Monday, 8 June 2015

Hard labour

No matter what country we come from, where would homes, businesses and infrastructure have been without cobblestones, paving stones and mill stones? I live in a French town that specialised in supplying these products. But it meant truly hard labour for the employees, many of whom died earlier than they would have done in a gentler employment.

Epernon (in the Eure-et-Loir department) was, from the 19th century and even before, a town of sandstone quarries and millstones where more than 120km of material was extracted. At certain times, 40% of the population worked in open sky quarries where the production of these millstones would bring renown to Epernon from around the world.

 It was exhausting work for generations of quarry workers  for whom mechanisation arrived a little too late, in a time where all the quarries were already almost run out. The workers were suspect to various lung and hand maladies because of dust and stone splinters. Each building block and millstone and cobble stone had to be shaped by hand, carted by hand. What a hard job. All the wind and water mills, streets and buildings needed these products. The ancient quarries can still be viewed today via a self-guided walk through Epernon and towards Droue.
It was in prehistorique times this industry would first see the light of day. Later, Vauban (the King's great civic builder/architect) himself  chose the sandstone quarries of Epernon when Louis XIV decided to divert the waters of the Eure in order to make the great fountains of Versailles gush up. Heavy barges laden with stones went down the specially channelled Drouette River that flows through Epernon, to feed the construction site of the aqueduct at Maintenon - a three-storied aqueduct built to send water to Versailles but that was never finished because Louis ran out of money thanks to his war-mongering.

I'm a member of the local heritage society  and am currently translating some of their brochures into English. It's really interesting to learn about my neck of the woods and how it fits into the events of French history. It's also satisfying to make a voluntary contribution to local tourism.

A museum display is open to the public at the Conservatoire of Millstones and Cobblestones from the Epernon Basin.

23 avenue de la Prairie
28 230 Epernon

The conservatoire is open 01 May until 30 September
Visitors are welcome every Saturday 2pm to 6pm,
Sundays and public holidays 10am-12pm and 2pm until 6pm
Other days available for groups by appointment (10 persons minimum).



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