Restoration of the Lavoir in Caylus

Lavoir in Caylus – current restoration project

Lavoirs, or wash-houses, are features of the landscape around here. In times past, this is where the women (naturally…) did their laundry. They were normally constructed by a spring or a stream, so if the women were lucky, there was one in their village or hamlet. If they weren’t, they had to go some distance to the nearest one. This explains why some of them are sited in places far off the beaten track.

Doing the laundry in times past

The lavoir normally consisted of a pool or a stone reservoir into which the spring flowed. Sometimes it was roofed but open to the sides, so it must have been jolly cold in the winter. Doing the laundry was a time-consuming, uncomfortable and tiring task, but the lavoirs were places where women congregated and exchanged news and gossip. They were part of the social fabric of rural France. Here are a few examples in our area:

Caylus lavoir

Many of the lavoirs you see in this region date back several centuries. However, the one in Caylus is much younger. The conseil municipal decided to construct one in 1922 and it was completed in 1925. Before that, it’s not clear where women did their washing. Perhaps they went down to the River Bonnette at the bottom of the village. The lavoir’s iron structure is unique, certainly in the region, and makes it look at bit like a bandstand.

Lavoir in Caylus

Unusually, this lavoir was not supplied from a natural water source, but from the village’s drinking water network, which had been updated a decade earlier. Local people say that the lavoir was in use up until the 1960s.

Urgent restoration

By the first decade of this century, the building had fallen into disrepair and was potentially dangerous. The roof structure also contained asbestos, which needed to be removed. Enter Association Caylus Notre Village (CNV), one of whose priorities has been to have the lavoir restored. The work began a few months ago. The concrete basins have been removed, the floor levelled and the surrounding walls made good. The iron structure is currently undergoing repair and restoration.

Preparing to remove the metal structure

After metal structure removed but before concrete basins demolished

The association’s former chairman, Jean-Paul Krintz, sadly died recently. He had taken a less active role in recent years, but could often be seen around the village with his camera. He took many of the photos before and during the restoration that are on the CNV website.

I met him in the Saturday market, held on the car park next to the lavoir, not long before he died. Jean-Paul told me that the lavoir was in use when he was a boy.

“My mates and I used to love playing in there,” he said. “We got under the ladies’ feet, so they splashed us with water to try to get rid of us!”

Lavoir humour

To finish, a lavoir joke (translated by me from the French). I can’t remember where I got this, but it might have been from Jean-Paul Krintz.

An elderly village priest didn’t want the local women to tell him during confession that they had been unfaithful to their husbands. Instead, when they had committed adultery they had to say, “Monsieur le curé, I’ve fallen in the lavoir.”

One day, a young priest arrived to replace the older one, who told him about village life and what went on. The day of confession arrived. A particular phrase kept cropping up: “Monsieur le curé, I’ve fallen in the lavoir.”

After a few weeks, the young priest went to see the mayor to request that he carry out work on the lavoir to avoid these recurring accidents. The mayor, who was fully aware of the famous phrase, patted him on the shoulder and reassured him, saying that it wasn’t serious and no one had ever been injured. The young priest replied, “If I were you, I would get this work done as soon as possible, since your wife fell in three times last week.”

You might also like:

Lovely Lavoirs 
A Village on the Causse: Varaire
A Traditional French Hamlet – Flouquet
End of an Era at the Hamlet of Flouquet

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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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10 Responses to Restoration of the Lavoir in Caylus

  1. Great joke…a classic. It’s wonderful that you have a group of enthusiasts looking after the patrimoine of your village. I wish we had them here. We have a great pigeonnier tower just falling to bits and the Mairie’s answer to dealing with anything historic is to entomb it in cement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      People in this area are pretty enthusiastic about the local patrimoine, but not before time. A lot of it has already crumbled away. Sorry that your local Mairie is less than sympathetic…

      Like

  2. What a great post – thanks so much for starting my day with a laugh!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Osyth says:

    I love the joke! And I love lavoirs. Rather like Lucinda Lambton and her ‘On the Throne’ history of toilets, I suppose. I get very excited when we happen upon them. This was a wonderful stroll round a few and I am happy that the Caylus facilities have been restored rather than allowed to disintegrate since it is a VERY unusual one indeed by the looks of the picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I laughed out loud when I was first sent the joke. I actually think it works better in French than in English – but that’s probably my translation. It’s a very rare structure and it seems a bit of a shame that it was only used for its original purpose for around 40 years. However, I’m quite sure the women were more than happy with the advent of the washing machine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        My mother comments often that the advent of the washing machine was the demise of life as we knew it because it heralded the ability to wash whenever you wanted to and laid lame the wash day of old

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        I suspect your mother of being a closet glutton for punishment if she bemoans the demise of washday! Having said that, going to the lavoir was a social as much as a practical event. I was talking to an elderly lady here who said that, rather than the washing machine, increasing car-ownership was what really liberated women who had previously been stuck in inaccessible places in la France profonde.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        My mother actually rebuffed a new washing machine in the 80s in favour of using the launderette I think precisely for the social side but that said she was really referring to the orderliness of a week, I think and one should be aware that she grew up in a house full of servants 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        When I was first married in the early 80s we didn’t have a washing machine and I went to the launderette in a village about 5 miles distant! I used to rather enjoy it, since there was an antique shop in which I would browse while waiting for the wash to finish. I still have a small pot-bellied jar that I bought there for £1 I think!

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