About Le Hameau de Courances
Focus on the mill
Although the outbuildings of Château de Courances were, until World War II, the cradle of a dynamic economic activity between the Château and the village, it is important to remember that this activity was, unfortunately, interrupted for nearly half a century.
Indeed, following the exile to Switzerland, of the owners of the time, the estate was totally abandoned between 1830 and 1872. This led to disastrous consequences to the buildings as they were greatly damaged. It necessitated an important campaign of refurbishing, planning and new constructions that was led by the Baron Samuel de Haber. He was then able to create an economic activity around his castle again.
La Pompe (the pump), le Moulin (the mill) and the Atelier (the workshop) date from the end of 19th century.
A Mill is mentioned in the Park of Courances as early as 1638 and its presence is confirmed on two plans, one dating from the end of the 19th century and the second in 1812. Although nothing confirms if the present wheel of the Moulin dates from 1638, the first known date, it is quite sure that it has always been in the same spot. In fact, the road that leads to the Moulin has gone under the name of Rue du Moulin (Mill Street) for several centuries. Contrary to many of the mills of the region, this one is not placed directly on the Ecole river. The wheel is positioned in this spot because a water source supplies it directly. It is not known precisely for what it was used for before the 19th century (wheat, hemp or wood mill?).
The plans dating from the 18th and the start of 19th century confirm the presence of buildings adjacent to the wheel of the mill. However, comparing them to today’s plans, the buildings are no longer exactly in the same spot. It can be supposed that after the abandonment, during the period of 1830 and 1872, the buildings that existed fell into ruin and were unusable. In its big project of restoration, Baron Samuel de Haber built or had rebuilt practically the totality of the commons.
From the end of 19th century to the Second World War, the wheels of the waterfall activated the wheels of the Moulin. The remains of these gearwheels can be seen in the basement of the house; the wheels of the mill allowed the water to go to La Pompe, it then redirected the water to the water tower of the vegetable garden (still in place). The water saved in the water tower supplied to all the needs of the estate and the castle. The hydraulic mill also activated the mechanism of the sawmill located in the current Atelier.
After the war, because of the evolution of the society and the agricultural revolution, the activity of the Domaine de Courances stopped completely, the Moulin became a place of storage before it was taken over by Pierres d’Histoire in 2013. Thanks to the joint work between Pierres d’Histoire and the owners family – through Patrick Deedes, the administrator of Le Chateau de Courances.
The park, the outer walls of Chateau de Courances, as well as the workshop area have been inscribed as Monuments Historiques. Although the rest of the buildings of the domain are not listed, if rehabilitated, they are pretty much subject to the rules governing the Monuments Historiques. When renovating le Hameau, the architect of the Batiments de France required, quite rightly, that the buildings keep the rural aspect of their original functions.
The restoration took eighteen months and needed about ten people. Manolo, the Courances gardener was hired to help. He knew everything there was to know about Courances and became little by little the site manager coordinating the different artisans: a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter who executed the door and window frames, the shutters and the staircases. A number of masons including four other people who usually worked for the upkeep the Park of Courances, were also hired.
Because of the proximity of the buildings to the water, the biggest difficulty of the work site was to clean up the foundations; without knocking down anything. It had to be repaired from below so as to reinforce and protect it from the waters. This structural work implied moving … the pump. It can easily be imagined how difficult it was to move such an imposing system. As for the very bad state of the paved court it was best to completely redo it. It was set in the traditional way, that is to say, on a bed of sand slightly treated with lime.
Following damages during World War II, some sections had been repaired in the seventies and eighties with concrete. When talks of restoration took place, there was very little, if any, of the original elements that could be utilized. However, it was obvious that high quality materials had to be used. Because of this, the walls were worked with whitewash and the floors covered with old terra cotta tiles. Insulation was done with hemp, a vegetable fiber known for its transpiration qualities. The regional park of Gatinais, home to Chateau de Courances, has put in place a system to make local hemp available, inciting the use of this wonderful material which not only is efficient but smells wonderful.
Sober and elegant decoration creates, in each of the three houses, a particular charm and atmosphere. A place for family and friends to get together, for relaxing, breathing deeply and simply taking time out.
The seduction of Hameau de Courances comes not only from the quietude of the paved courtyard but also from the extraordinary Japanese garden visible behind the individual private gardens.