Sunday, 4 November 2012

An Old Brick

A brick from La Tuilerie
It all started one Sunday afternoon in August when a charming, elderly gentleman stopped his car by our house and asked if we knew anything about Noël Marembeau.  Well as it happens we do - quite a lot actually - he was the guy who built this place.  Noël Marembeau was born in the Auvergne and came to Burgundy to make his fortune by building and running a tuilerie.  Our visitor had come round because he had found an old brick that had been made here, he had Googled Noël Marembeau, Chazelles and had found a blog Cees had written some time ago and so now he was standing in front of our gate.  The wonders of modern technology ! 

We offered him a “tour” of La Tuilerie to explain it all, but it transpired that he had more than a slight inkling about how things worked.  He then went on to tell us that he was part of a small group that were restoring a old gypsum mine and ovens in Berzé-la-Ville and that was where they had found the brick.  He gave us his telephone number saying we must come round for a visit and left.

Berzé-la-Ville gypsum ovens and mill stones
We bumped into him a couple of weeks later at a wedding and he insisted that we make contact to visit the ovens.  Realising he was being more than just polite, we phoned him a few days later, we made an appointment to visit and then met up with two other members of his team one morning in August.  What a superb visit we had!  The site is only open by appointment, although you can see the ovens through the grills.  So we were some of the privileged few who were treated to a fascinating explanation of how everything worked and how the group had uncovered all the treasures that there were now for us to see.

By the ovens, check out our brick in the trolley
There are a total of 9 ovens. The older ones being batch, similar to the way our tuilerie worked, load up, light the fire, cool, then empty.  But 3 were semi-continuous.  In these ovens, the gypsum was put in, in layers, alternating with layers of wood.  The bottom layer of wood was lit and this “cooked” the gypsum layer above it and in turn this gypsum layer lit the layer of wood above.  As the first layer of wood burned the cooked gypsum descended to the bottom of the oven and could be removed, leaving space at the top for another layer of gypsum and wood and so the process went on for as long as required.

Deep in the mines
After the ovens, we were treated to a visit into the mine itself.  The mine was shut down in about 1900 but was used later by mushroom farmers.  It is carved out of the rock and hence no real need to support the roof - unlike a coalmine.  In the 1960s part of the roof collapsed, killing a mushroom picker and so the mine was closed for safety reasons and has been closed ever since.  As we walked into the mine I kept looking up to make sure all was well and seeing the pile of rock that had caved in, reminded us of the dangers that underground workers face everyday.  We felt very honoured indeed to have been allowed in there.

We were so impressed with what these guys had done over the last 30-odd years, they started with the knowledge that the village had had a mine and ovens and they knew roughly where they were, but they have literally dug everything out of the ground, ounce by ounce, by dedicating every Friday afternoon between April and October to this enormous feat.

We spent hours with them and are immensely grateful for the warm welcome they gave us and the time they spent patiently explaining things.  We left with a cheery, you must come and see our tuilerie and that is exactly what they did last week.  All five members of the team arrived on a Friday afternoon (of course) and we spent a couple of hours showing them round and generally chatting. 

La Tuilerie de Chazelle
We show people around all the time, small groups from the Office de Tourisme, people staying in our gîtes, campers, but this tour had the added pleasure of having a group of people who actually understood how things worked and we discussed with them the finer details the construction and of using an oven of this nature, so it was a shared experience and not just one-way traffic.  Comparing their ovens and the cooking process with ours and the differences in the products that the two systems had to cope with, was very enlightening.

I am sure we will be keeping in contact with these people and we are definitely going to follow the progress of a couple of them who are building their own tuilerie, Roman-style, but that is a subject for a later blog.

La Tuilerie Website gives not only details about the holiday accommodation we have, but also photos of the tuilerie and the euqipment that was here in the past.

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