The "Moulin des Îles de la Motte", Au Bout du Pont, Faverolles-sur-Cher
A Bit of History
The original mill was built over a period spanning 1810-1820, to replace a smaller mill by the Montrichard bridge, opposite the pub "Le Passeur". In 1856, "the great flood" spilled over the banks causing extensive damage. It was perhaps at about this time that the miller decided an extra (read higher and drier) floor might be wise. You can see the change of color where the paler-colored tuffeau stone was replaced by its commoner and yellower version, used for more ordinary buildings.
The mill worked for a good hundred-odd years until about 1917 when huge corporations such as the Grands Moulins de Pantin muscled their way through the cuddly inefficiencies of the past. Some people said it was the crash of 1929, but Mme Chevalier is clear: the mill was no longer working when she arrived to be married in 1927, by which time it had been retired and converted into an ice factory supplying local shops and, for the wealthier, fridges.
During WWII, the river Cher was part of the demarcation line separating free from occupied France. There are tales of resistance fighters smuggled across the bridge under a thick blanket of frozen camouflage… The Germans planned on destroying it and fortunately didn’t but, judging by later events, a fair amount of shooting went on across the river. At one stage, someone decided that the ornate row of trees lining the road to the mill would look better converted to pulp, paper and banknotes. After the logging company had shattered enough blades from bullets lodged in the trunks, they called it a day.
Micafer & M. Lefèvre
I’m a bit hazy on the dates here, but sometime in the sixties, the Chevalier family sold up and the mill was bought by Monsieur Lefèvre, an electrotechnical engineer and manufacturer. He already had a business in the Paris region, and another factory in the Bordeaux region. The Faverolles plant was designed to build appliances such as soldering-irons, pyrogravure sets, battery chargers and so on.
Soon, however - despite the extraordinary remodeling work of converting three low floors (a mill never really needed height for stocking sacks of wheat or flour) into two tall storeys with its resulting windows either straddling floors and ceilings - the mill was too small. So he designed and built the factory, assembled the cross parts outside in the garden, brought them to position on a purpose-laid railway line, and bolted it all together.
The next part is the biggie. For three years, André Lefèvre collected empty oil cans from local garages. Being an engineer, he first devised a method for extracting the last cubic centimeter or so of oil, then used them, all 35,000, as a lightweight, rigid structure around which to position the reinforcement bars and pour the concrete. The result: a saving of maybe 85 kilos per square meter, or a total of some 185 tonnes or 5 lorryloads for the entire building. Brilliant!
Oil cans used in building the Faverolles factory
The factory was known as an “usine fleurie de France”, or flowered factory of France. What exactly this was - a left-appeasing gesture or the quiet groundswell of a sixties’ whimsy which evolved into today’s ecological movement - I’m not sure, but the premise seems to be a typically French take on the cité idéale, or ideal city, of earlier times (e.g., The Royal Saltworks of Arc et Senans), where the master of the factory was a paternalistic sort caring for the well-being of an irresponsible workforce neither socially nor financially mature enough to look after itself… Either way, the result is stunning. Around the first floor, along its entire 80-meter, almost 200m² balcony, are flower boxes (we even have the occasional iris still flowering on us!). On the ground floor, at the foot of every pilaster is a flower-box. Inside the mill beneath the big windows facing the river are two deep boxes 1.4 meters wide, and draped around the central well and staircase wherever space allowed were more and more. We suspect that Madame Lefèvre had more to say in this than Monsieur.
The Swinging Sixties
Moving on, the sixties and seventies were not the kindest to Western manufacturing, and soon Japan was producing dramatically better quality-controlled goods at a fraction of the cost. This, and illness, finished the factory off.
Twisting and Quite Possibly Shouting down at the Café de la Plage
The next owner was another character, and he had a brilliant idea too: a marina. This was in the days when riverboat holidays were all the rage. Montrichard was already famous for its weekend balls, with Parisians coming down on a regular basis. However, he failed to take the byzantine logic of French bureaucracy into account. Yes, he was building for people coming and going by boat, who would be staying on houses built on stilts, or pilotis. Since the land beneath the river was designated as floodable, something I suspect applies to most rivers, planning permission was denied. Judging by what happened next, he must already have spent a large proportion of the money his investor friends had entrusted him with: he disappeared and was never heard of again.
Lacking the principal, the remaining owners couldn’t sell and, little by little, the weather reduced their asset to rust and ruin. They had to wait 30 years for the law to accept, grudgingly, that he wasn't coming back or signing anything any time soon.
Which is where we come in.