My Travel Book in Brittany - "Les Forges des Salles" (The Salles Ironworks) - Part II

“Well, hello! I am so glad you are still waiting for me here.”


“Why did I ask you to meet me here?”


“So simple, my dear. Do you remember what was so essential to foundries at the time? Yes. Besides the iron ore, the charcoal and the limestone?”


“Water! Absolutely!”

There is plenty of water in the area. A brook goes through the village and links up three ponds on its way. Let’s cross over the foundry reach.

Right in front of you, those houses look more comfortable and they get a lot of sunshine. Hard to believe today, I know. You’ll have to trust me. They are quite new compared to the hovels where the foundry workers had to survive. They were built during the XIXth century for the foremen and their families.

This house was the administration office. This is where the workers would get their wages (incredibly low salaries). This is also where the estate steward kept the books for the foundry and the village. He was in charge of managing everything, from finances to the forest, the foundry and the workforce (around 400 people in all including foundry workers, charcoal burners, miners, carters, etc.).

One interesting point: Since the Rohans never lived there, they hired professional ironmasters who usually came from the eastern part of France.

Then there is a small chapel, the “chapelle Saint-Eloi”. There were two doors. The workers used this one, directly from the cobbled street. The Ironmaster and the steward used the main one on the right. The Rohans were Protestants but they built the chapel to suit the needs of their Catholic employees. (By the way, it is still used nowadays from time to time.)

On your way out, the country house which you won’t be able to visit. The Janzé family bought the mansion, the foundry, the forest and the land in 1802. (And I kind of feel that I should add the workers to their purchases.) The Janzé descendants still live there. But the village is mostly empty now and under renovation.

A school has been recreated in one of the buildings. It really shows some  paternalistic streak. Who can believe that in those times, there was a school for the children of the workers? Schooling only became compulsory in 1881 for every child in France.

At the “Forges des Salles”, a school was then created but some 300 m away from the foundry. A Catholic private school financed by the Janzé. It was closed in 1960. Hard to believe, I know but it was coeducational.
Maybe the only coeducational school in France at the time.

The old stables still exist but I doubt that they are used nowadays. They do look derelict.

The small cider-factory has been restored. This building (and its cider press) was probably very important in times when cider and apple brandy were used as a bonus for most workers. This was still true for farmhands, not too long ago in Brittany. What about foundry workers more than a century ago?

My friend Bernard told me that on his father’s farm, in the 50s and the 60s, the farmhands were issued one bottle of apple brandy per day which most of them drank while working. One of them was famous for soaking up 7 to 10 liters of cider besides his liter of apple brandy every day. (Hard to believe, but he died a very old man.)

Let’s go back to the foundry and its blast furnace which was the heart of the place after all. The foundry closed in 1877. The furnace was completely taken apart at the time. On the right, there were two huge bellows activated by a paddle wheel set in the breach.
Of course, Popeye spent a long time explaining to me how it all worked but as usual, I was taken by the sights and my emotions and couldn’t really remember all the details... I know, I know, this is pitiful.

I remember he told me that they would pour a mix of iron ore, charcoal and limestone into the furnace... then there would be a spurt of hot air from below and then... and then... well they would recover the molten cast iron which they would use for making nails, etc. Oh, sorry, my dear Popeye. Thank goodness, there is wikipedia...

All I can tell you for sure is that when they rehabilitated the building, they decided to protect it with a slate roof but never rebuilt the furnace.  They added some silly contraptions inside so that dummies like me would understand the whole process.

Oh yes. I do remember hearing that the limestone helped to refine the impurities of the iron ore! How? I do not know. But it worked. It worked!

All I know now is that I’ll take a walk with you along the brook and I’ll show you this wonderful pond not very far from the Forges. So peaceful and charming... (Whereas it used to be so useful a long time ago and much less serene.)

Aren’t you glad you followed me through this time travel? Even if I haven’t helped you much to enhance your knowledge of foundry techniques...

One last thing though. Once we left the chapel through the door used by the masters of the place, we walked in the garden, which is very nice indeed. And we spent a few hours into another world, didn't we?
Then why on earth, did the owners install such an obnoxious, ugly and rather obscene device on such a charming timeless wall? A dish aerial... Question asked... No further comment!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

Thanks for taking me on this tour! Lovely.