Monday, 4 March 2013

Some nearby lavoirs (old wash houses)

A lavoir is a public place in France set aside for the washing of clothes in earlier times. They are generally sited on, or adjacent to, a spring or river, providing clean and clear running water. Some are set on small diversions of the main stream, often showing ingenious engineering solutions in their design!

Some are very basic, but many of them, as you will see below,  are provided with roofs for shelter from the weather.  To many people, they provide a fascinating glimpse into past French cultural heritage, where not only was washing done, but the ladies of the village could exchange gossip and information.

Ther are many thousands of them throughout France and 882 are logged in the Charente alone, all in various states of repair!!

Some lavoirs are said to date back to the 10th century, but as plumbing was put into more homes, and water became easily available, many of them fell into disrepair. in 1851, a law was passed to compel every municipality, (for the sake of hygiene) to build a covered wash place where water flowed.  The wealthiest municipalities built the fanciest examples! It is good  to see that many have been restored as a reminder of the old days and they are now great tourist attractions.

 The lavoir at St Adjutory, on the river Bellone, is believed to have been built just after 1840, next to a stone road bridge spanning the small river. Note the sturdy oak and stone structure!

This lavoir, as you can see, has a roof and a protecting wall on the north side; this originally had a door in it, which could be closed to protect against the coldest winds. Note the big piece of stone, used either for seating or as a surface for beating or scrubbing the linen.
 Despite the sides of the lavoir here being covered with mud from all the rain we have had, I imagine there would have been a clean place on each side to stand or kneel to do your washing!


To avoid draughts, the arched opening in the bridge is closed by a fixed wooden panel, with another sliding panel below it, capable of being raised or lowered, according to the water level.


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 This enclosed lavoir at Montemboeuf seems to be a total mystery.  It is marked on the large scale ramblers' map, which is how we found it, but there is no history that we have been able to find so far.  On a later visit to the mairie, we were told it was on private property and they had no information!

It looks very smart and well enclosed but sadly the door was locked!

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The lavoir at La Folie, Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure
 has a tiled roof with three sides walled.
  
You can see the presence of a wheel to raise or lower the gate, which controls the water flow. As the water was flowing fast when were there, it was presumably fully open !


it is situated just below the bridge on a small lane, beside the old road to Limoges, see red arrow, and would have supplied washing facilities for the houses in the adjacent hamlet of La Folie.

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This large, but very basic, 5 sided lavoir at Etamenat is now maintained  by a neighbour.  We are told that there is a constant flow of water here, winter and summer and fish have now taken up residence!  There is no obvious sign that it ever had a roof over it.

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I have left to last the one which I consider to be the most beautiful; this is at Lascoux on the river Son. "River" overstates it a bit!!; it normally has a width of 3 or 4 metres (10-13 feet), but has been flooding over the winter, as you can see below.
It  is again sited next to a road bridge over the river and has recently been restored using traditional techniques and materials.

Three washing  large stones still remain!

The water in the main river has been diverted by manually digging a side "arm" which runs through the lavoir, as you can see here. This was done presumably to create a narrower  and more protected water flow, and to perhaps reduce the  effect of the polluting washing soap on the main river.  

I hope that you enjoyed this insight into life in France as it was before water arrived on tap!   I have to say I am very happy that I have a washing machine and that I do not have to trudge down to a lavoir a couple of time a week, regardless of the weather, all year round, as ladies in former times would have had to do!







See also - My Life Before Charente Updated 04/03/2013

and my daily photo diary  HERE
http://photodiarydps.blogspot.com 


85 comments:

  1. I have always loved finding these lavoirs in France. One can only imagine the work, sweat, and perhaps fun that went on during the washing of the clothes. We need to remember this when we drop our laundry into the modern washing machines. I am so glad they are being restored/maintained. Thank you for sharing. Susan

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    1. Susan we did not realise just how many there are still around until we started looking for them. I am also happy that many have been restored. I agree though the thought of trudging down to the river to do the washing is beyond me! Take care Diane

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  2. A wonderful insight into rural France in a very different era .... times were tougher then but I'm sure those women made many lasting friendships while chatting in the washer-rooms.
    Thanks for this lovely post Diane and hoping you have a great week.

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    1. Dianne, you are right about friendships but I would prefer to make friends at our weekly French scrabble! Taxes the brain but is at least warm and comfy! Enjoy your week. Diane

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  3. wow...i never knew about these but they make total sense! they are very pretty. i would love to have one on my property!

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    1. Jaz many of them are very pretty and some of the restored ones quite beautiful. Take care Diane

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  4. What an interesting read this was. I have often seen this buildings but did not pay much attention to what they were for, but now I know!

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    1. Vera, glad to have told you something you did not know. I thought that you might have been using one while you were still living in the caravan LOL. Have a good week Diane

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  5. I had no idea how many of these still existed. I agree with Susan that we should be grateful for the modern washing machine and think of the lavoirs when we drop our clothes in our machines. However I also suspect the conversations were lively and entertaining while one did their laundry and, even though the laundry work was difficult, the friendships associated with this chore gave people pleasure.
    Sam

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    1. Sam we had no idea either until we started looking for them, they are all over the place! I am very happy that we have other means of washing nowadays, despite the fact I may of made a lot more friends. Keep well Diane

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  6. There's a site...petite patrimoine...which lists a lot of the lavoirs in France, department by department, with a lot of other interesting stuff as well.

    At my first house, a pool up the road served as the washing place...my elderly neighbour remembered using it, and remembered too the sharp eyes of the other women, quick to note if the 'monthly' cloths were being washed...

    At the last house, a bend in the river was used as a washing place...no lavoir installed...and again an elderly neighbour recalled how they would have to drag the wash from the stones when the abattoir upstream flushed out its installations.

    On the bigger rivers there were bateaux lavoirs...for the professional washerwomen known as lavandeuses.

    But bateaux lavoirs or village lavoir, it was no place for men to venture...the language could be somewhat salty...as the son of the Marquise found out in 'Clochemerle'.

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    1. Fly just had a look at the site, and yes there is a lot of info there but much is missing. Never the less I will certainly use it for when we are going to other places as it is very useful, Thanks.

      Yes there are many wash places which are just puddles as such. Our local one is just a spring with a wall on one side. Some bright farmer now grows water cress in it!

      Ha ha I would love to be able to listen in to all the women chattering away with their salty stories LOL. Have a good week and I hope both of you are well Diane

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  7. Cela fait très longtemps que je n'ai pas vu de lavoirs. Cela me rappelle beaucoup de littérature lue aussi.
    A bientôt

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    1. Nous avons Lavoirs nombreux ici. Je suis heureuse d'avoir une machine à laver! Bonne journée. Diane

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  8. I find it fascinating how different homes and other structures are region to region including these lavoirs. As you say there are one or more lavoir in most villages in the Vaucluse but I have never seen like these or connected to a stream. Thanks for sharing. I always learn.

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    1. Michel all the ones we have seen here seem to be connected to a river, stream or spring. I am not sure how it would work if they did not have running water next to them. We must have a look at others when we travel around to see what they are like. Take care Diane

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  9. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, Diane. It is amazing how varied they are in their construction. Most of us move so quickly through France when we visit, that this is the type of thing we'd miss, so I'm especially glad that you shared your photos with us. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary.

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    1. Mary we have missed most of France to the North of us, we drive through on the highways and see nothing of interest! Glad you enjoyed the post. Take care Diane

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  10. I bet these lavoirs made life so much easier for people before modern household appliances. They look like they are really sturdy structures that were built to last!

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    1. Pam I am sure it was easier than washing in a bucket, but even so it must have been a hard life. Hopefully they will last, and people for many years to come will see how things were done in the old days! Keep well Diane

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  11. We have a lavoir in our village and it is located right next to the campsite -- so we do occasionally see it in use! Very interesting post and great photos!

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    1. The Broad, yes I guess if you are camping that would be the ideal way to get items washed. There is one close to the camp-site in Chasseneuil but I am not sure that it is ever used. Have a good day. Diane

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  12. Great subject and a nice selection. I also enjoy spotting these old wash houses when I'm out on my assignments - I enjoy thinking about how they used to be, a hive of activity and the best place to pick up on the latest gossip!

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    1. Thanks Tim, since we found the first Lavoir they now seem to be popping up all over the place! The gossip would have been great, but I think I prefer to wash alone with my washing machine! Have a good day Diane

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  13. wow how interesting new to me they still wash clothes like this in India

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    1. Rebecca there are probably several places that people still wash by the rivers as electricity still does not reach everywhere. Places in Africa also they carry water for miles. I can only say I am happy that I am not in that situation. Take care Diane

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  14. I have just had a lovely browse around your blog ... many thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hello Andrew and thanks for the comment and following, much appreciated. Have a great week Diane

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  15. I am so grateful for plumbing and washing machines. Love the history here. I can vision the ladies coming to the wash house and sharing stories of their life or family. Have a great day Diane.

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    1. Becca I feel the same way I don't think I could have coped with weekly trips to the river to do my washing! The gossip part would be great but.... Hope you have sorted out your camera. Diane

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  16. I agree with you, these lavoirs are fascinating. We have seen them in so many French towns. We have seen them being used in one or two places, with groups of black-clad women slapping their sheets and gossiping. It might have been in Brittany, can’t remember.

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    1. Friko I have yet to see a Lavoir in use but maybe one day.... Take care and have a good week. Diane

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  17. You always show us such cool things. I've never heard about them... didn't know what I was looking at when I saw them. Now I do. Great pics of them too... many thanks!

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    1. lostpastremembered it seems you are not the only one who did not know about Lavoirs :-) We are now on the search for them everywhere we go. Take care Diane

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  18. je suis attirée par les lavoirs

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    1. Une Angevine, Merci pour votre aimable commentaire. Bonne semaine. Diane

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  19. Hi Diane .. loved these pictures of your lavoir - I'll join you in not wishing to go down to the local stream and scrub clothes on the washstones ...

    Great history - and interesting it was in 1851 that the French woke up to the fact hygiene helped protect its peoples .. much the same as the UK ..

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Hilary glad you enjoyed this post, but yes can you imagine having to go there to do your washing! Hope that you have a good week, Diane

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  20. What a very interesting selection. The setting at the bottom is gorgeous!

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    1. JM the last one is in a lovely position and was my favourite. Keep well Diane

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  21. That is so interesting...Having traveled through France, I have no doubt that I cam across a lavoire but had no idea what I was looking at-Thanks for sharing that information with us. next time, I will have a whole new appreciation.

    Velva

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    1. Velva it is a pleasure to share information, hopefully you will see some very pretty Lavoirs next time you travel. Keep well Diane

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  22. Très joli reportage sur les lavoirs! Quel progrès la machine à laver n'est -ce pas?
    J'ai connu cela quand j'étais toute petite, ma maman m'interdisait d'approcher pour ne pas tomber dans le bassin !

    Bonne journée à vous!

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    1. Vous mère a eu une vie difficile avec le lavage. Je suis heureuse d'avoir une machine à laver. Bonne journée. Diane

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  23. Very beautiful.:-) Hugs Stina

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  24. Wow, that's very interesting, I have never seen a wash house before. We used to wash clothes in a river when I was a kid.

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    1. Rose thing have changed so much in the last few years. It would be hard for the people of 100 years ago to comprehend what has happened in life now, what with all the electrical equipment including computers! Take care Diane

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  25. interesting! if you never tell, just by looking at the pictures, i couldnt guess that it's place for washing clothes. so i guess people at that time will probably do less washing if there was a thunderstorm of bad weather..hehe..

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    1. lena I have no idea what they did when there was floods and storms, I guess just waited until it was a bit calmer! Have a good day Diane

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  26. Hello.
    J'ai cliqué sur une tête qui me plaisais dans la jungle de Barcelone.

    Bientôt sur mon blog, le reportage de mon voyage en Namibie. Vous devriez être dans une ambiance connue.

    un petit coucou de Lausanne en suisse.

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    1. Merci de votre visite et commentaires. Je me réjouis de la Namibie. Bonne journée.

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  27. That's a lovely selection Diane, and beautifully shot. I always fancied living in a Charente water front property when we lived there but it usually flooded (a planned controlled flood) every January in our area so probably prudent that we didn't buy such a property. But every summer I was envious of those whose view was looking out onto the Charente. Stay well.

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    1. Craig I have to say I am very happy that we are on high ground! The local village is in a valley with a small stream but this year it has been a raging torrent! Have a great weekend Diane

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  28. This is one of those features of French village life that I just love!

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    1. Sara Louise I could not agree more some of them are very pretty. Take care Diane

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  29. That is so interesting. I had never heard of them before. It is good that some are being cared for. They could put some picnic tables nearby.

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    1. diane, I think France generally if there is money to spare are good about restoration. There are often picnic tables near some of them. Take care Diane

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  30. Fabulous! I remember seeing one of these in full use in Puigcerda, Spain (just over the border from France), only about 25 years ago!! Thank you for sharing Diane.

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    1. Richard thanks for the visit and the comment. I have yet to see one in uses but it seems that some are still used at times. It would not be my choice I have to admit! Have a good day Diane

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  31. I am guessing that lovoirs means wash or washing? In Filipino language, washing clothes is "Laba".

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    1. Mae Amori, Lavoir means wash house or wash place, Have a good day Diane

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  32. The lavoirs are fascinating! I probably saw them when visiting France years ago, but wasn't aware of what they were. It things like this that make me realize how easy we have it today... Take care and have a great weekend!

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    1. Pam it seems tha many people have seen them but were not aware of what they were. As you say the washing machine makes life so much easier! You have a good weekend as well. Diane

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  33. Doing laundry is my favorite household chore...but what a challenge this would have been. It's so interesting. Thanks for sharing your photos! Sweet hugs!

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    1. Lavender Dreamer, I also do not mind washing so long as the washing machine works LOL. Take care and have a good weekend. Diane

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  34. What a fascinating post, as usual the French are very creative. Your photos suggest so many interesting stories ........

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    1. The Café Sucré Farine I would love to spend one day back in those time to just see what they were really like but I am sure that one day would be enough :-) Have a good day Diane

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  35. Wow, so interesting - and so pretty, too! Its interesting seeing the different types of lavatoirs, and especially knowing how many are in the Charente!

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    1. Bou Shin we were surprised when we discovered how many there were in the Charente alone, there must be thousands over the whole of France. Have a great day Diane

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  36. I, too, am glad that I don't have to go bang my clothes on rocks at a stream, even if it has relatively upscale accomodations such as a roof! Great pictures, Diane.

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    1. Marjie can you imagine how quickly the clothes would wear out being bashed around on a rock as well! I will take my washing machine any day. Saying that I remember as a very small child my Mum used to hand wash everything and then put it through a mangle with rollers to squeeze the water out of the clothes! Have a good day Diane

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  37. I love these lavoirs, they are so interesting they are all quite different. Thanks for sharing these great photos x

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    1. Kerry it is strange since we staryed actually looking for them they have 'popped up' all over the place. There are 3 in Chasseneuil! Hope we see you soon Diane xx

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  38. I can guess that this was the social highlight of the ladies day. Imagine the gossip which those walls heard. :)

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    1. Joan I can just imagine a whole bunch of women together gossiping LOL. The get together must have been fun but I will stick to my washing machine thanks. Have a good week, Diane

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  39. I know life was really hard then but still, I kind of long for those innocent times. I think it is why "Downton Abbey" has been such a hit.

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    1. Nadege can you imagine up early to stoke up the wood stove and then cooking, working the land, going to the river to do the washing, trying to get the clothes back dripping wet and drying it. I am glad I was born when I was. You know I have never watched Downton Abbey, I seldom watch TV at all and especially not soaps! Have a great week,Diane.

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  40. I enjoyed this post as I have seen many of these in my travels in France. I'm glad that so many have been restored...it is a nice reminder of the past. I always think about how lucky we are that we have modern conveniences in our life.

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    1. backroadjournal It is good that there is so much restoration going on all over France of many of the old buildings when finance is available. Our local railway station has been derelict ever since we first saw it and it was such a lovely building. At last it has almost been restored and I gather will be a used as flats now as the station is not required. The train only stops there 3 times a day and you can buy tickets on line! Have a good day Diane

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  41. I remember as a child in Italy, nobody had washing machines; women would take turns, a day of the week assigned to each family, when washing was done at these public places. I still remember how much work that was.

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    1. rasaria I don't think my mum had a washing machine until we got to Africa where she had a twin tub. Before that she washed everything by hand. Hard work and very time consuming. Diane

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