This is a translation of my previous article. Thanks to Christine, Tony of Hinckley (their work) and Tony Wallis.
If today it has all the common characteristics of a rural community, Vieille-Lyre until the middle of the 19th century showed a fairly unique socio-professional composition. The village lived off the land and in consequence supported a strong population of farmers and farm labourers. In that (there is) nothing out of the ordinary. On the contrary, one could pick out two more numerically important groups: woodworkers and ironworkers. Knowing that, one does not see the stained glass window in the church of Vieille-Lyre in the same light.
The proximity of the forests of Breteuil and Conches explains the number of woodworkers (“artisans du bois”) before 1850 (there are still several of them). In these woods one came across woodcutters, charcoal burners and carters who took the carbon and wood to the outside. Wood which served for heating homes, for the carpenters of Vieille-Lyre and for the blacksmiths.
The ironworkers formed an important group. In the second half of the 18th century it seemed to be at least as numerous as the labourers and the day workers. In the following months we will revisit this metalworking activity, important in the lyroise history. Some craftsmen worked at home. They had at their disposal a small number of tools which enabled them to produce hammers, pliers, spindles for wool and cotton and nails. In the documents of the period, they are often called “cloutiers” (nail makers), sometimes “serruriers” (locksmiths). Others from Lyre worked on the Trisay forges though there is almost nothing left of them today.
The stained glasses in the church
And the women? The census of 1836 shows a number of spinners among the Lyroises whilst an ancient text (1789) indicates that the canton of Neuve-Lyre (yes, yes, the village was county town of the canton under the Revolution) numbered many textile makers that is to say weavers of cloth. What did they spin and weave? Cotton? No, that concerned instead the Seine-Maritime. Flax? No, that was not cultivated in the Pays d’Ouche for two hundred years. Wool then? Yes, the number of sheep bred in the region in the past would lead one to assume that. But that is not all. The women equally made use of hemp. One forgets that this plant, known these days for its controversial use, in the past served to make spun products. In general the dilapidated lyroise peasant houses had a corner on the outside devoted to this cultivation. In the 18th century, on the borders of Risle in la Neuve-Lyre, they were not simply corners but whole plots of land devoted to hemp: the “chennevières” (hempfields). However, unlike flax, hemp was the ‘textile of the poor’. It was used to make cloth for ships. The place of spinning and weaving was in the home and not in the factory. Simple equipment was sufficient to carry out this task: a distaff for the wool, a spinning wheel for the hemp.
Owing to the variety of its population, Vieille-Lyre was not therefore a village like others. After these explanations, it is possible to see one of the windows of the church of Vieille-Lyre in a new light. You have surely already passed close by it, you have perhaps sat under its multicoloured light without noticing it. It is true that, like its neighbours, it is not particularly worthy of interest. It is an ordinary work in the characteristic style of the 19th century. All the same this stained glass window should attract your attention. Installed on the south side (the side of the town hall), the glassmaker represents in effect the Virgin, the infant Jesus and Joseph in a configuration, which is, to my knowledge, very rare. Mary spins with her distaff, Joseph is leaning over his carpenter’s table while Jesus prepares to drive a nail into a wooden cross. The spinner, the carpenter, the nail, doesn’t this remind you of something? Behind this religious scene there is revealed in reality a representation of a lyroise family. And this is surely not by chance. I think that this window has been created to celebrate the work of numerous parishioners. Is it not the most touching work of art in the church of St Peter?