Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A Journey to Florence in 1817 - from Bernay to Montgeron

Once again, a few words for those of you who are reading this blog for the first time. Originally I began the
The old post inn at Bernay en Ponthieu [Google images]
blog to support readers of my book 
The Door of PeraroloFor some time from now the blog posts will cover the research relating to the 1817 diary introduced in the last post.  I undertook numerous trips to France, Switzerland and Italy  in order to gain some better understanding of life in those countries at the beginning of the nineteenth century. I followed the route taken by the Campbell family from Montgeron in France (the subject of the next blog post) all the way to Florence, there to find the house where the family settled into their new life in Italy.

With me on the journey at all times were the pages of Sir Gavin Rylands de Beer's book  A Journey to Florence in 1817, in which was published for the first time, the diary of Harriet Charlotte Beaujolois Campbell.

Here, below, the diary continues as they leave Bernay in late July (Beaujolois was only 14 - so allow, please, for minor errors that were left uncorrected by de Beers and myself):

The route (red) from Bernay to Abbeville
Tuesday 29th

It is curious to see how in every town and village they endeavour to appear Englishified.  At every petty shop and ale house they hang out a large sign with the french above and the English translation not always quite correct being the literal translation of the original. The inn cards too have generally the translation into English on the opposite side; and frequently they beg leave to inform the travellers that they will find some one happy person of the house who speaks English. All these marks of civility to the English were not practised when we left the continent last year. It is a mark how many of our country men and particularly how many ignorant ones, since the inhabitants find it necessary to translate their language.

Leaving Bernay that morning they took the road south towards Abbeville, aiming to get to Amiens by late afternoon in time for table d’hôte.  With such a large party, eating a fixed price meal with few (or no) choices was their best plan for economy, if not satisfaction.

The roads linking Abbeville to Amiens [CARTOGUIDE SHELL-BERRE FRANCE: Nord, 1969 edition]

We reached Amiens at about four O clock the hour for dinner at table d'hote.  

Subtitled A Rather Uncouth group of  Gentlemen Dining
[Artist George M. Woodward, engraver Isaac Cruikshank; published in London by Allen and West, 1796]

I should have enjoyed this very much personally were it not for certain long faces which I perceived at my side seeming to say "how horrible". As soon as we left the table Eleanor's complaints were unrestrained and Miss de la Chaux joined with her.  It is true that were our party smaller it would be more agreeable and one should feel more at one's ease but as the number cannot be lessened it is well to bear with it patiently.  The expense is less and the entertainment greater.  In the middle of the long table sat the the landlady a middle aged woman not handsome nicely dressed, and with a sufficient degree of self approbation to appear perfectly at her ease...

The landlady remarks in French that all the men are grouped together, as are the ladies.  Beaujolois' eye is on the men gathered at the table.

Amongst the men there were two ugly old ones who looked clever and entertaining.  I should have liked to have talked to them very much.  The others were chiefly young puppies.

Amiens Cathedral by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

She continues,

Immediately after dinner we went to the Cathedral. That Cathedral which had formed so lasting an impression upon my memory from the first moment I entered it three years ago I had expected to experience again the same enthusiastic awe but the whole was changed. I have since seen finer churches and consequently I judged of this one by comparison. As it was broad daylight that I revisited it I could no longer see the fading rays of the evening sun casting a partial light through the darkening aisles.

Amiens to Breteuil
First impressions are often lasting but they are rarely felt again.  Time having elapsed or circumstances changed rarely permits them to return in full force.  We slept at Breteuil: a small place but where there is a good Inn and civil people.

The inn at Breteuil is not identified by name in Beaujolois' diary, but was possibly the hotel seen on the right of the image below. As at Bernay, the coming of the railway to the region would have ended the inn's commercial coaching operation.

Leaving Breteuil the next morning Beaujolois immerses herself in reading letters by Friedrich Matthisson, translated from German. We hear no more in the journal until the coach stops at an inn at Chantilly.

Breteuil, La rue de la République before WW1  [Edition Martinat]

 Breteuil to Chantilly
Isle-de-France, 1970 edition]

Wednesday 30th 

At Chantilly we dined, a good inn.  They showed us the list of people who had been at the inn.  All English and amongst them was Walter's and Mr Bury's.

'Walter' is Beaujolois' eldest brother, Walter Frederick Campbell; 'Mr Bury' is Walter's tutor and travelling companion, the Reverend Edward John  Bury. Bury is destined to cause Beaujolois much heartache later that year.

Chantilly is, of course, world-renowned for 'Chantilly Lace', though most of the lace bearing this name was actually made in Bayeux in France and Geraardsbergen, now in Belgium.

Beaujolois' diary shows that she is longing to visit Paris, but it was not to be...

Scarf in Chantilly Lace, 1850-1880.
MoMu - Fashion Museum Province of Antwerp, www.momu.be
 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
via Wikimedia Commons

Although inclination would have proposed a very different plan, necessity, hard necessity urged mamma to avoid going to Paris. However, we went through St Denis which was to me a great satisfaction as I had expected to have one glance at this beautiful Cathedral.  But our road did not lie that way and my hope was in vain.

My maps of France are nearly 50 years old, dating from a trip to France in 1970.  I have been using them in these posts as they don't show any of the modern French motorways built since these maps were printed.  

But as Beaujolois' diary takes us further south towards the northern environs of Paris the modern roads as seen on the Isle-de-France map become too intrusive. The 1780 map of the Paris environs below gives us a clearer picture of the journey round Paris.

Part of an 1870 map of the environs of Paris [M. Bonne, Ingénieur Hydrographe de la Marine]

The road from Chantilly runs from the north, through Pierre Fitte and St Denis. Pierre Fitte has grown and has been renamed Pierrefitte-sur-Seine - it is a town much changed since Beaujolois' time as it was ravaged by enemy bombardment during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

St Denis is so named after Denys, a former bishop of Paris (d. c.250 AD).  He was put to death by
Bishop Denys seeking a suitable building site
[Encyclopaedia Britannica]
beheading but, as is a common story in towns and cities elsewhere 
bearing a similar name (for example, on the 10th September the Campbell family arrive at Borgo San Donnino in Italy, where the same story persists), he chose to wander around for a while, head in hands, until he placed it at the spot where he thought a new cathedral should be founded.

In her journal she records:

At the very gates of Paris we turned off to Charenton. The road followed the outskirts of Paris and I felt doubly the disappointment of not going there by being so very near. This though apparantly trivial was one of the many  occasions in which I have experienced the truth of what  is so often said: that this life is a scene of constant trial.  I am so young that I can scarcely be said to have known privations, but every age has those peculiar to itself and young as I am I have known real privations and heart felt greif which I shall ever remember.

The 'heart felt greif' (d
on't you think 'grief' looks better as spelled by Beaujolois?!) may refer to her life in London. Later in the journal, when nearing Lausanne she reflects on her distress of leaving Italy the previous year to return to the stifling existence in London she hated. Charenton can be found on the map below at the junction of two rivers, the Seine and the Marne. 

Part of an 1780 map of the environs of Paris [M. Bonne, Ingénieur Hydrographe de la Marine]

At Charenton we had intended sleeping but after the rooms were chosen and we were preparing to go to bed, the landlady who I believe was at a loss to fix her price asked so exorbitant a one and behaved and spoke in so disgusting a manner that we agreed to order horses and go on till we should find more hospitable people.  All the party seemed disconcerted at this plan, but  it being an uncommonly fine moon light night I went upon the dickey and slept away two posts.
They took the road that runs south from Charenton towards Villeneuve St Georges.  The dickey is a platform or seat at the back of a stage coach, intended perhaps for the use of a groom.

Valenton to Montgeron via Villeneuve St Georges [Cassini, Carte 1 (Paris)]

At Mangeron where we had already been twice. On enquiring at the same Hotel we found that fortunately the landlady had not gone to bed with the rest of her people.

The Hotel de la Chasse [© P.A.G. 2004]

We would hope she had not!  In her diary entry Beaujolois spells 'Montgeron' as she may have pronounced the name - as though she had not seen the name written down; this was quite likely to have been the case. In 1817 there were not the road signs on the approach to towns as there are nowadays. The hotel were they stayed that night was possibly the Hotel de la Chasse. In 2004 I arrived (2nd class) by train from Paris and took the photograph seen above of the hotel.   

Today it is a Chinese restaurant, but if you look carefully you can still see the name of the hotel above the first floor windows - but more of Montgeron in the next post. 

Oh, one other thing. As we have passed by Paris in this post, let me say that we can do la cuisine parisienne here in Scotland too!  Nae bother!

If you take a trip to Bonnie Scotland and travel as far north as Inverurie, you can grab a bite of lunch, where my family often do, in The Kilted Frog. Now, there's a name for you! 

Juliet and Patrick are your hosts.

Patrick is a real Frenchman - Juliet tells me he comes from Paris. 

In this photo he looks like a refugee from 'Allo 'Allo!  

So listen very carefully - I will say zis only wance: 'E looks more serious when 'e is doing eez cuisine.

A bientôt!

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide. The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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