Crooked House

A country life in France

A Month in France: This Old French Cottage

Journal prompt 01/08/2020

We are all the latest in a long line of inhabitation of the land, whether human or non-human. Our sense of place can be a strong component of our identity, and I think it is of value to discover more about it, and record the stories attached to it – which in the end are all part of our own life narrative.

Do you have any features or artefacts in your house or garden that directly recall previous occupants? If so, please tell us about what you can see. If you don’t, do you know anything about the house and land upon which your home now stands? What and who came before? If you don’t know, it might be of interest to find out.

https://rozcawley.typepad.com/autumn_cottage_diarist/2020/08/a-month-in-the-country-1-this-old-little-brick-house.html

We bought our house a little over two years ago. We hadn’t intended to buy a house and were happily living in a van and exploring Europe. To completely ignore a very long and most boring story, it turned out that we did need a home address so we bought a small (didn’t want to spend time and effort on upkeep when we would prefer to travel) and cheap property. It was a work-in-progress but I have to admit that it has made no progress and seen no work. We however have seen much of France, a great deal of both Spain and Portugal, and also some of Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Very much a work in progress, only without the progress. Only the weeds progress. We have made inroads but you should have seen it when we returned from six weeks away!

The most obvious feature in my house is the exposed beams upstairs, one of which is inscribed with a date. We have just flicked through the deeds but cannot find any evidence of this date matching the construction, though it seems likely that is what it represents.

1847

There are cursive writings in what appears to be crayon but I have not been able to decipher them:

I think this writing was done prior to construction as it runs behind…
…and carries on

The beams themselves expose the fact that our house is “country-built” – it was clearly a rough and ready construction and I can readily imagine it having been built by folk who were not craftsmen but perhaps a farming family or farm labourers.

The beams are rough-hewn
There is much evidence of odd infills and strappings…
Generally cobbled together

I know nothing of our house’s history, not through lack of curiosity but a lack of language skills with which to enquire.

When we first came to view the property I was drawn to it immediately when I saw the area at the back of the house. Our property partly forms an open square, occupying two sides of a grassy area, with our neighbour’s rambling property along the third. Her estate is clearly formed of what was several small cottages and farm buildings.

Our property line runs between that slab of stone (MUST get rid of!) and my neighbours lovely planters. The larger of the pair of outbuildings visible to the left of the vehicles.

Our house is small and now consists of a kitchen and sitting room downstairs, with a built-on porch at the rear. Stairs lead off the kitchen and up to a tiny landing between our bedroom and a smaller room. A door into the bathroom from our bedroom is reached by ducking the beams and many bumps and bruises originated from a mistimed duck in our early days here. It soon became second nature and can now be safely navigated in the dark. There is a small door between the bathroom and the other upper room, making it possible to travel full circle if desired. This comes in handy when wishing to confine a cat.

The current form of the house must say much about the succession of owners over the years, if only we could see each stage of change and know who did what and why and how. I feel that when we do begin work on completing the house that we should document what we do and leave it with the house (though I do not anticipate selling my house and expect to be carried out in a box.)

There was previously an adjoining grange – not so grand as it sounds because in France that is the name given to what we English might term a barn, a byre, a cow shed… It was knocked down before we bought the house and now forms our “terrasse”. Terrasse also sounds grand but it appears to be nothing more than the rubble from the grange, topped with weed suppression material and a light coat of gravel in part. I have ambition though!

it’s not pretty but I feel that it has great potential once we stop travelling the world. I see a rock garden waiting to happen, don’t you?

What remains of the wall is quite lovely, with window frames evident, all overgrown with ivy.

I like this feature

There remains one feature from the more recent past and that is the concrete feeding trough that runs along the end wall. Currently planted with Irises, I want to make a herb garden there one day soon. I have urgent need to lift and separate the irises and remove the grass and weeds. I know exactly where I would like to transplant the irises to but at the moment we lack garden tools and are also away from home too often to be gardeners.

Much work needing to be done! I plan to move the irises. I think the feed troughs would be ideal for shallow-rooted herbs etc.

Turning a right angle (I see a Ceanothus in my future) with the terrasse is a pair of charming ramshackle outbuildings and I can only guess whether this was always the use or if they once were labourers’ cottages.

A pair of outbuildings

My neighbour’s property is far larger than ours and much neater! She has a beautiful garden on the far side of this wing that appears to be formed of a pair of former cottages and a grange or two of differing vintage.

Those big old oak barn doors are amazing and so is that big old fig tree to the right of them.

The effect of this square is captivating (when our vehicles are not parked there, otherwise it is less so) and my vivid imagination brought forth the daily busyness that must have been there. I saw labourers cutting wood, mending implements and so on and rosy-cheeked wives hanging out their laundry, children and hens around their feet, and perhaps a horse or two tied up somewhere.

I confess that I found it entirely seductive and we offered on the house on the spot!

One piece of history that we are aware of: the pharmacist in a nearby village, on noting our address, told us that he knew a man who used to live here. He said that the man was quite eccentric and had built three pig sties, and had painted them in the National colours; with a door in each of Blue, White and Red. It was many years ago and he didn’t suppose that the piggery had survived. Well, it has. It is directly opposite our house and once we knew about it, the colours became clear – even if we hadn’t noticed it before!

A piggie Tricoleur – the colours have faded over the years but now we understand their significance it is easy to imagine the doors boldly splashed with Blue, White and Red.

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