QR Vic-le-Comte – Bourg 13
Setelle Park and Gardens
Setelle Park, formerly the Cordeliers Gardens, offers a magnificent view of the ancient town of Vic-le-Comte, which sits on the edge of an arkose cliff in the centre of the region of Limagne des Buttes. The Cougoul stream runs through the park and was once lined with mills whose waters would supply the old washhouse.
The Cougoul stream and the Binet ravine
The Cougoul stream or the ruisseau de Cougoul is the watercourse along which the town of Vic-le-Comte was built. It rises in the commune of Yronde-et-Buron and then goes by various names (ruisseau des Rivats, ruisseau de Cougoul, ruisseau des Cordeliers and ruisseau de Binet) before joining the ruisseau de Pignols. It flows quietly today, but over time it has played an important role in communities, evident even today in physical remains but also street names: rue de l’Écluse (like a canal lock), passage des Lavandières (meaning washerwoman), and rue et impasse du Moulin (moulin means mill).
Men learned to exploit the stream as a source of labour. The Napoleonic cadastral register of 1830 lists no fewer than 11 mills stretching from the town for almost 2.5 km. We are aware of these mills because of archive documents from the 17th century. They are associated with a series of structures that are still visible today, such as canal pounds and reservoirs. Located in a deep valley, the slope and springs provided a constant and plentiful supply of water that would drive the mill’s wheels and grind cereals such as barley, wheat, rye, etc., the resultant flour forming the staple of the population’s diet. Nearby was a quarry for sourcing cutting millstones and arkose.
For the old locals, the stream was also a pleasant place to walk and for children to play. The ravine, with its many unusual features – the cave, the « bride’s veil » waterfall – has always appealed to visitors.
1. The old mill
2. Bois de Ladre Mill
3. Binet Mill
4. Mill de la Myne
5. Mill bas de Binet
6. Mill du milieu de Binet
7. Mill haut de Binet
8. Mill bas de Babory
9. Mill haut de Babory
10. Mill du Pontel
11. Mill de la Ceytelle
(square): Wash house
(V): « Veil of the Bride »
A typical landscape in Limagne des Buttes
Limagne comes from the Latin term lacus magnus, or large lake, and is a region between the granite plateau that bears the chain of puys or volcanic peaks to the west and the Forez and Livradois mountains to the east. The Allier flows through this vast plain, dotted with volcanic buttes or hillocks. The average altitude is 350m.
Limagne des Buttes stretches across this vast collapse trough, dotted with hills and plateaux that are ancient volcanic edifices whose shapes have been dramatically altered by erosion.
Around Vic-le-Comte lie the Puy de Serpanoux (720m), the Puy de Champerogne (780m), the Puy de Courand (620m), the Puy des Gardelles (759m), the Puy des Chaumes (771m), the Puy Saint-Hippolyte (806m) and the Puy d’Ecouyat (653m), which you can see directly in front of you.
« Here, the eye can take in dozens of hills and as many villages, often perched on hilltops. On each hillside is a whole chain of varied terrains. All it takes is a northerly exposure and a little altitude to encourage forests and meadows. But facing south, these hills, under a bright sky, evoke a southern, almost Mediterranean world: dry lawns, vines, fruit trees. The Limagne hills in the old farming days harvested nuts, peaches, almonds and even figs when the year was warm. »
(André Fel, Le Massif central, Flammarion)
The convent of the Cordeliers
Setelle park used to the garden of the convent of the Cordeliers. The Cordeliers were a religious order of the Friars Minor of Saint Francis who wore garments of coarse grey cloth with a rope belt, Cordeliers coming from the French word for rope or cord. It was a mendicant order, meaning the Cordeliers were unable to own anything and had to live on charity alone. This is why they lived at the gates of towns.
The Count of Auvergne, Bertrand III de la Tour d’Auvergne, made a donation that led to the building of the convent in 1473. The famous Triptych of the Annunciation (1495), currently on display in a museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, was displayed in the convent church. It shows Jean III, Count of Auvergne, Saint John the Baptist, Jeanne de Bourbon-Vendôme and Saint John the Evangelist. They are painted in the heart of their county, with the Allier and the Chaîne des Puys (the mountain chain) in the background. The oil-on-wood picture shows Jeanne begging to give birth. Two daughters were born from this union, Anne de la Tour, probably in 1496, and Madeleine in 1501, the future mother of Catherine de Médicis.
The Cordeliers estate was extended by Catherine de Médicis, who in 1561 gave the monks the garden or « vergier » at La Ceytelle, part of her Vic-le-Comte estate.
In 1791, the convent of the Cordeliers became national property and was sold at auction to a private buyer. In the 19th century, it became a renowned earthenware factory.
- Triptych of Vic-le-Comte or the Annunciation, housed in the North Carolina Museum of Art in the US.
- Left panel: Jean III, Count of Auvergne, presented by Saint John the Baptist.
- Right panel: Jeanne de Bourbon-Vendôme, his wife, presented by Saint John.
- Centre: scene of the Annunciation.
It is difficult to date the emergence of the first washhouses in Vic-le-Comte. They were often small, individual washing spots located along the river with a supply of clear water and flat stones to kneel on and wash clothes. Only one or two large batches of washing would be done each year. Dirty clothes were piled in a corner of the house, and when the weather was good enough, the family would get together to beat their laundry. It wasn’t until the 1920s that local authorities provided Setelle with a covered, organised washhouse. People went to wash their clothes and chat about the latest news and gossip. Most of the women washed and boiled their clothes at home and went to Setelle to rinse them. A small hut, no longer there, housed the fee collector, as there was, of course, a charge for using the washhouse. The women would leave soap, brushes and « bleu » in the cabin, the latter being a substance they used to bleach linen. Large washing lines were set up in the meadow to dry the washing.