further on is the old hospital of 1739 with a 140m long classical façade. It has been enlarged three times but most of it is now derelict. Beyond this we came to a small section of canal still in water and a pumping station of 1875. There are a number of brick walls, some with arched openings, around the basin which led us to considerable speculation about their origin but one of the French speakers in the party established from a local that they were part of the fortifications to keep an invader out of the canal basin. We found that we could walk right round the basin to a bus stop for a return to the City Centre. Saturday was devoted to Roubaix and Tourcoing. Trams still run to both places from Lille along a Grand Boulevard comprising a 60m wide roadway which included the tram tracks, a macadamised car route, a pavé goods route and walkways. Along the route the different styles of ribbon development could be followed - large villas of the late 19th century, rural styles of the 1920s and apartment blocks of the 1960s. After the Roubaix and Tourcoing routes diverge there is a linear park, about 1.5km long on what was intended to be an underground section of a new canal system.
In Roubaix we started by looking at various styles of industrial housing including inner court housing with a narrow entrance off the street to a narrow inner court. This made the most of the available space. The courts have been modernised but the lack of open space, ventilation and light remain. The buildings of the dyeworks of Motte et Marquette are now used by a flea market but this meant we could get inside the building. Some large mills followed. The Usine Lemairre et Dillies has been much altered for use by students but part of the original construction with cast iron columns has been left open to view. The Usine Motte Bossut is a huge castellated 'monster' mill built in the English style on the opposite bank of the Canal de Roubaix after a fire had destroyed an earlier mill on the opposite bank. The canal is now part of a boulevard. Part of this mill now houses Le Centre des Archives du Monde de Travail, another part houses Le Centre International de la Communication. We went on to the Grand' Place and the imposing Hôtel de Ville which bears impressive tableaux of sheep shearing, and both wool and cotton processing.
After lunch we passed some impressive commercial buildings and a mill redevelopment project on our way to the railway station with a large glass facade with a large clock, flanked by two pavilions. The clock was necessary because Roubaix followed Brussels time while the railway used Paris time. The métro took us to Tourcoing. The weather had deteriorated with a cold wind and, from time to time, driving rain but we pressed on regardless. Sites in Tourcoing included the Hôtel de Ville, the first fire station, the Chamber of Commerce, the local museum and the railway station which has similarities to that in Roubaix. However, the most interesting sites were perhaps Les Arcades, a fine example of 1930s housing, the 1935 Post Office and the Pont Hydraulique. Les Arcades is a huge development, seven stories high with corner towers built in concrete and brick with glazed tile panels. It has been cleaned recently. The arcaded ground floor is given to shops and the doorways to the flats with their original doors and lights. The rear is much plainer and includes car parking space. The Hôtel de la Poste was built in 1935 on a corner site in decorative red brick with long windows through three stories. The various services are proclaimed in concrete 1930s style lettering. Part of the Canal de Tourcoing remains. The hydraulic bridge on the Quai de Marseilles built in 1903 has recently been restored. We had a short stop here between alighting from one tram and joining the next one back to Lille.
Sunday took us to some of the outer communities which are now part of Lille Métropole. We started at the market at Wazemmes. Here there is an enormous street market but this was not our aim. We came to see the cast iron market hall of 1870. Thence we went to look at more late 19th-century housing but in, particular, the earlier Cité Napoléon. Napoléon III decided that towns should provide housing for less well off citizens. The Wazemmes scheme of six blocks linked in pairs by porches, was built in 1861. The buildings were renovated in 1974. We returned to Wazemmes métro station but found the station where we wished to change was closed. Plan B went into operation and we walked to a nearby station on another line. However, this was closed! So! Plan C, rearrange the morning to go to Hellemmes first and Moulins later - walk back to Wazemmes station! Plan C worked! The main feature of Hellemmes is the railway works established by the Nord company in 1880 and now run by SNCF. Opposite the main entrance is a preserved locomotive but not much can be seen from the road. However, there is a long footbridge spanning the works from which a good view of their extent can be gained. On the way back to the métro we paused at the brewery, 'La Semeuse' with a huge brick tower still bearing the name of the brewery, which now operates elsewhere.

Lastly, successfully completing Plan C, we went to Moulins which takes its name from windmills (277 in 1880) which no longer exist. However, there are a number of rather splendid textile mills in various stages of redevelopment. The most impressive are La Filature le Blan and the Wallaert Mill. The le Blan mill of 1900 was converted into flats in 1980 and much of the building must look as it did when built but the addition of a roof garden has changed some of the roof line. The enormous Wallaert Mill of 1898 with extensions in 1906 has also been restored as offices, notably in part as the local tax office. This brought the trip to an end with time for lunch before dispersing either individually or on Eurostar back to England. It had been an excellent three days.
Words by Bill Firth, from the GLIAS Newsletter No 188, June 2000