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Our Lady Collegiate church in Vernon
A whole site dedicated to this monumeent (in English)
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Vernon half-timbered houses
A whole site about our numerous old houses (In French only, sorry !)
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Vernon Giverny Website auf deutsch

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The Old Mill in Vernon
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Monet's house and garden at Giverny
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The XIIth c. castle keep in Vernon
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Visits, indeed, but there are so many other things to do in Vernon
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Walking and cycling around Vernon
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Museums in Vernon (paintings by Monet) and Giverny
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A walk in the streets of Giverny
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The water lily pond at Giverny
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Tourelles castle in Vernon
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The Old Mill and Tourelles castle



Many are the visitors in Vernon or Giverny who cross the river Seine and who notice, near the bridge, a quaint-looking old building perched above the water on the decaying piers of the old bridge. It is called 'Le Vieux Moulin' (the old Mill) and if the foliage is not too thick, behind this former mill, they can also see the towers of a medieval castle called Château des Tourelles (Turret Castle). These visitors, in a hurry to go to their destination, give the place nothing more than a glance while at the same time finding it 'quite nice and picturesque'.

Why not stop there a few minutes ?

You are in front of the most typical view of Vernon, a site loaded with history, a site which inspired lots of painters - both amateur and professional - a site that can be seen even in American Museums (e.g. The Old Mill by Claude Monet in New Orleans Museum). Under the trees, there also rise seven 1997 bronze statues by a Vernon-born artist now living in Japan, Olivier Gerval: they are called 'People' and add a modern touch to this romantic setting.


      
General view from the road bridge


Tourelles Castle

(Do not hesitate to enter the park around the castle, its access is free.)

Its story began in 1196 when King Philip Augustus at war with the king of England, Richard Lionhearted, to conquer Normandy managed to capture Vernon and turns the town into a base for his future military operations. The king had a bridge built - an enormous task of civil engineering at the time - a few arches of which can still be seen under the Old Mill. The end of the bridge on this bank was protected by a bridgehead, the one you can see today : it is the only one in France that has remained practically unchanged for over eight centuries.



The Old Mill and Tourelles Castle about 1900 . Note a small  building  next to the mill, the former toll house.

Tourelles Castle. The (whiter) tower in the back was rebuilt after it had been bombed during WWII.

Its structure is simply a square keep flanked by four 20-metre high, crenellated towers. (The roofs were erected in the 18th century). The entrance used to be on the river side. The whole construction was surrounded by a moat and linked to the stone bridge by a wooden flying bridge.

This little fortress was hardly ever involved in warfare (the small garrisons must have thought that it was useless resisting once the town had fallen into enemy hands !) but was definitively decommissioned only around 1650.

In the middle of the 18th century Mr Planter bought the castle and several hectares of ground around to set up a flour-mill.
A flour-mill ? French people will almost immediately conjure the image of a poor miller with no more than a donkey and one or two flour bags - as Alphonse Daudet described him in "Les Lettres de mon Moulin" (Letters from my mill). But here, our Norman miller was running the largest milling works in France and perhaps in Europe at the time: he owned plenty of other milling units all over France but the 'head office' was here, Mr Planter living in one of the side towers, the others being turned into offices. The firm he was running was a transnational enterprise even before the word existed since he exported his flour in Europe but also as far as America where he had been appointed sole supplier of the French colonies.
This is how Franklin, a great scientist and statesman, ambassador to King Louis XVI in Versailles noted, when passing through Vernon in 1785, "a large milling establishment that provides for the French navy."
Among the various buildings required for such important business, there was a large construction leaning on the castle and stretching down to the river that was used as a wharf for loading the boats.

The Revolution caused a fatal blow to the mill and, even if the ground around Tourelles Castle was later put to other uses, the castle proper has remained empty ever since.





On this early 19th c painting, one clearly sees the medieval bridge still in use at the time, the Old Mill and, in the centre, the building erected by the miller between the river and Tourelles Castle, the tops of the pointed roofs of which can be seen behind.


1845 Photograph showing the same place. The miller's  half-timbered building  is now replaced by a more moderne one. Notehow dilapidated the bridge looks!

It was damaged by bombs during the last World War : the roofs were shattered, one of the side towers was smashed but everything has been restored for everyone's pleasure.

More details about Tourelles Castle and the bridge it was protecting ? Go to this  detailed page
Right bank : Tourelles Castle and the Old Mill



The Old Mill

In the middle Ages, there were already five mills on the bridge to grind the corn grown in the nearby Vexin Plateau. There only remains one such mill, dating from the 16th century, set up in a picturesque place in the middle of the a river branch.

The undershot waterwheel, powered by the river's flow, could be lowered or raised depending on the water level

 


Roman tic view of the Old Mill  and present state of repair

In the past , in periods of famine or even scarcity, the abundance of corn and flour in this place would cause incidents because the inhabitants could not bear 'their' flour being sent away when they themselves were going hungry.

Here is an example:

In October 1789, the price of bread had considerably risen (due to a poor harvest and social and political unrest) so that famine riots burst out everywhere in France. Parisian rioters marched to Versailles to bring the royal family back to Paris, shouting their nicknames: the Baker, the Baker's wife and the Baker boy, which shows the importance of bread in the population's considerations at the time.
In Vernon, other rioters seized the miller, dragged him across the bridge, threw him into the river. After he had been rescued, he was hustled into the city centre where they tried to hang him from a street lamp, shouting "A la lanterne!"(String him up!) He was saved at the last minute by the Mayor who cut the rope with a sword. A few days later, a local newspaper relating the incident wrote about "the old bastille full of corn", strangely but typically mixing together the capture of Bastille Castle in Paris - and its political meaning - and the stocks of corn and flour stored in Tourelles Castle.



More details about the Old Mill ? Go to this  detailed page
Right bank : Tourelles Castle and the Old Mill



The Seine and the bridge

When thinking about the river in past centuries, one must not visualise the beautiful expanse of water that exists today : indeed, before dams and embankments were built from 1850 onward, the Seine looked like the Loire today : a wild, untamed, dangerous river with islands and sand-banks that made sailing very slow and hazardous.

During the flood seasons, sailing practically came to a halt. For instance, in January 1756, a month of 'high water', only 7 boats managed to pass under the bridge. Low waters made the Seine equally impossible to navigate: to a ship-owner in Le Havre who was complaining that he had not received a barge full of flour, the miller wrote in July 1783 :" I think the boat is stuck at Pont de l'Arche (note: about 50 km downstream from Vernon), the water level is so low that no boat can sail."

In 'normal' periods, it took approximately 4 to 6 weeks for a barge to sail up from Rouen to Paris.


The bridge

It used to have 25 arches but in 1830 only 8 were still standing and the rest had been replaced by a wood superstructure resting on the older piers.

The bridge was never correctly maintained , it was timeworn and fragile, often washed away by floods as in 1658. In 1651, after two arches had collapsed, the bridge was abandoned and a ferry system was organised. Very well… but the vicar of Vernonnet wrote on October 10, 1653: " On Friday, Saint Lukes's day, were drowned 200 persons of all a sexes and ages, who were coming from Vernon and who lost their lives when the ferry sank."



The 1860 bridge dubbed 'Stone bridge' or 'Napoleon bridge'

This old bridge, the few remnants of which you have seen near Tourelles castle and the Old Mill, was replaced in 1860 by a new stone bridge with 7 arches, almost at the same place as today's, i.e; only a few tens of metres upstream. In 1870 the French blew it up when the Prussian army was approaching, and it was rebuilt in 1872.

In 1940 several arches were blown up again to prevent the Germans from crossing. Repaired in 1941, it was bombed again and totally destroyed in 1944.
The new bridge, inaugurated in 1955 is called Pont Clemenceau, after the man who was Prime Minister during WWI but also Claude Monet's close friend. He had a country house not very far way and the tradition says that he would regularly cross the bridge to go and buy his tobacco in town.


  Clémenceau Bridge


More details about the bridges between the 12th century and today? Go to this page
Bridges in Vernon 1194 - 1954

 

Access and parking

From Vernon, cross the river. At the roundabout, turn left towards Gisors / Beauvais.
From Giverny, straight on at this roundabout towards Gisors / Beauvais.

Immediately after the roudabout, on the right hand side, there is the car park of a small shopping centre where you can easily park on Sundays. Or, on the left, 100 m after the roundabout, you can see a large gate giving access to a park (signs: 'Base nautique / Centre de loisirs'). You can either park in front of the gate or drive inside the park (free entrance and easy parking).