Christian Lassure

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The present Centre region covers the historical territories centred on Bourges (Berry), Orléans (the Orléanais), Blois (the Blésois) and Tours (Touraine). These territories fall into twenty or so smaller areas or "pays" differentiated by geology, terrain, landscape, etc.

Even though the 19th century saw the expansion of owner occupancy, the rural habitat of a large part of the Centre region bears the imprint of the form of tenure that prevailed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, i.e. tenant farming, in which an estate (the "domaine") was let by its owner, in return for a share of the crops or fixed tithes, to a tenant farmer (the "maître") who supervised servants, farm hands and tied labourers.

The estate is centred on a farmstead with a central courtyard – either open or enclosed – and a large barn, as is the case in the Orléanais, Sologne, the Beauce Chartraine, Berry, and the Brenne Tourangelle. In Sologne, two lines of buildings at right angles to the farmhouse form two sides of the "aireau" or yard, which is never totally enclosed: on one side the barn with its porch housing the threshing floor, on the other the stables or the sheep shelter. The yard is slightly sunken to allow the making of manure. In Berry, the yard is surrounded by buildings on all four sides, with, however, a narrow passageway left open at each angle, a layout harking back to a time when the yard was collectively owned by the inhabitants of a former hamlet, every house of which, except one, was subsequently turned into a dependency. In the Beauce Chartraine, the yard is completely enclosed, the only access being by a combined cart and pedestrian entrance.

Central courtyard of a farming estate at Souesmes, Loir-et-Cher:

The buildings visible in the picture are dependencies: horse stables on the left and a barn on the right – as revealed by its high cart doorway. The walls are made of half timbering and daub infilling, the roofs are covered in flat tiles – presumably as a replacement for thatch.

Colorized postcard of the first decade of the 20th century.

In the estate, the farmhouse, invariably with a long-wall façade, may be:
- a single-storied, single-roomed house, with a doorway and a window, under a two-sided roof of flat clay-tiles or of thatch with a “lucarne-porte” (combined dormer window and loft entrance);
- two conjoined one-room dwellings for independent families;
- a central-corridor house, with on one side the owner's lodging and on the other the tenant's.

A functionally and architecturally important feature of the estate is the barn with, as its most outstanding ancient type, the aisled barn with a roof supported by pairs of wooden posts, a type extant in the Champagne Berrichonne and the Pays Fort.

In the Orléanais, Sologne and Berry, the estate was run by employing an abundant workforce of locaturiers or tied labourers, living in nearby hamlets or villages. The locaturier's house (the locature) was a low, one-room affair, flanked at one end by a byre and at the other by a bread-oven set against the gable fireplace inside. Standing on the top of the façade wall, a “lucarne-porte” with its fixed external ladder gave access to the loft. Set into the internal wall, next to the entrance, was a rudimentary stone or brick sink – the bassie. Twin locatures or even a whole terrace of locatures, were a common sight on the outskirts of small towns.

"Locature"-type houses in Berry:

These are low, long-wall façade houses, built of half-timber resting on low foundation walls of yellow bricks. The infilling is of thin bricks laid in chevron patterns. The left-hand house consists of a single room and an annexe. Judging from its roof stack, the chimney must be set against a partition wall.

One can surmise that the roofing tiles have replaced an initial rye thatch covering while the thin bricks have superseded the original daub.

Colorized postcard of the first decade of the 20th century (published by Lenormand). Another edition of the same postcard boasts a slightly different legend: "EN SOLOGNE. - Intérieur de ferme".

Originating in the 17th century, the locatures were to become independent “fermettes” or small farms in the 19th century and merge into the number of small farmsteads originating from the sale of the “Biens Nationaux” (state property) and stringing together living quarters and dependencies in a single range, notably in the areas of “bocage” or enclosed land combining cattle raising and mixed farming.

Apart from the domaine-locaturiers association and the "fermette", the rural habitat of the Centre region also included:
- in the Sancerre area, the vinegrower's house, either a single room above an underground cellar, or a "longère" with an added cellar at the back;
- in the Val d'Orléans, the closerie, a two-storied house built by a bourgeois town-dweller, with accomodation for himself at upper-floor level and for the closier or hired labourer at ground-floor level;
- in the "îles" of the lower-Touraine flood plains, the hemp-grower's one-room house with walls of tuffeau or soft limestone under a two-sided roof of flat clay tiles (hemp being stored in the loft and dried up in an oven leaning against a gable);
- along the Loire river, the waterman's bourgeois-looking house built of cut stone, with a ground floor used as a storage place topped by living quarters with an external staircase;
- in Sologne, the gamekeeper's two-roomed brick house, built by a castle owner.

Deserving special mention are the caves demeurantes or cave dwellings excavated in the tuffeau hill cliffs along the Loire river and its tributaries in the Vendôme area and Touraine. While these dwellings were inhabited by all levels of society prior to the 17th century, they were later to be gradually abandoned to the poorer sector of the population or used as agricultural dependencies.

Caves fortes at Villaines-les-Rochers, Indre-et-Loire:

A bevy of basketmakers are busy weaving wicker baskets in the area extending outside two rock-cut dwellings that share a common façade rendered with mortar and capped by a horizontal string course acting as a drip.

Wicker was stored in underground rooms so that it retained some of its humidity when the weaving took place.

Postcard of the first decade of the 20th century.

Lastly, a word must be said of a temporary habitat linked to vine-growing and lumbering activities:
- dry-stone huts (Châteauneuf-du-Cher vineyard),
- loubites or small vineyard houses (Touraine),
- culs-de-loups or half-sunken woodcutter's huts (Sologne),
- loges or wood-and-thatch cart sheds (Touraine, Berry).

Vineyard loge at the place known as Marigny at Châteauneuf-sur-Cher, Cher :

This dry-built, circular stone hut is partly buried in the ground. Access to it is through a sloping ramp set perpendicularly to the entrance. The conical roof has a revetment of stones cut to a chamfered edge.

Photo of the late 1970s by Christian Lassure.

The rural habitat of the Centre region underwent, in the 19th century, a drastic rebuilding, making use of quarried stone materials or factory-produced materials.

Half timber, infilled with daub, resting on a low foundation wall of flints or bricks, had been the prevailing construction material in Sologne, Puisaye, the Gâtinais and the Pays Fort until about 1840, with timber patterns of railing-like small posts or of piled-up small frames. From this date onwards, brick walling became widespread, notably in Sologne and the Perche, first as a substitute for daub infill (brickwork of headers laid flatwise or in chevron patterns), then, on reaching neighbouring areas, as the privileged material of the entire wall (losenge patterns of brown bricks).

In Berry, Touraine and a large part of the Orléanais, quarried limestone became prevalent, for example as roughly coursed blocks (with or without rendering) in Beauce, Berry, the northern Gâtinais, but above all as finely cut and coursed tuffeau blocks from the Vendôme area to Touraine.

On roofs, thatch and wood shingles were replaced by flat clay tiles and slates which allow the same steep pitches. Roof slates imported from Anjou along rivers or by train became prevalent, especially in Touraine and the Val de Loire.

"A farmhouse in the Berry region" :

The left-hand side of the engraving is occupied by a dwelling house which has retained its thatch roof while a barn – recognizable by its carriage gateway under a two-sided roof – can be seen in the right-hand part.

The engraving is accompanied by a commentary with hygienist overtones: "The Berry farmhouse is of a type that is still encountered everywhere. Roofs are covered in thatch, which can be ignited by a spark. (...) Manure, a token of wealth, is negligently stored in a heap in the middle of the courtyard, where it is washed out by rain, rummaged through by poultry, burnt dry by the sun. (...) The dwelling house – tumbledown cottage would be a fitter description – has its door and single window opening out onto the poultry yard."

Engraving taken from "Les deux fermes" (The two farmhouses) published in "Le Magasin Pittoresque" magazine (year 27, 1859, pp. 59-61).


BAILLY, Pierre, 1969, 'Notes sur l'habitat rural traditionnel dans le nord du département du Cher', in Cahiers d'archéologie et d'histoire du Berry, No 16, pp. 15-27 (Bourges: Archives Départementales)

EDEINE, Bernard, 1974, La Sologne, tomes 1 et 2 (Paris-La Haye: Mouton)

GAY, François, 1969, 'La maison rurale à cour ouverte du Berry', in Norois, No 63-63 bis, pp. 101-107 (Poitiers: Revue géographique de l'Ouest)

SARAZIN, André, et JEANSON, D., 1976, Maisons rurales du Val de Loire : Touraine, Blésois, Orléanais, Sologne (Ivry: SERG)

LASSURE, Christian, 1981, 'A propos des "maisons-halle" du Berry', in L'Architecture Vernaculaire, tome 5, pp. 33-34 et 57-58 (Paris: CERAV)

ZARKA, Christian, 1982, Berry, L'Architecture rurale française, corpus des genres, des types et des variantes (Paris: Berger-Levrault)

To print, use landscape mode

September 9th, 2006 - Augmented on January 28th, 2010

To be referenced as:

Christian Lassure
The vernacular architecture of the Centre region in the 19th century
September 9th, 2006

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