Monday, 11 April 2016

A Journey to Florence in 1817 - Montgeron

I arrived by train from Paris on the evening of Thursday 24th June 2004.
My rail ticket from Paris to Montgeron [PAG 2004

Beaujolois' diary entry for the Campbell family's arrival at Montgeron on the evening of Wednesday 30th  July 1817  reads:

On enquiring at the same Hotel we found that fortunately the landlady had not gone to bed...

Alas, that hotel has been closed for a long time. The coming of the railway from Paris put the old post houses along the coach roads out of business.

Leaving Montgeron station I spotted a group of youths hanging out in the Place Joseph Piette and asked them for directions to the town centre. They pointed up the Rue Louis Armand, but when I asked about hotels, they just shrugged and shook their heads.  
It was nighttime, I was tired, and something told me that I wasn't going to find a hotel for the night... 

I had my rucksack over one shoulder and a lightweight one-man tent over the other as insurance for this eventuality. I lugged my possessions up the Rue Louis Armand as far as the crossroads with the Rue des Bons Enfants.  

My luck was in, for I reached the junction just as a car arrived there out of the Rue des Bons Enfants.  It was a warm summer's evening, and the lady driving the car had her window open. The car had stopped at
The corner where I got lucky [Google images]
the junction to check for traffic.

I gave a quick bonsoir and in my rusty school French said that I'd just arrived from Scotland. Was there was a hotel to be found in Montgeron?

Another shake of the head.  She told me that there was the Hôtel balladins at Vigneux-sur-Seine, a cheap hotel a little way outside Montgeron.  

A one-man tent is very small!
It is handy that I don't look menacing - in truth, I wouldn't know where to start!  I nodded and asked if it was within walking distance.
Anything is better than sleeping in a field in a tent. 

She indicated I should get into the car - which I did - and immediately I was whisked away. How lucky can you get?  I gave a mental 'thank you' to the bon enfants, whoever they were, for they surely looked after me that night!

When we arrived at the hotel we found the reception closed for the night.  My guardian angel pointed to a machine on the wall to the right of reception, and seeing the lost expression on my face said, 't'en fais pas!' Don't worry!  

She motioned me to put my credit card into the machine, and after I'd entered the PIN it discharged a pass for what would be my room for the night. Everything was automatic - no staff.  

As she got back into her car I thanked her profusely. She shrugged and with a smile, a wave and an au revoir, she was away into the night. 

The Hôtel Balladins at Vigneux-sur-Seine

It was the sort of kindness that I was to experience so many times as I followed Beaujolois' 1817 journey all the way from Montgeron to Florence.

England eliminated on penalties, Euro 2004
Inside my hotel room was a shower, a bed and a TV.  I turned on the TV just in time to watch England fail in the penalty shoot-out against Portugal, which eliminated England from Euro 2004. 'Some you draw, some you lose' is the England supporters' motto. Now, in 2016, England are about to try again...

The next day I went to the now-open reception and left my tent and rucksack with the receptionist (those were easier times) to collect later.  

The road from from Paris, through Charenton and into Montgeron used
North of Montgeron [Google Maps]
by the coach in 1817 is marked 'D50' on the map section to the right. 
Nowadays, the modern road, the N6, bypasses the town.  The two roads  meet up again south of Montgeron in the Forest of Senart.

The few things I took with me on the walk into Montgeron were Beaujolois' dairy, my Psion palmtop (pre-loaded with French, Italian and German dictionaries) and Harrap's French verb book.  These are brilliant little books! The French, Italian and German copies were to populate the side pockets of my rucksack as I journeyed through France, German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and Italy.

Road and rail links arriving into Montgeron [Montgeron Plan Officiel 2004]
In Montgeron  my first stop was the Office de Tourisme in the Rue de la République to get 
a street map.

The cover of my 2004 street map of Montgeron [Montgeron Plan Officiel 2004]

When I explained the reason for my visit to Montgeron, they directed me to the Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron, giving me the name of their president, M. Michel Chancelier.  Michel was unavailable that day but when I arrived back in Scotland, we corresponded for a while by letter. 

He very generously supplied me with information and articles about the town. Nowadays, the Society maintains a website containing images and historical information about Montgeron's history. 
The Avenue du Chateau - La Pelouse [Le Parisien 25/10/15]

The image to the left shows croquet being played in La Pelouse, a recreational area with a long avenue of trees whose centenary of adoption by the town occurs in in 2017.  The photograph dates from around 1900. The avenue of trees also appear on the cover of the 2004 street map.

The first hotel the Campbells would have reached, arriving late at night from Charenton was the Lion d'Or on the Rue de Paris (the D40, now renamed the Rue de la République).  

Showing the site of the Lion dOr  [Montgeron Plan Officiel 2004]

The location is marked L on the street map section above. The Office de Tourisme is marked i. 

The site of the Lion dOr in 2004 (40, Rue de la Republique)  [PAG 2004]
The Rue de Paris was the main road leading into Montgeron from the French capital; it passes through Montgeron and heads east through the Forest of Senart, and thence on to Sens.  In 2004 I was told that the hotel was  'disparu', the ground floor partly occupied at the time of my visit by the commercial premises of Albert Cornu.

But it seems to me that in arriving so late the family would have tried the larger hotel, the Hôtel de la Chasse a little further down the road (at nearby Chalandray). Whilst I was writing this blog post the image below was sent to me by Renaud Arpin of the Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron, together with more information about his town. 

The Hôtel de la Chasse (left of centre)  circa 1900 [Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron]

Writing to me in 2004, M. Michel Chancelier had made two suggestions as to the most likely places where the family might have stayed in 1817, and one of these suggestions was the Hôtel de la Chasse.

Beaujolois says very little about Montgeron in her diary.  

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. We were very well and reasonably served.

She mis-spells the town name as 'Mangeron' but we have to remember that she was 14 years old. Nevertheless, she spoke good French and also some Italian and German.  Better than most of us at 14, n'est-ce pas? 

The photo above shows the main street, the Rue de Paris, as it was around 1900.   I am convinced that this was where they stayed; they were arriving late at night and this was the largest inn at that time in Montgeron.

101,  Rue de la Republique (the Rue de Paris in 1817) as it was in 2004 [PAG 2004]

Detail showing the entrance to the stabling [PAG 2004]

Above is a photo of the same street in 2004.  

The 'Service Culturel' in the detail to the right was the entrance to the stable yard in Beaujolois' time. 

It is remarkable how much of our history is lost without trace.  In the photo below if you look carefully you can see the old name above the first floor windows.

The old hotel building survives.  The ground floor is now Le Royal Chinese restaurant. 

The above detail shows the old name more clearly.  

The hotel in 2015 [Google Maps]

Sadly, the letters disappeared some years later when the building was redecorated (the image above) and modernised.

L’Hôtellerie Lombard [Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron]

With regard the hotels of Montgeron the Campbells might have stayed in on the night of the 30th July, M. Michel Chancelier also sent to me a second suggestion - L’Hôtellerie Lombard.  

In 2004 he sent me photocopy of the picture above; while writing this blog post Renaud Arpin sent me the image above.  The anonymous engraving which was published in 1904 by Jean-Charles Gatinot in the second volume of À travers Montgeron, shows what L’Hôtellerie Lombard looked like in the early nineteenth century, allowing us more insight into the view Beaujolois would have had in 1817.

In the engraving, on the first floor, you can see a small wrought iron balcony; also visible is the abreuvoir for animals (such as coach horses) in need of water, and the cross marking the Chalandray crossroads.

But Chalandray in the past was not part of Montgeron (as it is nowadays).  It was called Chalandré and was some distance out of Montgeron on the road that leads through the forest of Senart to Melun and onwards to Sens.  In the eighteenth century the Cassini family, over several generations, produced detailed maps of France. 

In her blog Montgeron ma ville, Isabelle Bigand Viviani tells us that in 1789, the first Mayor of Montgeron, François Lemoine, was charged with the task of grouping a number of these small towns (fiefs), including Concy and Chalandré, so as to come under the jurisdiction of Montgeron.

The road leading SW out of Montgeron through the Forest of Senart towards Melun and Sens [Cassini]

So it would seem that by 1817 Montgeron had expanded sufficiently to include both L’Hôtellerie Lombard and the Hôtel de la Chasse within the town's boundaries. 

L’Hôtellerie Lombard seen on a postcard from the 1950s [Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron]

Still recognisable, above the door, is the small wrought iron balcony visible in the early engraving.  An extra floor has been added and the old building has been converted for use as Montgeron's Town Hall, a use it maintains to this day.

The Hotel de la Chasse in the early twentieth century [Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron]

But I am convinced that the Hôtel de la Chasse was the place where they stayed that night. The old hotel takes it's name from the hunting in the Forest of Senart.

You can just discern the hunting scene on the inn sign.  

The Hotel de la Chasse was a large hotel used for gentry wishing to hunt.

The morning after their stay there the Campbells left for Sens.  They headed past Chalandré and on through the Forest of Senart past Lieusaint.

The road leading SW out of the Forest of Senart past Lieusaint and onwards towards Melun and Sens [Cassini]
In the year 1796 the forest, near Lieusaint, was the scene of robbery and murder.  Later in her journal, Beaujolois relates the story of a coach in Italy being attacked by robbers and murderers - so it is clear to a reader that she knew nothing of the events of 1796.  Moreover, She had her head in a novel by Maria Edgeworth.

Thursday July 31st
In France which with Tasso  may indeed be called ampio paese e bello it would be wrong to say, here flat and uninteresting country...  

But the truth of the matter is, I was much engaged in reading Miss Edgeworth’s new novel Harrington in which I was much interested and although by an occasional glance over the  surrounding undulated plains waving richness I did not at the moment think of what I saw.

We went without stopping to Sens, where we slept.’

Maria Edgeworth was a popular novelist of Irish descent who had brought out Harrington that same year.  She is little read nowadays.

The book was written as an apology to the Jewish community, following an anti-Semitic remark in an earlier novel, The Absentee; this resulted in a complaint by letter from a member of the Jewish community in America about her depiction of Jews. Harrington is a fictitious autobiography and features one of the first Jewish main protagonists to appear in an English novel.

In 2004, after taking the photos that appear in this post, I picked up my tent and rucksack from the hotel at Vigneux-sur-Seine and set off for the N6 in order to hitchhike to Sens.

In next month's post of this blog we follow the Campbell's route to Sens - through the forest, thence to Melun and finally to Sens.  I still have a wealth of information sent to me from Montgeron, tales of murder, miscarriage of justice, and eggs.  Yes... eggs! All will be revealed May's post.

I must record my gratitude to M. Michele Chancelier who provided me with so much useful advice and information in 2004, and also to M. Renaud Arpin from the same Society, who has corresponded with me during March and April this year, providing so much extra information.  My apologies to  go to Renaud - I couldn't fit all the fascinating material sent into this rather long post but I will make amends in the May post.

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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