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Our Lady Collegiate church in Vernon
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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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Tourelles castle  (2)

A industrial flour mill: Mr Planter's enterprise



We have no information concerning Tourelles Castle between 1640 - 45 and 1763. Major restoration work was undertaken then:  it is is likely  the roofs were  added at this time, a few windows were created, the entrance door moved from the south to the north side (where it is today). It is also at the same time that the river bed and marshes were filled up to today's ground level.

In 1778, the  owner of the place, the lord of Vernonnet, Le Moine de Belle-Isle (no family link with another Vernon  famous man, Marshal de Belle Isle, who had the first chateau de Bizy built) sold the grounds to a corn-merchant and miller named Planter.


Windows made in 1763

The main thing is that the estate included Tourelles Castle indeed, but also ( and mainly) four hectares (approx. 8 acres) of ground, enough to  construct the industrial buildings  important  flour milling works required. For instance  there was a workshop where flour was steamed to try and kill insects that would have made the flour non-edible. In another shop, barrels were manufactured, since at the time flour was exported in casks, not in bags as today.

Regarding Tourelles Castle proper, Planter had important changes made to adapt the building to its future use. He built a large stairway in the south tower  so as to enable flour bags to be carried up and down on men's backs.  More windows were  created, offices installed in the east and west towers and even a small flat in the north tower. Inside wood structures linked these new arrangements. The main room in the
central part, that   had already been divided into two by a  wooden floor ( one can still see the remants of a fireplace on the  upper floor), was fitted withe enormous beams ( still visible)  and  used to store wheat or flour . All these conversion works have totally transformed the old fortress and disrupted the original plans.  On the grounds around the castle, Planter had various  workshops built and especially a large, 5-floor high building, built on the castle on one side and  streching to the river at the other end, that was used as  wharf  to load the boats with flour.

 


The large half-timbered building erected by Planter that almost hides Tourelles castle. (On the right the bridge and today's Old Mill )- Painting approx. 1840

Tourelles Castle South-west tower ( partially rebuilt avfter WWII)

The upper level of the main room was at some time transformed into a living place with a large fireplace. On the right, a door leading to Planter's own apartament in the North tower.


When talking about a miller, one may evoke the traditional image of a smalll windmill operated by one or two men.  This is definitely not   how we must look at Mr Planter. He was a rich and important industrialist, the largest corn-merchant in Europe and he owned the largest milling works in France, perhaps even in Europe. Planter sold his flour in France, but also in Spain where he had  offices in Madrid and Sevilla. He had managed to be granted  public procurements  that had been  alloted to him exclusively : he was the sole provider of flour for the French Navy ( On his was  back from Paris, while passing in Vernon in 1785, Benjamin Franklin noted  there : "a large milling establishment that provides for the French navy.") Furthermore, Planter  was also the sole provider of the French colonies in America, particularly Saint-Domingue( now Haiti) which, alone,  represented 50% of French foreign commerce.

Of course the miller had grain silos and mills in many places in France, but  Vernon was the headquarter of the enterprise. The man lived in Versailles most of the time, but he used the little flat in a tower of Tourelles Castle  whenever he was in Vernon.


Corn, high prices, scarcity and riots
Bread was a major European staple diet, particularly in France. Adults used to eat  up to 1-1.5 kilograms of bread a day, which represented a major portion of the budget of the average French household. It is therefore easy to understand that the presence of  huge amounts of grain and flour in Vernon caused trouble  in periods of grain shortage and the resulting  high price of bread. The local people could  understand neither why they were lacking flour and bread nor why bread was so expensive when there was so much of it just across the river.  Here are two examples (among many others) of the social unrest brought about by the existence of Planter's warehouses.

1/ The Flour War ( (the phrase was used contemporaneously) : after bad   harvests in 1773 and 1774, France faced  a sharp rise in grain prices, and subsequently bread prices. There was discontent and unrest and soon  demonstrations, riots and looting. Bakeries and warehouses were plundered, there were  riots even in Versailles. Libelous rumours got about, telling about conspiracies, and a   "Famine Compact", allegedly organized by the gouvernment and rich profiteers to starve the people ! Here in Vernon order was restored only when troops  were sent in and several  rioters arrested.

2/ In October 1789, the political situation as welll as the high price of bread caused upheavals and riots everywhere in France and locally too: Planter was denounced as a profiteer,  a "starver of the people" as they said then. Rioters caught him, dragged him into town and tried to string him up. He was saved at the last minute by the mayor who cut the rope with his  broadsword. La Fayette had to send in troops with cannons to  restore order. A few days later, a newspaper wrote about the incidents in Vernon, muddling up everything,  the storming of the Bastille three months earlier ,  Flour War, 15 years earlier, the  wheat and flour stored in Tourelles Castle : " The old Bastille full of wheat represents this horrible Famine Compact , the  memory  of which people still retain."

Tourelles Castle in the following years

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 and almots useless ever since.

During the Revolution it was used  some time as a prison. A small metalworks was  also establishred on the neighbouring grounds. Again  some troops were quartered there until around 1840. Finally a certain Ogereau set up a tannery there. He built important industrial installations, but the castle itself became a mere junk room. His entreprise was prosperous during the " Second Empire " ( approx. 1850 -1870).  Ogereau lived in a  large house he had built on the site and the stables  were designed by William White, the architect of château de Bizy.  During the 1870 Franco-Prussian war,  the Prussians " requisitioned"  his stock of leather - not to say they stole it - and this lead to the firm  going bankrupt.



General view of the grounds with Ogereau's former house and Tourelles Castle

 1845 . In front of Tourelles Castle, a "modern" building that had taken the place of Planter's 18th c. one. The bridge was still in use at this time
During the 1940 bombings the roofs were blown away and in 1944 a bomb destroyed one of the towers. The place remained for ten years  in utter neglect before restoration was undertaken. The roof was finally  fitted again only  in 2001.

Tourelles Castle is now an empty shell, useless and hardly  kept in repair  whereas - considering what it looks like and where it rises - it could be one of the major sights of Vernon...  What  a pity...



  Page 1 The fortified bridge
  Page 3 (next)  The Old Mill
  Page 4 The bridge (16th - 19th c.)