So it probably won’t come as a surprise when I say that some of the most useful resources I found for finding out about the history of our French water mill were local historians.
One of our first visitors when we moved into the mill was a local historian eager to find out how much we could tell him about the history of the place. Not a lot, at that point it has to be said. His knowledge was somewhat anecdotal, so we weren’t much help to each other. The French are justifiably proud of their heritage and even if, in this not-very touristy area, local historic buildings and monuments are usually only available to visit on les journées de patrimoine, national heritage days, the number of people involved in volunteer restoration work and amateur genealogy and research is amazing.
When we first moved into the village I went down to the mairie to ask about local family doctors and was told that although the local doctor had recently retired, the commune was converting the very old building next to the church into a health centre to attract new medical staff. The building in question was an old prieuré, priory but had been privately owned in a number of guises (crêperie, family home, meeting rooms) since the revolution. The restoration project had been held up because the church next door has some listed wall frescos and it was decided that there should be an archaeological excavation to fully understand the history of the site.
At the time I didn’t take much notice but on one of my visits to the mairie, to collect my yellow plastic recycling bags, I noticed a new publication by the Association des patrimoines d’Auvers-le-Hamon, which was being promoted on the counter. I decided to buy a copy and find out a bit more about our local historic building.
Towards the end of the booklet were a few paragraphs about l’abbé Emmanuel Toublet who had been curate of Auvers-le-Hamon 1902-1920. It seems he had been a keen historian and had published a serialised Histoire d’Auvers in the parish bulletin. He was also a member of the Société historique et archéologique du Maine from its creation in 1876, publishing articles about the prieuré in the society’s journal. He apparently didn’t get much recognition for his excellent work during his lifetime, which is a shame.
A few weeks later, I was reading another book about watermills in Europe and the author had written that in medieval times the construction of a mill could only be authorised by someone as powerful as a king, emperor, count or the church. It also required a sizeable financial investment. That got me wondering if there could be any connection between Moulin de la Roche and a local member of the nobility or the church. I went back to my Dictionnaire du prieuré d’Auvers-le-Hamon and googled the name of the good curate. Imagine my surprise when I found his history of the village priory had been digitised and was available in full on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France’s Gallica website. The book was very readable and had clear citations for all his historical sources.
Well, to cut a long story short there is indeed a connection between our watermill and the old priory in Auvers. You can read more about the origins of Moulin de la Roche in the History pages of the website.
Spoiler alert – we’re talking a thousand years ago! Click the image below to read more…
There are a heck of a lot more snippets of information about the mill over the centuries that l’abbé Toublet has provided me with and I’m glad to say that nowadays his writings are oft-quoted and cited as trusted local history sources in their own right.
So, thank you Monsieur Toublet.