Archive for the ‘village history’ Category

Interesting vintages   Leave a comment

I found this the other day, and took it up to our vigneron friends in the village. I expected it to be vinegar – but with a hard wax seal around the cork, Charles was hopeful. It was bliss. Delicate nectar – smooth with a faint sweet/sour finish.
It simply says on the ‘etiquette‘ Tokay, and vin de pays de l’Aude. Tokay is known as a sweet white wine from Hungary‘s Tokay region, which is made primarily from the Furmint grape, in a similar style to Sauternes. Wineries make Tokaji with semi-dry grapes that have had ‘noble rot’ take hold. The grapes in this state are called Aszu. Charles had never heard of this stuff having been made in the region – but Monsieur de Longueval had a reputation for eccentricity.

The house had stood empy for 30 years when we bought it in 1999 – so we reckoned it was 40 years old. They came from the cellars which extend the fullsize of the house. There are four ‘tonneaux’ or ‘foudres’ on each side. They contained over 2000 litres each, and must have been constructed in situ, when the Maison de Maitre was built in 1863 – as the doorways are too low & narrow.

Next is a 1943 vintage. Charles had heard of similar finds – usually bricked into walls. What better place for la résistance to hide its ammunition – in this case, rifle bullets – than in among the Boss’s wine?
The German army did in fact occupy the village – and spent many an evening enjoying Pierre de Longueval’s hospitality.

However two young maquisards from the village were shot in reprisal for an ambush, in the last days of the war.

German reprisals


Village People   Leave a comment

Mons = Moux on the hand-drawn Cassini map of France (1750-1820)

Earliest recorded mention of Moux (mooks, ok) also Mous, Mons.
1110. “villa de Murso”
1215 In an ownership arbitration the village known as “Mozie” was signed to the infamous count Simon de Monfort (he of the Cathar cult burnings.)
1246 In the reign of Louis IX, Mossio is assigned in favour of Raymond de Capendu .
1303 Guillelmus de Mossio is named on an inscription in Narbonne.
1309 P. de Mossio, a knight templar of the Diocèse de Narbonne was called for questioning, to Paris.
1377 Mossio is reduced to ’10 feux d’imposition’ (feu = fire) that is, to be taxed on ten hearths, or houses (with 60 inhabitants i.e. av. 6 people per house)
1709 Mous imposé pour 46 feux (170 habitants, or av. 4 per household)
1818 Moux had 440 habitants
1830 435
1831 504
1851 676
1882 933
1900 1200
1906 1093
1910 1210
1928 1034
1962 771
1998 545

In 1906 the village had six épiceries (general grocer) one selling Spanish produce, and once a week two épiciers ambulants came to the village: Antoine of Lézignan and Caiffa from Carcassonne.There were three bakeries who delivered bread to your door,and two butchers. The charcutier (cooked/prepared meats) of Capendu came once a week.
The village needed many skilled artisans: two bourreliers (harness-makers), three maréchaux-ferrants (blacksmiths, who were also horse-vets by necessity.) One charron(cart or wagon-maker). Two cordonniers (cordwainers’ or boot/shoemakers). One shoe shop. Three barrel-makers and one foudrier, a big barrel-maker, plus one serrurier, a locksmith. For kitchenware there were two ferblantiers – tinsmiths capable of making and re-tinning copper pans, and working with zinc (fer = iron/metal + blanc.)
There were four cafés : le Grand café which was also the state-controlled tobacconist ‘bureau de Tabac’, the Café du Commerce which for a time was a small dancehall and a cinema, before becoming a cabinet-maker’s workshop,ébéniste, and now an artist’s studio. The one on the place St Régis is gone leaving no trace; and lastly the Café du Midi: it’s the only one remaining and is now run by a Harley Davidson fan and decorated with Cowboy & Injun gear, his other passion. He decided last week to hang out a load of American flags – but managed inadvertently to get the stars and the stripes upside down (no disrespect …)
There were three cammionneurs, lorry-men or truckers – quite a modern breed of driver in a rural scene where horses were still in use fifty years on.Two négociants de vin, wine wholesalers: one of whom, Marcaillou, had his own branch-line or siding and a loading-bay at the station. The other, Hippolyte Clément, left behind one of his barrels in our cellar. It’s still sound after a century, and I rolled it out today for use as a rain-butt this summer.

Then there were two animal-feed merchants. And two doctors and a dispensing chemist. Two mason-builders and three plasterers. Gastaud, the carpenter, Balestre the horloger, clockmaker. One sage-femme, mid-wife, Catherine Médus. But the four coiffeurs hairdressers were all men! And one shop selling cloth, ribbon, and fancy items – confections.
Two postmen and one priest l’abbé Sénégre. There were hundreds of children – so: four lay schools – two for boys and two for girls – and a small school run by an order of nuns. These kind souls owned a piece of land, a large walled garden just next to our house, where the children were set to work growing vegetables and fruit for the order. An elderly neighbour recalls them having to whistle while they worked – so the nuns could be sure they were not eating any of the produce.
Opposite the station was a tuilerie, tile-factory – which would have been a large building with a tall chimney: but not a trace remains. There was also a four à chaux, lime-kiln for hydrating chalk into lime suitable for plaster, built near a small quarry on the slopes of Mont Alaric behind the village. Still standing at the edge of the village on a rise, is the base of one of two windmills, for flour and other grains. In mediaeval times, the miller would also have baked the bread for the village – and also produced ‘Fuller’s Earth’ for removing the grease from wool and other hides.
The slopes of Alaric and the plain below were home to numerous flocks of sheep and goats – there were two creameries. The staging-post of former times had become a simple Post Office La Poste, its inn becoming a private house. The horse-drawn mail-coach was replaced in 1857 by the chemin de fer, and new hotels were needed, one at the station, and another, the Hôtel Montagne, at the edge of the village. This has been pulled down and is now a small park. The station was very busy in the first decades of the new century, full of passengers and merchandise – there was even a refreshments stall, and a library – but few of these buildings remain.
Not mentioned in the above list, are the ‘grandes familles’ – the landowners and wine barons. And among these dozen are the two names that interest me: the Escourrou family who in 1863 built this Maison de Maitre – and the De Longueval family who married into it, and from whom we bought it.
There is another list of names, much shorter, on the monument erected to the memory of those who lost their lives in the Great War. There were 37 who did not return to the village alive. One of the humblest was Sylvain Roquefort, one of the four coiffeurs. And one of the grandest was Jacques Escourrou – the son of the house. He was 37 when he died in 1917 – and the war was soon to bring another tragedy into the life of Claire, his sister. She had met, and fallen in love with one of two brothers, a young nobleman from the North – Francois de Longueval.

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

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The bells of Moux   Leave a comment

The bells sound three times a day: at 7am to signal the start of the working day – at noon to tell the vineyard workers that it was time for lunch – and again at pm to let us all know the working day is over, and that quiet should reign.

The concept is simple and effective – I no longer wear a watch – but is unique among the villages around. The carillon however is quite complex – try it yourself.

Moux bell tower

Next are the same three church bells, ringing the carillon known in French as ‘le glas’ The knell rang out this week for Huguette Durand, ‘vieille-fille’ or spinster of 86 on an extaordinarily dark, still evening. Or the lens cap was left on.

‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.’

Click to hear Le Glas

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

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The train arrives in Moux   Leave a comment

Vendangeuses – Paul Sibra. Text J. Lebrau ‘Ceux du Languedoc’ 1946

Moux looks north out over the valley between two ranges of mountains : the Montagnes Noires which are the last slopes of the great raised upland of France’s Massif Central – and the Corbières range which run south until they form the foothills of the Pyrenées.

I’m giving this geography to explain why the village has at various times in its history offered lodging to kings and queens of France, and a pope, at its inn. The valley is the only route possible for transport. Road and motorway, river and Canal – all had to squeeze past Moux.
Moux is situated on the voie Aquitaine (or voie Royale) – a comfortable day’s ride exactly halfway between Carcassonne (mediaeval centre of the wool-trade) and the erstwhile Roman port of Narbonne. Thus it was that during a relatively peaceful period in the Wars of Religion – between 1563 and 1567 – Catherine de Médicis undertook a voyage in Languedoc at the end of 1564 – start of 1565. The cortège was impressive: the queenmother was accompagned not only by the young king Charles IX (13 years old), but also by the future kings François II and Henri III, Marguerite de Valois, (the future queen Margot) plus Ronsard, official poet of the court. ‘Tout cet équipage passa donc la nuit à Moux, le 11 janvier 1565.’
That was quite enough excitement for one century. Eighty years later the village gave the next VIP a warm welcome. In October 1632 Louis XIII passed the night at Mous (Moux). During the night a fire – started possibly by enemies – threatened the chambers where he lay sleeping. The king, his daughters and the queen, were all forced to run from the building at midnight, and take shelter with a neighbour.
Then in December of 1664 experts working for Pierre Paul Riquet, Baron de Bonrepos, stayed in Moux while surveying possible routes for the Canal du Midi, to link Bordeaux on the west coast to Narbonne on the Mediterranean. Their study found however that there was too great a rise to overcome here, and the channel was cut a few kilometers away. The whole project nearly bankrupted the visionary Baron, who died shortly before the canal opened, in 1681. It remains a masterpiece of construction, has needed very few repairs in 250 years – and is rightly a World Heritage site.
Next along comes the Pope. On February 2nd 1814 Pope Pious VII passed one night at Moux. ‘ Qu’on se figure un vieillard de 72 ans, d’une taille élevée, un peu courbé, le teint pâle, mais animé d’un regard le plus doux, par la physionomie la plus vénérable.’
‘ Picture then an old man of 72, tall but slightly stooped, with a pale complexion – enlivened however by the most gentle expression, in the most venerable of faces. (my own rather creaky translation). He had been encountered, on his way to Moux, by the Innkeeper – who hadn’t recognised him.
It was the arrival of the Voie Ferrée that had the greatest effect on the village. The line linking Bordeaux and Marseille was the brainchild of two brothers: Emile and Isaac Pereire. The inauguration took place on 22 April 1857 of the line joining ‘ l’Océan à la Méditerranée’ – with the brothers travelling from opposite directions to shake hands. Fortunately not at Moux – there might well have been a head-on crash.
Jean Lebrau, one of our village’s many poets, wrote in Images de Moux: ‘Sur la page d’un vieux dictionnaire, mon grand père avait consigné en une ronde impressionnante (set down, in impressive script) : “La locomotive est passée à Moux pour la première fois le 18 fèvrier de l’année 1857 à 9 heures du matin et à 3 heures de demie du soir”.’

Moux station 1900

All over europe Steam was driving the industrial revolution, powering factories, conveying goods and people to cities and ports. This train would make the fortunes of some farmers : traditional crops such as olives (Moux was one of the major suppliers of plants for export to South America), wheat, mulberries and lucerne, were progressively abandonned in favour of vines. By 1900 small farmers had become rich – rich ones, millionaires.

And the sons and daughters of the rich were sent out from their little villages to boarding-schools in nearby towns. Thus we would find, on Sunday afternoons on the platform at Moux : Jean Lebrau, sensitive schoolboy poet and Claire Escourrou, whose mother had just died, waiting together for the train that would take them away to their schools in Carcassonne.

Trains don’t stop here anymore.

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

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a taxi to the trenches   Leave a comment

Every town and village in France has its ‘monument aux enfants morts pour la France’. Moux too paid its price for the failures of politicians and princes.
Claire Escourrou had already begun to learn the meaning of loss.

Claire’s mother, Marie Hospitalot of Serviès-en-Val, married Paul Escourrou in 1885 when she was 19. She gave birth to Jacques a year later. She returned to her parents in Serviès for the birth of Claire in 1890.
But before Claire had reached 16 she had lost both of her Moux grandparents – old Hippolyte and Anne – and her mother. She was left with the men of her family: father Paul and brother Jacques, and the cook/housekeeper Maria Oulieu. There were maids and servants, ostlers and gardeners.
She was sent to boarding-school in Carcassonne – less than an hour away with the newly-arrived railway service stopping at Moux station. She received many invitations from family & friends, and travelled a good deal. Girl friends of her age and social class came to stay for religious Fete-days, and the more frivolous Fair-days. She was the young lady of a large mansion with her own maid and a car and chauffeur at her disposal. After the early losses in her life one hopes that the half-dozen years before the war, before she turned twenty, were happy and unclouded.
Within a month of the outbreak of war – it is indeed like an eruption of disease, or madness – her beloved cousin Philippe Hostalot was killed in the first battle of the Marne. Together with his wife Marthe and their children he had given young motherless Claire holidays in the elegant spa towns of the Pyrennees and by the sea in Brittany.

The war cemetery for the French regiments of this battle – so near Paris that an emergency battalion of troops was driven to the front in a fleet of 300 taxis, has only a few hundred graves. Outnumbering them by far are the plaques commemorating the lost men. Philippe Hostalot was a professional soldier, a captain. He led his men into a hail of machinegun fire: there were not enough remains to allow a burial. The Legion d’Honneur award was sent to his widow in the little hamlet of Seviès-en-Val. Claire’s visits there to see her Hospitalot grandparents would no longer have the carefree joys of those years, before the War to End All Wars began.

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

A big old house in a little old village   Leave a comment

When we first came to the village, almost the first people we got to know were Charles & Isabelle Simpere.

They are small, independent vignerons who make the Corbières Rouge that flows freely during our summer courses. A few days ago Mary & I called up to pay them a visit and pick up our weekly 5 litres (gallon) of wine (six euros/ 9 dollars?). These visits start off as ‘juste un petit moment’ – and can end up way past midnight. This time we were being sensible: I brought up an old bottle of Tokay from la cave as a curiosity – not thinking it would be anything more than vinegar. We’ve done nothing with la cave since we came eight years ago, and the place has been uninhabited since 1969. The corks in most of the bottles have perished – though a few were sealed with hard wax.

So – first surprise: it was delicious! Then we started speculating about the label: Domaine des Lys, Arquettes-en-Val and why the De Longueval family would have kept bottles of it. And that led to me and my researches into the history of the house and the Escourrou family – and how I had found the old negatives of Claire Escourrou. The atmosphere got slightly electric at this point with Isabelle and Charles looking at each other in a strange way. She revealed that she too has been fascinated by Claire Escourrou for many years – and that she was in possession of a box of documents relating to her and her brother Jacques and other people in the household.
But it was getting late, and we had vowed to be sensible that evening. So we left, fairly sober, but immensely intrigued – and planned ‘une soirée Escourrou’ as soon as possible.

They came round yesterday evening at six with more litres of rose and red and it didn’t wind up ’til gone 12. Isabelle had brought a shoe-box full of postcards and letters. Many years ago, when the house had been closed up and had become the Haunted Mansion to the children of the village, it was a game of Dare for the bravest boys & girls to climb into the walled garden and find a way in to the house. And when their own children came home with a box of WW11 ammunition, Charles thought he had better investigate. So one night, twenty years ago, he too climbed the tree that gave access to the Cook’s house (where we live) and thence through passageways in to the Big House. It was still full of antique furniture then; huge dark wardrobes, gilded chairs and enormous paintings – and a library decorated ‘à la japonnaise’ with red flock panels in gilt bamboo frames. His bag of swag included the box of correspondence – the bag itself was a German army jute sack, stamped with the two-winged emblem of the Third Reich.

The letters and cards were to Claire, to and from Jacques, and to Paul Escourrou, their father. Then there were dozens to other people whose role in their lives is only gradually becoming clear: cards from cousins and nieces & nephews, and uncles & aunts, new year greetings from girl friends, and the occasional suitor. There nowhere appeared the name of her mother, nor any reference to her. There was however one person that seemed to play a central role in her life: Maria Oulieu, the cook or housekeeper – and everyone who wrote to either Claire or Jacques included Maria in their affectionate greetings. And it must have been here, in this little house attached to the side of the mansion, that she lived.
How or when Claire’s mother died (or left) is unknown. There are just one or two people in the village, in their eighties, who might know – then there is Thérèse de Longueval, Claire’s daughter. But she is a formidable personnage, well over 80 and living in Paris.
The correspondence begins in the years leading up to the Great War – mostly the trivialities of ‘highdays & holidays’ – the life of a teenage girl attending a weekly boarding-school in nearby Carcassonne, spending long stretches of the summer with her maternal grandparents, at Serviès-en-Val where she was born.

This is – we think – Claire, Grandmother Hospitalot, Maria the Housekeeper

When the war started she was 21. Henceforth the cards she receives become more sombre: there is anxiety about Jacques (born three years before her, but in Moux) who had joined up in 1910 – and many cards from cousins thanking her for the money and food she sends to them all: to the men in the trenches and to the women & children left behind. The handwriting is faint and small and dense, the spelling and grammar often appalling and I need good light and a magnifying-glass to decypher it all.
Mary and I are heading off now to Serviès-en-Val, for a bright cold sunday afternoon in the graveyard.

Posted December 8, 2007 by Richard Williams in village history

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