Friday 16 May 2014

Pigeon Holes

Two years ago, working in the Civil Service, the term pigeon holes had a very different meaning for me than it does today. Back then (well it seems so long ago) pigeon holes were places where you left messages or correspondence for colleagues. Today I have the real thing – several in fact. Holes for pigeons cut into the walls of the barn. At some point they would have had wooden boxes attached to the inside to provide nests for pigeons whilst denying them access to the entire interior of the barn. The pigeons would have been a source of food for the people who lived here. Maybe the eggs were a source of food too but I haven’t found anyone who can confirm or deny that.

In renovating the barn the practical thing to do, would be to block up the old holes and point the walls inside and out. The other night though, I inadvertently left the light on in the barn and was amazed at the beauty of these relatively small and random pin-pricks of light that beamed out of the barn walls thanks to these old apertures. So the pigeon holes have to stay.

They need glassing in somehow and the shapes of the apertures are random to say the least. First attempt will be to see if glass bricks sold in DIY shops will do the trick. If that doesn’t work then maybe some Perspex can be cut to size and sealed in with mastic – either way a solution will have to be found because I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. But there again this is a frugal blog, maybe I should get some pigeons and follow the old ways.


Thursday 1 May 2014

The Barn

Many old French houses come with some form of outbuilding. Often the outbuildings are in need of
renovation. This can be quite appealing to purchasers because it seems to offer an opportunity for the new owner to put his stamp on the place. As often as not however, these outbuildings are never renovated partly because the enormity of upgrading the main house has been underestimated, partly because most people simply don't need the additional space and partly because a fully renovated barn doesn't necessarily add value to the eventual selling price. In my case though, I need the barn as a music studio - I tend to make a lot of noise. I also want somewhere where people can stay without feeling that they are tied to me. A place where they can be independent.

This little place where I live is a stone’s throw from the Rance Estuary a beautiful stretch of water navigable all the way from St Malo to Dinan and then, if you drop your mast, you can keep on going south by river and canal all the way to Vannes and the Atlantic. The sister blog to this ‘Simple Sailing Low Cost Cruising’ (Lavillemain blogspot) records my plans to do just that. In the meantime here are some pics of the work in progress on my barn. I hope you notice the incredible roof beams – beautiful!

Now my carpenter tells me that he hasn’t seen anything like them on a barn or house before and he wondered whether they had been built by a sailor or shipbuilder. Funny he should think of that because during my research into the history of this property I came to the same conclusion – via a different route.

Each department in France has its archives and some of the material in some of the archives has been placed on line. In the deepest darkest days of last winter I took time to make an internet search of local archive material (Dept 22). In doing so I discovered two types of document that can be inspected on line.

The first was the official State map (Cadastre) for various dates in the 19th Century for my town and its surroundings. From that I was able to identify my house and confirm that it has existed for a long time. Secondly, I was able to inspect the census returns for each six years from about 1840.

Two interesting things I discovered, First, the population of this little hameau was much greater in years gone by. Second, most of the male population were described as sailors. They would take small boats from here to St Malo and sign up for work on the Terra Neuva’s – great fishing vessels which hunted cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Often they would be gone for six months at a time, returning via Spain and Portugal where the salted Cod was sold to feed the largely Catholic population.

The women meanwhile tended their plots, grew and sold a surplus of vegetables when they could and kept a cow or goat tethered by the roadside. After the voyage men often returned with new skills, woodworking, boat repairing, sail making etc. After a good trip they also came home with money in their pockets – enough to purchase the materials they needed to build or repair a house or barn. Now the skeleton of a roof is nothing more than a simple upturned boat. The skills learned on the boat therefore, were transferred to house-building. That’s how I think I got my barn.