The house of the marsh constitutes a traditional heritage to be saved!

There are several types of traditional habitats in the Saint-Omer marsh and more broadly, in the audomarois marshes. But there are some common characteristics that help define the typical swamp house.

These homes are unfortunately in danger. Many have given way to more modernized homes. Many annexes, barns and other architectural elements have also disappeared over time.

Let's discover the house of the marsh!

water gate
Waterpoorte, opening onto a polder of the Saint-Omer marshes

Human and typical swamp houses are an integral part of the swamp

The marsh is labeled "Man and Biosphere" thanks to its lush nature, but also because of the human activities that allowed its development.

In short, this immense natural space would not have its current appearance without the work of our ancestors… And without contemporary human activities!

As soon as it was first developed, the marsh became a fishing and agricultural area. Since then, we have continued to clean the ditches, to cultivate the land, to fish there, to hunt there, to live there. Boats have been built there since the XNUMXth century and people have enjoyed boating there for hundreds of years. It is therefore not surprising that this recognition by UNESCO places people on the same level as nature. We are part of this nature and its landscapes!

Among the treasures composing our territory, the house of the marsh has its place. Of course, we want to talk about the typical, traditional habitat and the built heritage gravitating around these residences.

Audomarois marsh farmhouses
Group of farmhouses in the suburb of Lyzel

The houses of the Audomarois marsh in the past

In the past, our marsh was sparsely populated, with only a few modest houses built of cob or stone with a thatched roof. These rural dwellings underwent a radical transformation in the XNUMXth century thanks to the widespread advent of brick and tile. During this same period, the marsh and its surroundings experienced strong population growth with the arrival of the first station in Saint-Omer. This industrial revolution and the creation of polders in the Dutch way effectively favored the rise of cauliflower cultivation. The houses of the marsh were then different according to their location, but they all respected certain constraints imposed by the trades of their occupants and the specificities of the environment.

Typical market garden house
A house in the Lyzel marsh, market gardening headquarters dating from 1899

The typical marsh house: the farmhouse

In the XNUMXth century, the wealthiest people chose to settle in the suburbs for reasons of convenience. The Haut-Pont was located near the city, the station, the market places and the fertile lands constituting the alluvial basin of the Aa.

Low-income agricultural workers have preferred to settle in the heart of the marshes, on small islands or "peninsulas". The suburb of Lyzel also quickly welcomed modest families and middle-class farmers. These market gardeners opted for a style of house called “longère”, a low, narrow and elongated construction, extending along the axis of the ridge. These houses in the Audomarois marshes were built of brick and had a sloping roof covered with Flemish purlins. The walls left exposed brick or were covered with a whitewash, while the base was coated with tar.

A few meters from the house in the marsh, at the edge of the water, a walnut tree protected with its branches the escute and the bacôve ranged against the brick quay. The latter was decorated with a "pucheau", a small staircase leading towards the river, allowing the vegetables to be washed. For information, the term "puchoir" comes from the old Picard and simply means "to draw".

Around the house, the natural banks benefited from a double protection. That of the tadpole soil, on the one hand. Its roots firmly hold the borders. On the other hand, the banks were also supported by fascination. It is a kind of barrier consisting of large willow branches acting as stakes, and smaller intertwined branches placed horizontally. These branches came of course from the regular pruning (every 5 years) of the pollard willows. Today, old-fashioned fascination tends to timidly return to center stage. Pollard willows remain in abundance

Other annexes and installations gravitating around the house of the marsh

In addition to the classic installations on the banks, a number of installations and constructions surrounded the house of the marsh. They were linked to the operating headquarters and participated in the practice of market gardening as well as in family life.

The swamp house also included:

  • A vegetable garden with the most fragile vegetables, monitored daily
  • The clapboard-built barn with a brick base
  • The greenhouse
  • The stable for the horse
  • The frames to grow the vegetable plans
  • A more imposing shed with the arrival of agricultural machinery
  • The chicory forcing room and the facilities for growing open-ground chicory. These were small sheds with a heating circuit buried in the ground running on water and coal. Some hangars were even mobile because they could be moved on rails!
  • The coal cellar
  • The toilets outside
  • The vegetable kitchen for storing harvest produce in a cool place before the market.
  • A chicken coop
Pucheau marsh audomarois
Boat dock and pucheau in the Haut-Pont in Saint-Omer

The Houses of the Marsh in the suburbs of Saint-Omer

We find these elements of heritage in Doulac, another suburb of Saint-Omer, but also and above all in the suburb of Lyzel. Along its main river, the Dromweg, spreads a traditional semi-grouped habitat. The houses are linked to the road to Clairmarais by small ironwork bridges displaying for some a style reminiscent of the Art Nouveau of the end of the XNUMXth century.

In addition to the classic farmhouse, other types of residences in the suburbs have a two-sided roof and line of breaks, of the "Mansard roof" type, making it possible to optimize the occupation of the attic.

In the Faubourg du Haut-Pont, housing is this time grouped and semi-urban. The size of the houses here once revealed the social rank of the owners. The size of the porch (known locally as the "big door") also presented itself as an ostentatious sign of success. We could therefore distinguish the houses of the workers, small low dwellings, from the houses of the operators, much more imposing.

Behind the typical marsh house, we could also see in the Haut-Pont the presence of a barn made up of clapboards, a stable, … As well as small canals! Each house in the marsh serving as a headquarters had direct access by boat.

Doulac river and bridges
Group of bridges and house with Mansard roof in the Faubourg du Doulac

Other heritage elements that have disappeared or are about to disappear

In addition to the traditional marsh house beginning to become rare, other heritage elements are gradually disappearing. These include drainage windmills. The latter made it possible to manage the waters of the polders. The last one, the Moulin de l'Aile, was blown away by a storm in 1948. Today we find this reconstructed mill with its Archimedean screw near the Maison du Marais pier. Since then, motor pumps and electric pumps have been responsible for the evacuation of water within the polders.

Another installation that has disappeared from our landscapes: the wind turbine. We do not want to speak here of an electric wind turbine, but of a pumping wind turbine. The latter brought up water from the marsh to water the fields using a piston and blades.

To conclude

The traditional marsh house contributes to the beauty of our marsh and creates real postcard landscapes. For the tourist attraction of Saint-Omer, for our living environment and for the preservation of our traditions, it is becoming urgent to save this heritage. To these residences are added all the annexes and the elements of built heritage revolving around the market gardening habitat.

A treasure to be preserved, at the risk otherwise of excessively modifying the physiognomy of the place, already impacted for a few decades...

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