Sunday, 7 May 2017

Lavoirs - a snippet of social history for visitors of France


The village in which this washhouse (lavoir) is located, is devoid of a bakery and any shops, but it boasts a castle and a charming lavoir. The domed roof covering the spring, is particularly attractive.

It was a recent post from Fabously French that had me scouring my poorly archived photos for some images of lavoirs* – sign posts of a now fragile heritage.

Adjacent to the 13th century church that sits at the bottom of a steep incline in our village, is this colourfully decorated lavoir. The flowers are voluntarily grown and nurtured by the surrounding neighbours.

The quaintness and charm of surviving lavoirs, that can still be seen in many French villages today, usually belie the often gruelling demands of laundering in bygone eras. More than just a place of work, a lavoir also provided a place where women could meet and chat while attending to an extremely time consuming, and often arduous domestic chore. 

A quaint washhouse can just be seen to the right of this stream that runs through Beaune. 

Household laundry consisted mainly  of rags, cloths and the inner garments worn close to one’s skin. Bed linen and outer garments were washed sparingly.

This lavoir is located under the private home, shown below, and is constantly fed by a spring just a few metres uphill. There was no available information about the history the building. 



Scrubbing, thrashing and wringing out the sodden fabrics involved physical strength, mental stamina and having one’s hands constantly wet - despite the ambient temperature.

Adjacent to notre maison, is a set of stone stairs that descends to the foot of our village, where there is a wash house that would have served the past inhabitants of My French Folly.  The garden is the result of the generosity of the lady who lives opposite the perennial spring on which this washhouse is built.
This stray cat can usually be seen basking in the sun on the leaver walls.

Of course there was also the task of carting the laundry to and from the lavoir on roads that were often unpaved and not necessarily flat. The 3 lavoirs in our French village are located at the bottom of the hills - on which most houses are perched - where water continuously flows from underground springs.


*Lavoirs were communal spaces - often roofed -  in which the public could wash clothes. They were commonly used throughout Europe for hundreds of years before the advent of household laundries.  

Stepping into the cool dampness of this washhouse provided a welcomed relief from the heat outside.
A private washing "sink" located in an isolated hamlet in eastern France.

There is a school of carp of varying sizes that inhabits the waters under this roof.

The 2 images above are of a washhouse in an un named hamlet nestled in the hills around Louhans. 

Each time I descend this set of steps that winds downhill from My French Folly, and pass the lavoir that sits at its feet, my mind drifts to the past inhabitants of our French home. Water and sanitation had never been connected to our house when we purchased it.  The installation of these modern amenities was a costly exercise, fraught with unforeseen complications.



Twilight as we walked past the nearest lavoir to commence our climb  home, after a delightful
apero with some local friends.

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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful images with an interesting history . I'll keep an eye out for lavoirs when I'm in France this year.

SALLY said...


This was fascinating! I'd never heard of these wash houses and would love to see one! I wonder how many tourists pass them without knowing what they are! Thanks for the lesson!

Meine Dinge Franka said...

Merci
for your visit on my blog!!!


Stunning pictures of *the old France*.


♥ Franka

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...

What an interesting post. I love the photos and the history of these lavoirs.

Paulita said...

Elizabeth, How fascinating, and even the most mundane tasks look beautiful in France. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. I just posted one for May 8 if you get a chance to add your link there then more people might see it.
And thanks for the advice on finding a house that we can love in France.
Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

Jeanie said...

Elizabeth, I've never heard of this! It's fascinating and they are beautiful. I'm impressed that the community maintains the beautiful flowers. I think about doing laundry then and how complicated it is compared to now. I'm so grateful that at least the surroundings were very beautiful!

Thanks so much for coming over to The Marmelade Gypsy. I always enjoy your visits and your posts!

The French Hutch said...

I love reading the history of these small and charming villages and historical sites throughout France. Your photos are wonderful and I will enjoy scrolling back through and then tourning your blog posts. Thanks for following my blog, I'm certainly following you! Happy spring.

Burlap Luxe said...

Oh Elizabeth you live my dream, so much beauty here, I would love for someone to kidnap me and take me there holding me hostage...I can tell you this much I won't fight it.
The old lavoirs are great....we have a salvage yard here that I been meaning to stop in and talk them out of the one in the yard, it's so huge and nice dept to it....I want to use this round style for planting an herb garden in it.
I will keep you posted on it.

I want to mention your comment left behind over at my place joys my heart to hear...as for talent? Ummm! My dear you have tons of it.

Love the history lesson here....would love to see a post on old gutters, the pipes and the gutter hoppers.

Xx
Bisous

Doré

Lynne said...

Oh Elizabeth, I hope I am able to return to France once more in my life. I have visited as a teen, and with my parents and daughter in my 40's, but never with my husband.

We recently learned our time-share has acquired properties in France and Italy. Perhaps my dream has a better chance to become a reality one day.

Your images are always so beautiful. I love jumping into them.

w/L

NatureFootstep said...

it is like being moved back in history :) A beautiful part :)

At Rivercrest Cottage said...

thanks so much for this interesting glimpse at local French life in times past. The pictures were so helpful in understanding how the villages were set up.

Jillian's Bella Rosa Antiques said...

Lovely photos, great setting... lucky you! :) Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today!

Jillian's Bella Rosa Antiques said...

PS. I'd love to have you join us for "Let's Talk Vintage!" on my other shops blog, Vintage & Co. www.vintandco.com/blog

bettyl-NZ said...

What wonderful pieces of history! Maybe some day I will visit Europe and see things like this that the West doesn't have!