In a couple of months it will be 18 years since we first saw our house. A lot of wine has flowed under the bridge in that time. The photo above shows it in the early 1970s just before it was restored and long before we bought it. I have mentioned some of the traditional features of our house in my posts, but I have never looked at them systematically.
Our farmhouse is typical of the prevailing architecture in the former Quercy region, being long and narrow. It was probably built in the 18th century (there is no date on it anywhere) but I have a feeling a house might have been here before that.
The original house was probably just rectangular. At some point, someone wanted it to look more imposing and bolted on a pigeonnier (pigeon tower) and a bolet (covered balcony). This meant they had to re-site the exterior staircase, which would either have been perpendicular to the house or flush with the front façade. Now, it’s at a 45° angle, which I have never come across elsewhere. If anyone else has, please let me know.
The pigeonnier was in a terrible state before the house was restored in the 1970s. It’s effectively a new construction, supported by reinforced concrete pillars. I doubt if the original would have had a knob on top: this was described to us as “une fantaisie du maçon”.
The bottom floor was taken up by caves, cellars or storerooms. In some houses, the animals occupied this level, which kept the human occupants warm in winter, but I don’t think they did here. There’s evidence that there was a separate cow byre close to the house.
Down here, they may have prepared conserves and meat products when they killed the pig. Lots of little niches were presumably used for storing small items that you didn’t want to lose. The floor was originally stone-flagged, but the slabs were uneven and cold, so the previous owner removed them and made a terrace with them.
The house boasts no less than four éviers (stone sinks). Since water was so precious, they were very shallow. We discovered this one on the ground floor when we removed some built-in cupboards in order to open up a window above it.
The water drained outside through small channels bored into the stone walls. To avoid wetting the exterior wall, stones were built into the wall, which protrude about 50 cms, also with a channel scored into them.
We are still not sure of the function of this container, for want of a better word, in the corner of what is now our kitchen. It clearly held liquid, since there was a drainage hole at the bottom. We have seen only one other like it, in a friends’ house. Some people think it might have been a laundry tub. In the absence of a communal lavoir (washing pool) nearby, that might be the case.
People lived, cooked and slept on the first floor. They would have kept a fire going all the time in the open fireplace at the end, called a cantou. Originally, a crémaillère (pot holder) hung over the fire, from which they suspended a pot for la soupe. But open fires are not very efficient. We put the wood burner in. And the gargoyles decorating the chimney breast are not original either; une fantaisie de l’ancien propriétaire.
They put the ashes from the fire into the niche on the left. They then used the ashes as soap powder.
Two éviers have pride of place along one wall. One has a magnificent stone slab beneath it, polished by years of use and with a lovely bevelled edge. It had its own outlet to the exterior. We are told this was the évier de l’évier, in other words it caught the overflow and channelled it outside. I find this hard to believe. Why go to such elaborate lengths just to prevent the floor getting wet? I feel it had some other function and I’d be delighted if anyone could enlighten me.
We love the door, which leads to the bolet and the exterior staircase. It’s not very energy efficient and birds can squeeze in over the top, but I’m sure it is the original. At one point it was hung with the hinges on the other side and for some reason, someone hung it the other way. They re-used the lock simply by turning it upside down.
The second floor was the grenier, the attic. Here, they stored vegetables and other items they wanted to keep dry. Access was originally via a trapdoor. They could also gain access from here into the top floor of the pigeonnier, now off our bedroom.
We now take these things for granted and regard some of the items simply as decorative features. But they were essential to daily life 100 years ago.
Today my blog celebrates its fifth birthday. Starting it on Valentine’s Day was pure coincidence. This week, it received its 250,000th view. That’s an average of 50,000 per year – although at the start it was almost exclusively me looking at it. Thank you to everyone who has read it, especially those who have signed up for regular updates. I love reading your comments.
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