A Typical Quercy Farmhouse (and an Anniversary)

 

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration in the early 1970s

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration in the early 1970s

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.

Imposing additions

Exterior staircase, covered balcony and pigeonnier

Exterior staircase, covered balcony and pigeonnier

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.

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration

Bolet and pigeonnier before restoration

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”.

Practical priorities

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.

Niche

Niche

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.

Small niche with built-in bowl

Small niche with built-in bowl

Sinking feeling

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.

Rudimentary évier

Rudimentary évier

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.

Drainage stones

Drainage stones

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.

Laundry tub?

Laundry tub?

Living space

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.

Fireplace - centre of the house

Fireplace – centre of the house

They put the ashes from the fire into the niche on the left. They then used the ashes as soap powder.

One of two éviers in our living room

One of two éviers in our living room

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.

Stone slab beneath évier

Stone slab beneath évier

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.

Original front door

Original front door

 

Massive door key, 6 inches long

Massive door key, 6 inches long

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.

Anniversary

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.

You might also like:

French country life a century ago
A Dying Breed
A French Country Upbringing
Asking for the moon: finding our house in France, part 4

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

 

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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22 Responses to A Typical Quercy Farmhouse (and an Anniversary)

  1. Chitra parpia says:

    Love reading the details of your loving renovations…..the eviers are intriguing ……did u take off the fourth side of the sink? …..the exterior drain spout stones are similar to stones in temples in India ….the deities are bathed daily and on special occasions with milk, ghee (clarified butter) coconut water et al ….the channels lead the liquids to the exterior so the inner sanctum remains tidy and clean

    Thx and I will be reading all your past posts gradually

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you for your comment. No, we haven’t touched the éviers. They are made to be very shallow so as not to waste water, which is why it looks as if the front has been removed. I was interested to read your information about Indian temples – and that they have similar stones to drain away the liquid.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Drought and Southwest France Weather July 2015 | Life on La Lune

  3. Jill Brown says:

    What a fabulous renovation, Vanessa. Glad they kept all those wonderful old stone features intact. And how do you grow those roses? Mine only flower in winter!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      We were pleased that they had retained all those features. We’ve seen many places where they have all been ripped out and the interior over-modernised. As for the roses, they have never been as good as they were that year! Normally, they get black spot and rust and don’t thrive, despite my best efforts.

      Like

  4. Jim Dreyfuss says:

    Happy Anniversary, Vanessa! It’s always fun to open my email and find “Life on La Lune” waiting. It’s always a pleasurable read. I enjoy history as well, and have taken my interest in a fun direction. I perform songs, on guitar, and tell stories from the American Antebellum and Civil War periods. I just did two performances at the South Carolina State Museum. A friend from graduate school is the Director of the Confederate Relic Room and All Wars Museum at the State Museum. My summer plans include a trip to Corsica to visit friends, and especially to tour the mountain areas. After leaving Corsica I plan to visit Paris, and environs, during my last week’s trek. Wishing you continued success and enjoyment writing, “Life on La Lune”. Jim

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hello, Jim. It made my day to read your kind comments about my blog. Thank you! Your performances sound a great idea and an original way to tell the story of that period.

      If this is your first visit to Corsica, I’m sure you will love it. It has such a fascinating history and culture as well as being a spectacularly beautiful place. We are planning our 6th visit there in September.

      Like

  5. Sel says:

    Love your interesting posts….France, so much like all the other old countries…Spain, is mine
    A very old historic house, built by my ancestors. It is on the registrar of oldies….

    Like

  6. My daughter climbed a ladder each night and slept in the top of a restored pigeonnier in Fourmagnac, where we stayed for 2 weeks years ago. No bats or birds anymore, but a lot of cold winds crept in beneath the tiled roof!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Our pigeonnier also has an attic at the top and a small room beneath. And, yes, it’s freezing! When it was restored in the seventies, they didn’t think about putting insulation in the roof. We have also had a hornets’ nest up there, which took some dealing with. So, whilst these buildings are romantic and atmospheric, they do have some downsides…

      Like

  7. Osyth says:

    Happy Fifth Birthday! As ever I found this fascinating reading so much packed in. I envy your pigonnier … on my wish list for our perfect house which is ludicrous really because I am petrified of flapping birds!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you. We love our pigeonnier; it makes the house look like a little castle, although it has little practical utility these days. And the pigeons can no longer nest in it, although we used to get bats coming in through it on summer evenings until the OH put up a mesh screen. It was a bit too Hitchcockian for me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        Hitchcock is responsible in part for my fear of birds!! Bats I love, bizarrely!

        Like

      • nessafrance says:

        I don’t like bats coming into the house after dark. Sometimes they get disorientated and fly very close to one’s head. I can’t stand that. We also get small birds flitting in during the day, which I don’t mind. Our cat loves it, since he is such a proficient killer that he normally gets them, alas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        I can’t cope with birds in the house at all and The Bean is worse than useless. Not that I want them to die – I love them I just can’t have them near me. Phobia

        Liked by 1 person

  8. lizgyooll says:

    Happy anniversary! Many similarities to Tuscany with the old country life here. Also in Tuscany, the wood-ash was saved for the wash and interestingly there was a delicate Siena blue made from the ash … I reckon it was good for the whites in the wash, as they do in Egypt where blue is added to the white wash and men walk around in sparkling white “djellaba”s as a result.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      That’s interesting. ‘Blue’ white does always seem whiter. I wonder who discovered that wood ash makes good washing powder! It’s a bit counter-intuitive.

      Like

  9. Evelyn says:

    So glad you shared the ‘before’ photo! I wouldn’t have recognized your beautiful house by looking at it. What a lot of work !has gone into the restoration

    Like

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