It is good to walk in the suburbs of Saint-Omer! Located in the northern part of the city, on the outskirts, the Faubourg du Haut-Pont and that of Lyzel are like a gateway to the marsh. These districts where water is omnipresent are deeply linked to the history of Saint-Omer in the Middle Ages as well as to market gardening. Let's discover without further delay the history of these suburbs as well as their particularities.

Faubourg du Haut-Pont seen from the Red Bridge – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

History of the Faubourgs of Saint-Omer

According to the Larousse dictionary, the term “faubourg” corresponds to the following definition: “Name preserved by a district formerly located outside the city walls”.

The latter characterizes well the suburbs of Saint-Omer, namely, Lyzel and Haut-Pont.

Historically, the town of Saint-Omer developed on and around Mount Sithiu, and extended towards the marsh in successive waves of development. Very early on, the city experienced a certain boom. From a very small town dedicated to fishing, it became a large village, then a market place around the XNUMXth century before becoming a seaport around the XNUMXth century. Attacked by the Vikings during the Norman incursions, it was equipped with fortifications. These were originally made of earth and wood. Then they were reinforced under Charles Quint before being redesigned by Vauban.

The fortifications surrounded the city at the level of the current boulevards formed following the dismantling organized between 1892 and 1894. These include the boulevard de Strasbourg, the quai du commerce, the rue de Thérouanne, the Boulevard Clémenceau, the Boulevard Vauban and the Boulevard Pierre-Guillain.

To the south of the town stretched fields and a wide glacis. On the marsh side, the suburbs were located outside the walls and constituted a strategic place in the event of an invasion of the city. The marsh was in fact akin to a natural rampart and the houses of the suburb to a zone of glacis. For this purpose, the houses could be burned in the event of an external attack.

The suburbs of Haut-Pont and Lyzel were therefore mainly occupied by audomarois from the working classes or market gardeners. We also used to find various factories there.

The inhabitants of the suburbs of Saint-Omer

Historically cut off from the city until the dismantling of the fortifications, the inhabitants of the suburbs spoke Flemish. Although the town was taken over by the French in 1677, the language of Molière struggled to establish itself in this part of the city!

Very often agricultural workers, market gardeners or naval carpenters (boat makers), the inhabitants of the suburbs called themselves Haut-ponnais for the inhabitants of Haut-Pont and Lyzelards for the inhabitants of Lyzel.

Stamped with a culture apart because of their living conditions and their proximity to the marshes, the Haut-Ponnais and the Lyzelards enjoyed a certain reputation. We knew they had a strong character, a very pronounced taste for hard work and a certain pride! They were outstanding skaters in winter and provided the city with certain services, such as firefighting.

Faubourg du Haut-Pont – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

The suburb of Haut-Pont

The Faubourg du Haut-Pont owes its name to an old bridge whose height allowed belanders and other commercial vessels to circulate easily on the historic canal.

This typical district is indeed crossed by the old canal. A former river-sea port, it was the nerve center of the city of Saint-Omer in the Middle Ages. In addition to the locks and other elements of the river heritage, it is possible to discover (and visit) the Immaculate Conception church restored in 2017. This neo-Gothic church built by Charles Leroy in the 1850s was inaugurated in 1859. As it is Installed on the boggy bottom of the marsh, the building leans slightly to the right. A real tower of Pisa!

The Faubourg du Haut-Pont has several streets and squares:

  • Rue de la faïencerie where a large pottery factory was located in the XNUMXth century.
  • Quai du Haut-Pont
  • Rue des Faiseurs de Bateaux, where the naval carpenters of the corporation of shipbuilders were once established.
  • Impasse of the Poor Clares
  • Place de la Ghière where stands the Immaculate Conception Church
  • Place du Chrest and its old warehouses
  • Fish street
  • Chapel Street
  • Alley of the chestnut trees
  • Chemin du Boteman (which can be translated from Flemish as boatman (boot-man).
  • The floating islands, Stackelwaert and Ketestrom marshes sectors

This suburb has always been marked by many activities: naval carpentry, manufacture of ropes, coopers, earthenware, foundry, market gardening, etc.

It has a certain charm with its historic canal, its bridges, its lock, as well as its grouped and urbanized habitat. On a walk in the Haut-Pont, it is easy to distinguish the different social classes that occupied the different habitats. The low and cramped houses, without access to the rivers, belonged to the workers, as well as to the agricultural day laborers. The high and wide houses, equipped with large carriage doors and connected to the marsh belonged to the farmers, to see to certain small industrialists.

The Faubourg of Lyzel

The suburb of Lyzel is, like that of Haut-Pont, located on the edge of the marsh of Saint-Omer. This district made of typical houses implanted in a semi-grouped way, rivers and picturesque bridges, presents a more rural character than the Haut-Pont. It is not uncommon for this district to be nicknamed the “little Venice of the North”. Many of its houses are located at the water's edge!

This suburb takes its name from the term "l'isle", that is, the island. Indeed, before the marsh was consolidated and equipped with bridges and paths, this district was like a real islet.

Organized along the Dromeweg river linking Saint-Omer and its abbey to that of Clairmarais, Lyzel developed strongly with the arrival of the station on its land in 1848. Thanks to this new means of transport, market gardening experienced an activity growing. At the end of the 400th century, the Audomarois marshes had XNUMX market gardening families. Many of these settled in this suburb. It was then middle-class market gardeners, the wealthier market gardeners preferring the Haut-Pont which offered many amenities. Close to the city and the market squares, but also on the edge of the commercial canal, the Haut-Pont had the most fertile land, being located on the alluvial zone of the Aa river. The suburb of Lyzel was more remote.

Note that Lyzel and the Haut-Pont, very intertwined, have blurred borders. We tend to stop at the Faubourg de Lyzel at the Grand Gabarit canal bridge, on the road to Clairmarais. Towards the city, the Haut-Pont and Lyzel suburbs share the Allée des Maroniers, the Rue de la Poissonnerie (the border being marked by the Rue de la Chapelle) and the Chemin du Boteman.

The Lyzel district (extended) also includes the following streets, squares and localities:

  • St Martin street and Clairmarais road,
  • Lyzel Swamp Path,
  • Marais du Brockus (meaning in Flemish "House of the marsh")
  • Street of market gardeners
  • Chemins du Roiesoff, du Keteland, de la petite Meer, du Herm and des barracks.
  • Fardel Road
  • Place Alfred Gilliers
  • Station area
  • Part of the Lieu-dit du Malixoff
Traditional houses, Lyzel marshes
The typical suburb of Lyzel

Le Doulac, the third suburb

The extended Faubourg du Haut-Pont also includes Doulac, a true mini market gardening suburb in its own right, integrating Chemin du Pont, Rue du Doulac, Chemin Bareon and Chemin du Kempoucke.

This suburb leads to the Dambricourt marsh and the Grand Gabarit canal crossing part of the marsh, from Watten to Arques.

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