CHAPTER 1

 

 

THE POTTERIES OF THE REGION

OF HENRICHEMONT (CHER) –

THEIR GROWTH, DEVELOPMENT

AND PRODUCTION.

 

AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

 

 

      The 'Dictionnaire Topographique' du Cher mentions twenty-two villages, hamlets and locations which contain 'poterie', 'poteries' or 'potier' in their names.  Of these, the majority are situated in the region of Henrichemont (Table l).  Today, it is only such names which recall the activity of past times; that, for example, of the village of Les Poteries near Achéres which, according to the nineteenth century historian Hippolyte Boyer, was the site of the oldest kiln of which there exists a record.  Erected in the woods of Achéres, it had prospered sufficiently to develop into a pottery centre, '... Un titre d'avril l260 mentionne le chemin d'Achéres a la poterie: 'juxta viam que itur de Ascheriis ad poteriam' ...' (1)  Chaton and Talbot cite a testament by Gilbert Mercier de Bourges, dated 1303 and discovered in the 'Archives du Fonds de la Communauté de Vicaires de Saint-Etienne, which notes the presence of potters at Vaulx, at the Crots de Vaux, between Achéres and Menetou-Salon. (2)  Pottery was still being produced on the site three centuries later when two witnesses at an inquiry were respectively described as 'pothier en pots de terre, demourant en Vaulx' and 'pothier et fermier demourant au lieu de la Feuilleure' (3)

 

      The village of La Poterie, in the parish of Parassy, was already functioning in the early sixteenth century when it was mentioned in the titles of the Abbey of Saint-Ambroix, Bourges (4)

 

             In the archives of the 'mairie' of Neuvy-deux-Clochers, baptismal records, dating from the early seventeenth century, note the presence of potters living and working in the immediate vicinity:

 

                 - le 27 décembre l6l9, Jean Etieve

                 'potier de terre' fait baptiser un enfant trouvé.

 

                 - le 11 juillet l62l, baptême de Firmin Seguret,

                 fils de Louis Seguret, 'potier de terre', et de

                 Gilberte Auchére.

                 -le l7 aout l629, baptême de Martine Panariou,

                 fille de Jean Panariou, 'potier de terre' ... (5)

 

             By mid-century, the Panariou enterprise had expanded its production capacity to a sufficiently high level to be in a position to export its wares outside the province of Berry.  This can be clearly seen in a legal document housed originally in the Archives de la Chambre des Notaires de Nevers. (6)  It records a sales and delivery contract agreed between Thomas Panariou, 'marchand potier, demeurant en la paroisse de Neufvis deux Clochers, province de Berry' and 'Gilbert Sionnest, marchant à Nevers'.  (7)  The fact that it was witnessed in Nevers on l6 March l657 by Georges Gaulteron, maître sellier, and Olivier de La Charme, marchand épicier, in the presence of a local notary named Bourgoing, suggests that Thomas Panariou had already established a reputation and an outlet for his wares in that town. (8)  In the contract, he guaranteed to deliver, at the end of a period of two and a half months, a cargo of pottery at the river port serving Nevers, Guichet de Rivage. (9)  Transported down the then navigable river Loire by Pierre Perot, 'voiturier par eau, demeurant au port de Saint-Thibault' (l0)  the goods were handed over to Gilbert Sionnest on 11 May l657, an exchange signed once more by the notary, Bourgoing, and witnessed by François Crillé, boulanger and Jean Chapotot, compagnon arquebusier.' (11)  As well as showing the successful expansion of the pottery of the region, the document is also proof that the period was one in which ' l'oeuvre de terre ' was present everywhere in the home to serve all daily household needs, (12) when individuals had 'pour la première fois, la possession de récipients renouvelés pour transporter, cuire, consommer et conserver leurs aliments et leurs boissons'. (13)  In scale, variety, form and function, the  itemised list of wares suggests that the range of utilitarian pottery, which became the mainstay of the workshops of the region, had already been established.

 

                 '... cent pots tenant cinq escuelles en bas,

          plus un cent d'escuelles, plus un demy cent de

          petites terrasses de toutes fassons, plus un

          demy cent de bouteille tenant trois pintes en

          sus, plus ung quarteron de grandes cruches à

          trois ansses, plus un quarteron de pots à sale

          du boeurre tenant douze livres en sus, plus un

          demy quarteron de grande fesselle, plus un demy

          cent tant de grands pots de cuisine, arousouers

          et aultres grands pieces; et ce moyennant le prix

          et somme de vingt sept livres tournois ...' (14)

 

             It was such forms, consecrated by a relatively unchanging need, that were to remain in demand in an ever increasing number of outlets throughout France, until the galvanised iron and plastic products of the industrial era were to progressively replace both them and their makers. (15)

 

             Of the twenty-two possible centres of production noted in the 'Dictionnaire Topographique', those with the most abundant production in the past were Les Grandes Poteries d'Humbligny, today known as Les Fanats, the Poteries Auchéres, today Les Grandes Poteries, the Poteries Grenouilles at Neuvy- deux-Clochers and, above all;  that of the village of La Haulte Borne, nowadays known as La Borne, situated largely in the commune of Henrichemont.(16)

 

             In his 'Histoire de la Principauté Souveraine de Boisbelle-Henrichemont`, Hippolyte Boyer notes that the name of the village does not appear on an early map of the principality which had been prepared at the beginning of the sixteenth century. (17)  It is recorded in a 'procès-verbal de circonscritpion' of boundaries, made in 1606 and citing an earlier exercise of 1584.  In this document it is identified as 'le lieu de la Haulte-Borne de Boisbelle', located at 'la fin de la terre de Maupas' on the eastern boundary separating the two territories distinguished as La Grande and La Petite Boisbelle. (18)  Another title of 1689 notes 'le chemin tendant d'Henrichemont à La Grande Borne' (19)

 

             Existing records do not offer any assistance in attempting to establish with accuracy the date of the earliest stoneware pottery manufacture at La Borne, but the Panariou-Sionnest contract, allied to Marcel Poulet's speculation in relation to the diffusion of the kiln technology in neighbouring La Puisaye, (20) suggest that the village might have been in operation sometime in the sixteenth century. (21)  By the beginning of the seventeenth century, one already finds installed those families whose descendants perpetuated stoneware production down to the present century. (22)  The name of one such family, that of Talbot, first appears in the records of the parish of Henrichemont at this time:

 

                 '... On trouve les membres de cette famille

          groupés, non seulement dans le village qui porte

          leur nom, mais également dans ceux des Maisons-

          Neuves et de La Borne ...' (23)

 

             In her 'Histoire du Royaume de Bois-Belle', Amyé Cecil had drawn attention to the local practice - 'qui a pris evidemment sa source dans le tribu, le clan, la famille antique.'(24) - of naming a small locality according to the surname of the family whose members were most numerous among the inhabitants. (25)  The village of Les Talbots features in her book (26) while the 'Dictionnaire Topographique du Cher lists Les Bedus (27), Les Grands-Fouchers and Les Petits Fouchers (28) and Les Sigurets (29).   Whether the Talbot family originally settled in the village which bears their name is open to speculation but local tradition maintains that it was from La Poterie in the parish of Parassy, that  potters  moved at an unknown date, to establish their craft at La Borne: (30)

 

                 '... Peut être, avant de s'installer dans

          son nouveau séjour, la fabrique fit-elle une

          première étape dans une autre hameau situé à

          mi-chemin, entre La Borne et Henrichemont, et

          qui a nom les Maisons - Neuves.  Ce qui paraît

          certain, c'est que ce dernier lieu, habité par

          la famille des Talbots, qui s'est fait un nom

          dans la poterie locale, a possédé un atelier de

          ce genre, dont se souvient encore avoir vu le

          four allumé ...' (31)

 

             According to Favière the main branches of the Talbot family descended from a common source, that of the marriage of François Talbot and Elisabeth Auchère, on 16 September l669. (32)  The same François Talbot figures in the following contract, one of the first to make direct reference to potters living in La Borne:

 

                 'Le l8 novembre l685, en présence de François

          Talbot, Jean Dumesnil - Simon, Chevalier,

          Seigneur de Mornay, paroisse de Feux, arrente,

          moyennant vingt sols tournois et six deniers de

          cens de rente, a Esme Séguret 'pottier' en terre,

          demeurant au village de La Borne, paroisse

          d'Henrichemont, pur luy et les siens, un morceau

          de terre en friches assise et située proche et

          au dessoubs le dit village de La Borne ...(33)

 

              In l706, François Bedu was forced to make amends to Pierre Bodin '... pour avoir dit publiquement qu'il était sorcier, qu'il lui avait fait perdre une fournée de pots par un sort, et qu'il avait des diables en forme de rats qui l'aidaient atirer la terre ...'(34)

 

             At that period, the village had a population of 257 inhabitants, divided between forty-one families, of which nineteen were engaged in pottery production.  Statistics collected in a census of l7 April l723 furnished almost identical figures. (35)

 

             The reputation of the village did not rely solely on its pottery and a mémoire of 1703 raises some interesting speculation as to the interests of the remainder of its inhabitants.  Sully's treaty of 1608 with the Fermier Général des Gabelles had not deterred everyone from engaging in illegal dealings in salt and it was evidently the unique position of the village, situated on the edge of the principality and isolated deep in the forests, which made it an ideal retreat for those engaged in contreband activity:

 

                 '... Leur rendezvous avec ceux à qui ils

          délivrent leur sel est à un endroit qui

          s'appelle La Borne, situê dans le fond d'un

          bois ès - environs de plusieurs poteries,

          leur retraite la plus ordinaire est dans la

          principauté d'Henrichemont.  C'est de là qu'ils

          font le versement de leur sel sans crainte et

          avec impunité, et c'est là aussi que tous les

           vagabonds et malfaiteurs se réfugient pour la

          même raison d'impunité, car il n'est pas permis

          de les y suivre et arrêter ...' (36)

 

             This was an aspect of the life of the village which was to remain until 1766 when Boisbelle was fully absorbed into the realm yet, despite this dark, if romantic, side of La Borne, it is evident that the potteries benefited from the more general economic expansion which had taken place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (37)  In the course of the latter, a local curé had underlined the fact that all available land had been cleared and that the area was solidly agricultural. (38)  Such rural prosperity, coinciding with urban based industrial activity, was helping to realise the vision that had been an important aspect of the policies of Henri IV and Sully (39)  At Henrichemont, the original tanneries of Boisbelle were flourishing but one could also find other thriving activities which satisfied the needs of the surrounding countryside - cloth-making, leatherworking and rope-making. (40)  As for the potteries, an industrial and agricultural survey, organised by the Provincial Assembly in 1785, states:

 

                       '...Il existe dans un village d'Henrichemont une

                       manufacture de poterie trés considérable.   On

                       en tire la terre dans la paroisse de Morogues et

                       les bois de monseigneur le Comte d'Artois

                       l'alimentent, ainsi que ceux du seigneur de

                       Morogues.  Il s'en fait un débit trés considérable

                       dans la Generalité, il s'en vend même jusqu'à

                        Limoges.   Aschéres paroisse, justice d'Henrichemont,

                       a aussi une poterie moins considerable.  Aussi, on

                       peut dire que c'est dans le sein de la Principauté

                       que se fabriquent presque tous les pots que sont à

                       l'usage des campagnes dans la province ...' (4l)

 

      In April, 1755 there had been sixty-five families living in the village.  

Of these seventeen heads of family were potters:

 

                       Denis Talbot                          Jean Chollet

                       Canon                                   Jacques Girault

                       Chenu                                  Jacques Bedu

                       F. Auchére                           Jean Canon

                       François Talbot                    Louis Chenu

                       F. Pellé                                 Silvin Bedu

                       Jean Péllé le  jeune                Silvin Panariou

 

There was also a merchant of pottery named Edmé Panariou (42). Of the sixty-five families, there were 17 Bedu, 5 Talbot, 2 Panariou, 7 Foucher, 5 Girault and 2 Chollet.  These were the six families that were mainly responsible for maintaining the character of the village for the remaining two centuries.  Though there are insufficient documents to record with accuracy the situation in the village throughout the first-half of the nineteenth century, it appears to have experienced a period of continuing prosperity in which the above-named families, by succession from father to son, established veritable 'dynasties' (43)  A feature of the village was the fact that most of these dynasties were eventually to become related to each other through intermarriage forming 'une vaste communauté dont l'étude enthologique et sociologique mériterait d'être entreprise.' (44)  One such network can be seen in the following marriage contract of 1780:

 

                '... Claude Talbot, garcon potier en terre, fils

                majeur de Jean Talbot aussi potier en terre, et

                défunte Jeanne Siguret, demeurant au village

                des Maisons Neuves, paroisse d'Henrichemont et

                Marie Bedu, fille mineure de défunt Guillaume

                Bedu, potier en terre et de Marie Finon,

                demeurant au village de La Borne, paroisse

                d'Henrichemont  avec l'avis et consentement pour

                la future de Marie Finon sa mére, de Jacques Bedu

                son frére, de François Bedu son oncle, de Louis

                Panariou aussi son oncle à cause de Jeanne Bedu

                sa tante, femme dudit Panariou, de Jeanne Bedu sa

                soeur, de Françoise et Madeleine Bedu ses soeurs,

                de Marguerite Bedu sa tante, femme de François

                Panariou, de Madeleine Finon, veuve de Jean Foucher

                sa tante, de Ma... Gimonnet aussi sa tante à cause

                de défunt Silvin Bedu, de Silvain Panariou son

                cousin germain ... (45)

 

            Such interrelationships guaranteed the perpetuation of La Borne's potter-dynasties, a fact that is in marked contrast with neighbouring La Puisaye where, writing of the decline of many major families, Marcel Poulet has noted :

 

                '... Aux cours des siècles, certaines familles

                disparaissent complétement: par manque de

                descendance mâle, par emigration, par

                reconversion progressive dans l'agriculture.

                Les métiers de remplacement les plus fréquents

                sont ceux de laboureurs - propriétaires -

                exploitants ...'  (46)

 

           By 1861, the census figures record 570 inhabitants with 79 Bedu, 69 Talbot, 18 Panariou, 58 Foucher, 32 Girault and 18 Chollet.  (47 )

           Because of this proliferation of similar surnames, the heads of families were officially oblidged to append to their own, the surname of their spouse, thus the Talbot enterprises were identified as Talbot - Dessanges, Talbot - Foucher, dit Eugène, Talbot - Lieux, Talbot - Feve, Talbot - Girault and Talbot - Vataire, while the names Foucher Hector, Foucher Louis fils, Foucher - Pierron, and Foucher - Millet helped to differentiate the membes of that dynasty. ( 48 ) At the beginning of the twentieth century one finds Talbot - Girard, Talbot - Cottereau ; Foucher - Bernon ( veuve ), Foucher- Pellé and Foucher - Petit.  ( 49 )

 

           ` De l`argile, du bois, de l`eau suffisent pour pouvoir faire des pots, aussi fit - on partout`, ( 50 ) and Poulet describes the necessity to be ` près de la terre ` thus :

 

 

            '... Il faut donc admettre que le souci d'être

           aussi près que possible du lieu d`extraction

          de l`argile  a été déterminant dans l'implantation

          des ateliers au moins pour le monde potiers qu'ont

          connu nos grands-pères et qui est en place, tel

          quel à peu de variantes près, des le dèbut du l7

         ème siècle.  Et l'on peut même dire qu'il est en

          place des l'apparition du grès.  Cette production

          a exigé d'abord la recherche d'argiles aux qualités

          spécifiques, beaucoup plus localisées que les argiles

          utilisées pour la terre cuite blanche qui a précédé ...' (  51  )

 

           Plate 3 demonstrates how true this was in the case of most of the major groupings mentioned in the Dictionnaire Topographique.

 

           All were located in the wider territory that extends to the west and south of Bourges to Sancerre, where three natural regions can be identified :

 

           1.  `... La Champagne Berrichone ... se présente comme une

                vaste plateau calcaire faiblement entaillé par l`erosion, avec

                un leger pendage vers le Nord - Ouest. C`est une région fertile,

                domaine de grande culture...

 

           2.  `... Le Sancerrois est une région beaucoup vallonné qui

                 contrast avec les plateaux qui l`entourent . C`est le pays de

                 la vigne, implantée pour une grande part sur les terrains

                 kimmeridgiens et plus spécialment les Marnes et calcaires

                 de Saint - Doulchard ...

 

           3.   ` ... Le Pays Fort, au sous - sol cretacé, argilo - silex, plus

                 humide, est un pays de bocage.  C`est le domaine de

                 l`élevage. L`argile à silex qui occupe le sommet des plateaux

                 offre des champs verdoyants, des petits bois dispersés

                 et de belles forêts ... ` ( 52 )

 

Three types of soil can be distinguished :

 

            i     Limestone or chalky soils  : These cover the most intensively

                  developed agricultural regions which are devoted to the

                  cultivation of corn, barley, rape and sunflower. Some of

                  these soils , known locally as `terres blanches` or `Grosses

                  Terres` are suitable for the cultivation of vines and are

                  principally centered around Sancerre, Bue and Morogues.

 

            ii    Acidic Soils  : These are more fragmented than the former and

                  are exploited for the growth of cereals as well as animal

                  husbandry

 

            iii   Soils with a dominant presence of clay : Since such soils are

                  difficult to cultivate, and can only offer a poor yeild, they have

                  mostly been abandoned to the forests,such as the woods of

                  La Borne and Humbligny.

 

 

A more detailed examination of this latter region, which virtually coicides with that of the Pays Fort, reveals the coincidence that exists between the clay deposits, the densely forested areas and the locations of the pottery workshops. ( Plate 3 ) All were located along, or were in close proximity to, that rich deposit of clays which, extending from Pic - Montaigu in the west of the Loire, continued towards Saint - Amand - en - Puisaye in its eastern extremity. It is recognised as one of the  richest in France, if not in Europe  (54 ) Geologically classified as the Argiles de Myennes, they consist of a deposit ranging in colour from blue - black to dark grey, more or less sandy in texture and rich in mica.  ( 55 ) Although continuous throughout the sixty or more kilometres of its length, the deposit varies in depth from seven to eighteen metres.  ( 56 ) The lowest level contains clay which is almost black in colour and is very plastic, while the upper, greyer, level is often of a more sandy consistency. Where they outcrop on the surface they appear heavily oxidised, due to the presence of iron oxide, and range in colour from ochre to blood - red.  ( 57 ) These were known disparagingly as `crottes de chieuvre ` and served for the production of bricks and flower - pots.  ( 58 ) Such surface - clays could be easily obtained, but the lower levels required the services of specialised workers :

 

           `... L`extraction s`est faite par puis dont

           les traces sont visibles dans le bois situé

           à l`Est du hameau des Potiers, sur la commune

           de Morogues. On trouve également des fosses

           ouvertes en quelques endroits mais il n`y a

           plus, à l`heure actuelle, d`exploitation

           importante dans ce secteur...( 59 )

 

           The grey and black deposits provided an abundant supply of natural stoneware clays and were ideal for the production of the utilitarian wares of the region. They could be employed as extracted and, when fired,  vitrified at temperatures varying  between 1250°C and 1300°C depending on the amount of iron oxide present in the mass. (60) Its plasticity renders the clay eminently suitable for throwing or modelling, and one of its most distinctive characteristics is the presence of fine particles of iron pyrites - sulpher nodules - which, after firing, animate the surface of the form with tiny black, iridescent spots. (61)

 

         For their supplies, the potters of La Borne frequented the following locations in the region:(Plate 4)

 

           (i)     Les Baillys.

           (ii)    Les Pradelles, between Menetou-Ratel and La Noyer.

           (iii)   Les Bougoins, between Morogues and Parassy.

           (iv)    Les Verriers, about three kilometres from La Borne.

           (v)     Boucard, in the commune of La Noyer.

           (vi)    Tierceau, in the commune of Sans-Beaujeu.

           (vii)   The Trous à terre.

 

           In certain instances, carriage costs precluded more extensive use of the clays of particular sites, irrespective of their quality.  Tierceau is a case in point.  The clay, though hard to form and to fire, was of a very high quality yet with a return journey of over thirty kilometres, a carter could deliver only one load per day. ( 62 )

 

           The site of extraction most commonly used by the potters was that named 'Les Terres à pots'.  Half-way between La Borne and Morogues and to the south-west of the hamlet of 'Potiers', one finds to-day traces of the extraction shafts.  It was here, according to Jean Favière that:

 

                 ... 'Les potiers de La Borne, par suite d'un accord

                 ancien entre eux et les proprietaires de la terre de

                 Morogues avaient un privilège collectif d'extraction

                 sur un terrain communement appelé les 'trous à terre',

                 à quatre kilometres de La Borne ...' ( 63 )

 

           This question of collective right of extraction has been researched by Robert Chaton and Henri Talbot ( 64 ), the latter being a surviving member of one of the ancient potting dynasties.  According to the oral tradition of the village, such a right has always existed but no one can state how or when it had been established.  Representations made to the present Marquis of Maupas, whose family acquired the château and terrain in 1682 (65), have failed to unearth any related documentation in the family archives.  (66)  Chaton and Talbot have however established the following points:-

 

           l.  The land concerned encompassed twenty-five

               hectares and the potters are accorded the right

               to the extraction only of clay.

           2.  The land tax was still payable at the time of

               writing.

           3  In 1958, the tax was in the name of Jacques-

               Sébastien Talbot (1769-1842), one-time president

               of the potters of La Borne, therefore it is

               evident that possession of the right to the clay

               was in existence in the early years of the nine-

               teenth century.

 

           Chaton and Talbot conclude that the 'donation' by the family of Maupas may have been a tolerance established before the Great Revolution which time and usage had made a right. (67)

 

           From the central shaft, horizontal galleries were extended a short distance and the clay was raised in bucketfuls to the surface where it was stacked in cubic metres for direct sale to the potters whose personal responsibility it was to remove it to their own workshops (68).  There it was placed in the 'fosse', an open pit where it could further mature under the effects of the elements (69).

 

           In addition to clay, another criterion described by Poulet for the implantation of the traditional potteries in La Puisaye is, `prés du bois`.(70)

 

           As indicated in the `Carte Géologique` of the region, the nature of the soil in the Pays Fort had led to the development, over centuries, of rich verdant forests. (71) Encircling Henrichemont at some distance are the Bois de Menetou to the south, the Forêt Domaniale de Saint - Palais to the West, the Forêt d`Ivoy to the  North and the Bois de Sens - Beaujeu to the North - East. Within two kilometres, and directly eastwards, commence those forests, the Bois d`Henrichemont and  Bois d`Humbligny which were the main source of combustible for the potteries of La Borne.The importance of such extensive forests over such a wide area could favour the implantation and eventual multiplication of a large number of potteries  ;

 

           ` ... L`implantation des ateliers doit aussi

            être envisagée en fonction d`autres facteurs

           qui, pour être moins essentiels que celui

           de l`approvisionnement en matière première

           n`en furent sans doute pas moins determinants.

           Le potier pouvait limiter les charrois de

           terre mais il pouvait aussi chercher à limiter

           les charrois de bois...` (72)

 

General Production

 

      The general production of the Berry and la Puisaye workshops consisted essentially of that which is called 'le gros grès', to distinguish it from the smaller, more finely thrown white-bodied stoneware made in neighbouring pottery centres.(73)  The needs of a largely rural area determined, in the first instance, the output of the boutiques and 'le gros grès' was characterised by the 'saloir' as its principal piece.  These were destined for the preservation of meats, the latter being conserved between layers of salt.  They were thrown as large jars with slightly curved sides which supported a large, flat lid.  Dependent on their size, they had two or four handles, applied either horizontally or vertically. (Fig. 1)  In local parlance each had its own familiar name, according to its capacity, e.g. :

 

                       pot                                   containing                     l  litre

                       bon pot                           containing                    l5  litres

                       pot raye                           containing                   25 litres

                       pot batard                       containing                   35 litres

                       grand batard                   containing                   60 litres

                       petit pot et deme            containing                 100 litres ...(74)

 

      This range continued up to and including a saloir capable of containing 200 litres.

 

      To all intents and purposes the production of the gros grès in centres such as La Borne and St. Amand-en-Puisaye were identical, (75) with only minor variations occurring, such as the curve of the foot of a saloir or the proportion of the neck of the `pots à lait` which ranged  in capacity from 1  litre to 8 litres.

 

      Though itemising the ware produced in La Borne, the sales catalogues fail to communicate the rich variety of forms and functions which was exhibited in the 'Potiers en Terre du Haut-Berry' retrospective.  (Musée du Berry, Bourges l962 and Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires.  Paris, l962) when almost two hundred 'type de recipients nécessaires à la vie domestique'  were displayed.  As inventories quoted in the exhibition show, `La vaiselle de terre formait le fonds principal de l'équipement domestique, non seulement des maisons paysannes, mais aussi des maisons bourqeoises et des châteaux ...'(75)

 

      Thanks to the potter, utensils were at hand to satisfy all personal needs, inside and outside the house at all hours of the day and night.  ( Figs. 2,3,4 )

 

           `... Pour tous, sans le potier, rien d`autres

           à la maison qu`une rudimentaire vaisselle de

           bois, que de mauvaises chandelles de suif ou

           de résine dans l`âtre. Grâce au potier, des

           ustensiles multiples, du miniscule gobelet aux

           saloirs et aux grandes cruches dites "toulons",

           parfois énormes, pour consommer et transporter

           aliments et boissons pour conserver la viande

           de porc, le cidre, l`huile en toutes quantités,

           d`immenses cuveax pour "couler" la lessive

           à la cendre, des lampes et des falots  pour s`éclairer

           mieux et deplacer sans peine la source lumineuse,

           tout ce qu`il faut pour équiper la laiterie, faisselles,

           égouttoirs à fromage, pots à fromage, pots à laits,

           etc. ... ` (77)

 

Production methods of La Borne

 

           Except for occasional large pieces such as cuveaux  à lessive - washing tubs - all the pieces made at La Borne, as in the neighbouring potteries, were thrown on the distinctive ` tour à bàton`, after which they were fired in the `fours couchés`, that is, the vast traditional kilns.

 

                 Since many of the storage containers made in the traditional potteries of Northern France were of both large diameter and height, the type of wheel which most satisfied the potter's need was the 'cartwheel' type or 'tour à bàton', that is, the traditional single wheel. (78) (Plate 5)  Consisting of a large and heavy fly-wheel, which generates considerable centrifugal force, it has a centrally positioned circular working surface, or wheel-head, on which the pot is formed.  It is powered by the potter using a long wooden staff, or bàton.  Bavoux suggests that such wheels may have been of German origin, (79) and Jenner has demonstrated that the 'tour à bàton' was in use in thirteenth century France when it was illustrated in a French manuscript called 'la bible moralisée'.  It was still being used in the fifteenth century when it was depicted by Jean Fouquet in a painting called ' Agathocles à son tour '. (80)  Such wheels were assured a smooth performance by being structured according to the following principles :

 

          '... sur un pivot fixé au sol et terminé par

          une crapaudine (de bronze ou même de grès)

           s'enfile un manchon portant en son centre

          "l'aiguille" (de fer ou de buis) maintenant

          une grande roue de fer au centre de gravité

          abaissé au plus près du sol.  A la partie

          supérieure, fixée par des chevilles de bois

         la "girelle", le plateau de travail ...'(8l) ( Plate 5 ) (Fig. 5, Fig. 5i, Fig. 5ii )

 

Those of La Borne were made in this way.  In the wooden wheel-head - 'plate forme' - was inserted a stoneware cup known as 'le pierre de roue', the whole being balanced on a tapered pivot.  The diameter of the iron fly-wheel was approximately fifty inches and the length of the bâton fifty-five inches.

 

      In parts of France the potter sat while working, but this position restricted the height of the form that he could make.  In Berry, to make the tall and large pieces, it was necessary for the potter to stand, feet astride, while working.  Using the bâton, an accomplished craftsman, with one 'lancée' or 'amodêe' of the wheel, could throw a pot with a capacity of three litres and, with two or three 'lancées', pots to the size of upwards of eight litres.(82)  The dexterity of the throwers of La Borne, the efficiency of the wheel and its appropriateness to the making of their product, is aptly demonstrated by two large pieces, now housed in the Musée du Berry, Bourges, and made for the Exposition Universelle of l889.

 

 

          '... La précision du tournage leur permettait

          de fabriquer certains récipients de dimensions

          exceptionelles en deux parties, se rapprochant

          ensuite avec une exactitude; un vinaigrier et

          un saloir tournés par François Guillepain,

          atteignent l.m. 40 de hauteur et l mètre de

          diamètre maximum... ' (83)  (Fig. 6)

 

The 'Fours Couchés'

 

      The traditional kilns of La Borne were of a type common to the entire Berry and Nivernais region and were constructed on a scale appropriate to the prolific output of the boutiques.  They resembled an upturned ship's hull, being constructed of a long tunnel of bricks, swelling towards the centre both in height and width, a form from which derives their name, 'four couché'.  A narrow opening at one end served as the firebox, or 'foyer', while at the opposite end was the `têtier', the exit for the flames.  This was a large opening which was partially blocked up during the firing but which also served as a means of access to the kiln during the operation of loading and unloading the ware.  The floor of the firing chamber - 'chambre de cuisson' - was sloped, sites being approximately thirty inches higher towards the têtier, and  carefully chosen to observe this requirement, even if it was a disadvantage in relation to prevailing winds.  The flames, travelling obliquely the length of the firing chamber were forced, by the curves of the form and the slope of the floor, to converge towards the têtier before escaping from the kiln.  This was to ensure that ware placed at the foot of the têtier would receive adequate heat.  Despite precautions such as this the temperature attained during a firing was not homogenous, varying between l300° C in the upper section, and 1100° C in the lower. (84) thus, in packing the klin -  l'enfournement', - it was essential to classify the wares and position them in those sections of the chamber which approximated to the temperature at which they ought to be fired. (85)  Those pieces which had to be protected from direct contact with the flames were placed either within larger forms or saggers, 'gazettes', similar to those later to be used in the production of porcelain.  The capacity of the 'fours couchés' varied between fifteen and sixty cubic metres, that is, 450 and l600 cubic feet, and they were seldom idle, (86), 'the firings succeeding each other without interruption, now one, now the other; by times the unpacking was barely completed before loading commenced once more'.(87)

 

      Because of their similarity to the kilns of the Far East, they were often popularly called 'fours chinois', but such a name supposes the importation or reinvention of the type that had been in use in the Orient for many centuries.(88)  In l845, Brongniart, discussing such kilns in his 'Traité des Arts Céramiques' calls them 'German Kilns' (89) but, given the lack of the rigorous and methodical research reported by Favière, it seems reasonable to accept his conclusion that:

 

          '... Les fours traditionnels de La Borne et des

          environs appartiennent à la catégorie des fours

          horizontaux à axe de tirage oblique et à chambre

          unique; leur ressemblance avec les fours à grès

          d'Extrême-Orient Chine, Corée n'a pas manqué

          d'etre soulignée; il est fort possible que les

          uns et les autres n'aient d'autre parents que

          cette ressemblance et qu'il faille voir là deux

          perfectionnements indépendants du four-couloir

          commun à tout le domaine eurasiatique ...'(90)

 

The Origin of the 'Four Couché'

 

      Even if lack of research forces one to leave it unanswered for the present, the question, as to how and when the technique of stoneware - 'grès' - arrived in La Borne and its environs, must be asked.  This in turn, raises another issue, namely, that of the acquisition of the appropriate kiln technology.  A feasible answer can be found in the hypothesis developed by Marcel Poulet (9l) in an attempt to explain the arrival, development, and later modification of the 'fours couchés' in neighbouring La Puisaye, where more extensive scientific research had been conducted.  While acknowledging that valid criticisms can be made against his positions, he examines two possible periods for their appearance in the area, namely: (a) an early sixteenth century and (b) a later development at the end of the sixteenth century.  The two major arguments which he puts forward to support his first position are as follows:-

 

           (l)  '... Les fours couchés apparaissent en Beauvaisis au milieu du

           XIV me siècle.  Il serait surprenant quils aient mis plus de

           deux siècles pour arriver en Puisaye d'autant que la France

           centrale avait des relations avec le Beauvaisis (des céramiques

            de Beauvaisis des XV ème et XVI ème siècle ont été trouvées à

           Bourges).

 

           (2)  'Les décors de certaines pièces en grès sont inspirées d'oeuvres

           de la fin du Moyen Age ou du debut du XVI ème siècle.' (92)

 

      The region north of Paris which is known as Beauvaisis is now known to have witnessed the production of 'pseudo-grès' during the thirteenth century.(93)  This 'pseudo-grès' has been defined by Favière as pottery which has been subjected to sufficiently high temperatures to be partially and unequally vitrified.(94)  Similar products have been discovered in England, Alsace and the Rhineland.  The production of genuine 'grès', that is, pottery with a body totally vitrified in the mass, is linked to the existence of kilns capable of giving the necessary high temperatures.  Excavations at Detroit, one of the principal workshops of Beauvaisis, have revealed  vestiges of such kilns (95).  That the design may have been imported from the Rhineland is a hypothesis supported by the similarity of some of the pottery produced there with that of samples found on the Detroit site. (96)

 

      The Beauvaisis wares of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries discovered in Bourges suggest a continuity of relationships between the city and the potteries of Beauvaisis, facilitated by the widespread commercial network established in the preceeding centuries.  With such links, Poulet proposes that the kiln technology similarly arrived in La Puisaye, via Bourges, from the Beauvaisis region.  Given the evidence that by the seventeenth century there were potters settled on the principal sites, (97) and that the major pottery dynasties were already established, his conclusion could equally apply to the potteries of the region of Henrichemont :

 

          '... Le XVI ème siècle se présente donc en

          Puisaye comme une charnière importante pour

          la céramique puisqu'il aura vu, en son début,

          dans son cours ou dans ses dernières années,

          l'arrivée des fours couchés, l'apparition du

          grès et par suite l'évolution de la production

          et surtout sa diversification...'(98)

 

      Archaeological excavations on the kiln sites in La Puisaye have shown that the type has remained unchanged since its inception, being subjected only to some modification of details throughout the centuries.  The most significant change is in the size which increases from l0 to l5 cubic metres in the seventeenth century to between 40 and 60 in the early nineteenth, culminating with kilns of 78 to 80 cubic metres in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.(99)

 

      The form of such kilns reveals a refined knowledge of structure.  Rectangular kilns of the downdraught type are possible, but their construction poses a problem, since they can only be spanned by a barrel arch, which necessitates the prior construction of a shuttering.  The stresses imposed on the vertical walls by the outward thrust of the barrel arch, in addition to those induced by any movement incurred by expansion and contraction during the firing, would be so great that buttresses would be required to strengthen the walls.  By contrast, the traditional French kilns for firing grès have a section in the form of a catenary arch which has no thrust, and thus additional supports are unnecessary. (l00)

 

Fuel

 

      Dependent upon their availability locally, the kinds of wood used were chosen because of their combustion.(l0l)  In Berry 'bouleau, aulne, charme, essences qui jettent une flamme vive et rapide sont appreciés.  Le Chène, excellent combustible, plus lent ... mais qui tient mieux le feu était aussi employé après avoir été écorcé.  L'écorce recuperée était vendue aux tanneurs de la ville voisine d'Henrichemont'. (l02)  The selected wood was felled and sawn into appropriate lengths approximately two years prior to its use.  Protected from rain in an open shed or covered on top only, it was stacked and dried in the open air. (l03)  The dimensions of the pieces varied according to the specific requirements of the firing.  The early stages demanded a rise in temperature which was progressive but slow, in order to obviate breakages in the large pieces like the saloirs that might result in the collapse of a major portion of the contents.  This initial operation - le petit feu - was fuelled with pieces of wood 0.85 metres in length - 'bois de 30 pouces' (l04) - which raised the temperature of the kiln and its contents until the whole interior acquired an even red glow. (l05)  This operation required approximately three full days and nights before the progression to 'le grand feu', which required a strong heat, a rapid rise in temperature achieved by fuel which produced long flames. (l06)  At La Borne, oak stripped of its bark, and cut in lengths of l.l4 metres, was used, to be followed in the final hours of the firing with 'bourrées', bundles of faggots which ignited instantaneously on entering the foyer 'le tirage, très puissant, se faisant à travers la masse du four la flamme des bourrées, s'élevait à plusieurs mètres au dessus du têtier.  Quant à la fumée, elle était visible à plus de 20 km à la ronde'. (l07)

 

 

      Only his experience and knowledge of his kiln could enable the patron to judge precisely when the firing was nearing completion.  Definitive indicators were small cups - 'tasses' - which were placed within the kiln and withdrawn for inspection by means of long iron rods - 'tatoué'.  When satisfied with these tests, both the firebox and têtier were closed up and cooling took place over a period of eight days before unpacking - 'defournement' - commenced.

 

      The 'fours couchés', veritable 'tunnels of fire' (l08), consumed enormous quantities of wood.  The normal measure of purchase was the 'stère', that is, one cubic metre.  Chaton and Talbot report that 'Une  cuisson consommait de l0 à l5 cordes de 'billette' de 0.8m.  8 cordes de 'riplet', chène écorcé et fendu de l.l4m; soit 40 à 60 stères de bois et l200 bourrées' (l09)

 

The Glazes of La Borne

 

      The inevitable consequence of firing a kiln with wood was that all, or almost all, of the ware received a partial coating of 'natural glaze' (ll0) deriving from a fine cloud of wood ash being carried through the kiln chamber as a result of the current of air, and being deposited on some areas of the pieces being fired.  Such a finish is 'thin, barely wetting the shoulders and tops of the pots, but it gives somewhat the effect of a true glaze' (lll).  Results vary markedly with the position of the ware in the chamber, as well as in the manner of stoking and raking the ashes in the course of the firing.  Whereas in low-fired pottery the glaze must always contain a percentage of one of the active fluxes such as lead, sodium, potassium or boron to obtain a glossy melt (ll2), in temperatures in excess of approximately l200°C, it has been observed that many natural materials will fuse, and the ashes of wood, being fusible at such temperatures, will form a thin glaze on the ware. (ll3)

 

      Historically, the observation of these fortuitous effects have led potters to attempt to control the quality of the glaze by applying additional ash to their pieces prior to firing.  Such finishes have the economic and operational attractions of being entirely achieved in a single firing, thus obviating the intermediate biscuit stage followed by a glaze application. (ll4)

 

      Most wood ashes, given the correct melting characteristics, can make very attractive stoneware glaze ingredients and they give a finish which usually ranges from a light grey to brown, with a tendency towards translucency.  They also are inclined to be somewhat fluid and broken in texture, thereby adding accent to surface variations.  The presence of small quantities of iron and other metallic elements normally result in a glaze which has a speckled and somewhat greyed quality.(ll5)  Wood ashes contain alkalis in a soluble form with, in addition, varying quantities of silica, alumina and other elements, namely, commodites which for some time have been readily available in commercial form, nevertheless 'it is true that glazes made with ashes have a distinctive quality and appearance which is hard to reproduce with other materials'. (ll6)  Before the advent of commercial and mechanically refined glaze ingredients potters had to rely on the availability of natural glaze materials, but since the compostion of wood ash varies markedly, depending on the type of tree and the soil from which it receives its nutrients, it was essential that craftsmen who relied on its quality, should have access to a continuous supply of appropriate wood.  In the potteries of La Borne and its environs, the forests of Humbligny and Henrichemont furnished bountiful quantities of the oak and hornbeam used both in fuelling the kilns as well as the potter's hearths.  Wood ash, therefore, could easily be obtained from such sources or, as was often the case in the past, from local women who used them to bleach their washing.  When sieved, and thinned to the correct consistency with water, the resultant mixture gave a greyish-white glaze of great character. (ll7)  Many potters used to complete each firing by injecting a small amount of salt into the kiln chamber in order to enrich the quality, a combination which resulted in very beautiful colour and textural effects. (ll8)

 

 

Salt Glazing

 

      The basic principle of salt-glazing involves a simple procedure:  As soon as the temperature of the kiln has reached the point at which the clay is maturing, a quantity of salt is injected into the chamber where, on forming a gas, it combines with some of the constituent elements of the clay to form a glaze.  Discovered by German potters in the fifteenth century (ll9), one modern authority has suggested that this 'original and unprecedented discovery' (l20) may have resulted from the controlled exploitation of one of the many fortuitous accidents experienced in firing by wood.

 

          '... when kilns are fired with wood, especially

          at temperatures above about Cone 4 (l200 C,

          approximately ), some vapour glazing resulting

          from the dusting of ash through the kiln is

          sure to occur.  Potters, noticing this, may

          have sought ways to make this natural glaze

          thicker and more uniformly spread over the ware.

          Perhaps the accidental use of wood which had

          become impregnated with salt, such as driftwood,

          led to the discovery ...' (l2l)

 

      The ware for salt-glazing is placed in the kiln in the normal way and the temperature raised until the clay reaches its point of maturation.  At this stage the silica, which is a glass-forming substance, is in a vitreous state and is therefore more reactive. (l22)  Salt volatilizes and its sodium, which is a flux, interacts with the silica of the unprotected parts of the body to form a glaze. (l23)  Providing this interaction occurs at a stage beyond the melting point of salt it is possible to use the process over a wide temperature range.  It is now impossible to determine how and when the knowledge of salt-glazing arrived at La Borne, whether concurrent with the arrival of the 'fours couchées' or as an independent discovery, but in the varied atmosphere of the traditional kilns the technique was successfully exploited for generations, the salt, or 'sel marin', being readily available on a site mid-way between the village and Morogues.  Individual potters who aspire to obtaining uniform results often experience difficulty with the technique since the finish is extremely sensitive to atmosphere but, given the nature of the kilns at La Borne and the aim of the potters, it was admirably suited to their purposes.  The process used was slightly varied, the salt being placed in small fired containers - 'godets à sel' - and distributed throughout the kiln prior to firing.  Volatilising at the appropriate temperature, its resultant dispersion as a gas - 'volée de sel' - interacted with the 'flying ash' from the firebox, to be drawn through the kiln by the intense draw and deposited on the wares.

 

      The glaze obtained from salt-glazing is invariably transparent and colourless, the finished form relying on the colour of the clay.  Should the latter contain some iron, a mottled and slightly granular surface results where the glaze has gathered into slight beads or droplets.  This 'orange-peel' effect is the real charm of salt-glazing and, at its best, it achieves beautiful effects over carved or textured surfaces which may be enhanced by the 'pooling' of the glaze in hollows or depressions in the design. (l24)

 

Laitier

 

      A further addition to the restrained palette of the potters of the region was the finish obtained by the addition to the basic wood ash glaze of a quantity of iron oxide.  This oxide was obtained from 'laitier', the impurities which float on the surface of molten iron. (l25)  The Gallo-Roman epoch had witnessed the installation in Central France of many forges where the unwanted laitier had been cast aside to form stony accumulations on the sites.  This substance, when mined and reduced to a fine powder, could be suspended in water, either alone or in combination with ash, and applied to the surface of the ware by any of the common glazing techniques.  Composed of alumina, silica, lime and iron oxide, laitier gives a range of transparent to translucent yellows and browns.  On pottery forms these will vary according to the colour of the clay body and the temperature at which the piece is matured.  On many old products a strong dosing of laitier has resulted in a finish which is, by times, almost black. (l26)  For the potters of La Borne their main source of supply were the forges in neighbouring Yvoy-le-Pré, a site which continued in activity up to the middle of the nineteenth century. (l27)

 

The Introduction of Metallic Oxides

 

      In the middle of the nineteenth century, the potters of La Borne started to add the metallic oxides, Alquifoux and Minium, to their basic glaze.  Both are compounds of lead, the use of the former, a natural lead sulphur, preceding that of minium, or Red Lead. (l28)  Since these are strong fluxing agents, their use was intended to render the glazes more fusible.  The resultant finish was a highly-glossed, harsh yellow (l29) which varied in tone, depending on the conditions of the firing.  Because of the eventual dependence on lead, all glazing procedures in la Borne came to be called 'le plombage'. (l30)

 

Commerce: Local and Regional

 

      Direct sales could always take place at the pottery itself, where the family might have established a small sale-room capable of handling specifically local sales.  But such a facility was no more than a development of the pottery workshop itself and, for wider dispersion of the products, other outlets were needed.  Weekly markets and regular fairs were important in pottery making regions where specific locations were set aside for retailers, (l3l) but the commercial dynamic could be given an even greater dimension when centres of production had the good fortune to find themselves close to a navigable waterway, (l32) eminently suitable for the transportation of a fragile cargo, and one in which traders were ultimately able to announce their passing by post. (l33)  In the Berry region most customers provisioned themselves at the nearest pottery village, buying table-ware, flower-pots, bricks, chimney-pots and drainage pipes.  But it was the saloir and the milk-jugs of various sizes which constituted the major part of sales throughout Berry and other regions.  All the weekly local markets, such as that at Henrichemont, were frequented, as well as the yearly fairs like those at Beau-Marché at Sancerre which was held on Thursday before Palm Sunday, Châteauvieux, near Saint-Aigan, and La Ferté-Beauharnais, on the edge of Loire. (l34)

 

      For more distant outlets, the merchandise of the region was oriented, primarily but not exclusively, in two different directions, that of Neuvy-Deux-Clochers and Humbligny being sent to the east and south-east while the production of Achères and La Borne provisioned the west and south-west.  The patron potters themselves often travelled long distances to encounter their clients or the latter came to the centres of production, each village having one or two auberges which were often owned by potters themselves.

 

      Using two-wheeled carts with high side-boards, the hauliers of La Borne or the potters themselves delivered supplies to such distant centres as Châteauroux, Potiers, Gueret, Limoges, Clermont and Brive, usually returning laden with cattle skins for the tanneries at Henrichemont. (l35)  Each year on the first of June a major outlet was the important horse fair at Pesselières near Jalognes, on the confines of the Champagne Berrichon and Sancerre.  Close to Pesselières was Groises, a junction of major arteries running from Pouilly to Bourges, Henrichemont to La Charité, and from Sancerre to Beaugy, 'le passage le plus frequent est celui d'Henrichemont à La Charité et de là, à Nevers, à cause des forges et Vererries d'Yvoy, des poteries d'Enrichemont et de Neuvy.' (l36)  The transport of pottery from La Charité to Nevers was effected along the river Loire. (Plate 6)  From ports like La Charité-sur Loire and Saint-Thibault-sous-Sancerre, the river and its tributaries and canals facilitated the dispatch of goods to wholesalers along their banks.  Navigable up until the early years of the twentieth century, trade along these waterways was already well established by the middle of the seventeenth century when Thomas Panarioux entered into the agreement with the merchant of Nevers.  Using large sailing barges, the 'voituriers par eau' serviced Nevers and Roanne, from whence the ware was further dispersed throughout the surrounding countryside.  The Allier, a tributary of the Loire, served La Veudre and Moulins, thus provisioning a major part of the Auvergne, where animal husbandry was a major activity. (l37)  The patron's catalogues advertised the full range of saloirs, cruches and jugs for milk-products which they supplied to the wholesalers.  Though also having adverse effects in the long term on the traditional pottery centres, (l38) the development of the railway system in the latter half of the nineteenth century provided the patrons with a more rapid and economic means of transport.  Arriving at Bourges in July l847, it was extended to Saincaize in l853 and Montluçon in l86l.  By l885 it had reached Henrichemont, and the village of La Borne became part of the system itself when, in l9l3, it was linked to Henrichemont by the 'tacot', a narrow-guage line.  Transport by rail was eventually to contribute to the disappearance of those by road and water since, in many cases, it enabled the potters to negotiate directly with clients in more distant locations. (l39)