mardi 12 février 2019

Welcome to all our Visitors !

 As you can see, "Templars" once again, for the first time in centuries, finds itself at the heart of the community; a focal point for when a focal point fits the bill during village activities. Time flies by and a steady flow of people from far and near who came to share the experience of old stones and real history that would not disgrace the pages of fiction.

 The "Royal Fire Salamanders" in the cellar thrill everyone who manages to see them skirting the walls and peering from the dampest corners.  They have been joined by "Midwife Toads" who patrol the flagstone stairs feasting on spiders and any insects that come within reach of a deft flick of the tongue.   Tiny "Little Owls" have reared their young again, "Scopes Owls", resembling a huge pair of eyes mounted on chicken feet have taught their two babies to fly and the "Barn Owls" slip out above the latrine and use the columns behind the house as launch and landing pads for their trainee pilots.

 Snakes have coiled and twisted, basked in the sun, shed their skins and slithered away in the finery of their new uniforms. Hundreds of butterflies, each to his own season, grace the dozens of Buddleia bushes.  Our Fennel, 8 feet tall, has hosted the rare "Swallow Tail" caterpillars. The "Hoopoes" came for their yearly visit, the "Golden Orioles" sang from the trees, the "Bullfinches", "Greenfinches", "Goldfinches", "Wrens", "Starlings", "Sparrows" and "Siskins" abound, the "Collar Doves"; the "Ibis" and "Herons", the frogs and the "Coypus" by the waterside.

 Our "Amazon Parrot" and the talking, dancing, singing, "Goffins Cockatoo", shriek to the village 300 yards away as the crow (or parrot?!) flies. 
We sometimes sit and wonder what our lives would have been like if we had never found the courage to trade a normal ambitious life, for the quality of life that we have about us in our odd existence on a French hillside .

Our Blog continues to draw readers from around the world, over 100 countries so far!  We would love to know who they are: we would love them to voice an opinion, ask questions, to be part of a family whose common interest in "Templars" binds us all together.

"Templars" the house & tower

The village is on the north-east Dordogne border with the Limousin and equidistant between Périgueux, the capital of the Dordogne and Limoges, the capital of the Limousin. Templars is just outside the village perched on its hillside as it has been for nearly 900 years.  

The house comprises on the Ground Floor; an Entrance Hall with stone stairs leading down to the Vaulted Cellar with its white quartz floor, "La Roche Blanche" of St Paul and its Spring.  The wide wooden stairs rise up from the Entrance Hall to the floors above. 

The Guard Room is next to the Entrance Hall both have flagstone floors made of river bed stones and Serpentine, "La Roche Noire" of St Paul.  The Guard Room has an impressive beamed ceiling "A la Française" and even more impressive 12th Century granite Monumental Fireplace.  Where a metal sliding door was put into the front wall of this room turning it into a garage, we have replaced this with a pair of doors with stained glass panels in an old oak surround to create the impression that it was always thus so.

 Leading off of the Guard Room is the Extension which houses the Kitchen, Guest Bedroom, Bathroom, Lobby and Rear Entrance.

As you wind up the original wooden ramp staircase with its landings and half-landings (which occupy a third of the house!) you arrive at the First Floor.  A large Landing with a beautiful stained glass window and stone window seat provide stunning views down the valley.

The Solar has an 18th Century window at the back and a 16th Century Mullioned Window at the front (both with leaded glass windows).  The fireplace has been replaced as the original was stolen.  Once again, a magnificent beamed ceiling and the wooden floor has floorboards from the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. 

Onwards and upwards!   The next Half Landing has a charming window seat with the Renaissance Window and views across the park and lake.  Next to it is The Latrine, still in working order if required! 

Up to the Second Floor (inside the roof space), on the left you have a low doorway in the wattle and daub wall into The Study.  This room we have left open to the rafters to expose the incredible 13th/14th Century roof timbers (very few examples survive from this period), the pinion wall and the internal stone built Pigeon Loft which is a very rare feature indeed !

Across the landing from The Study is the Master Bedroom.  In here we have added a ceiling for practical reasons.  There are two lucarne's in this room, one at the back and one at the front, to allow morning and afternoon light into the room.  From the front window you can enjoy wonderful views down the valley and across to the village.  This room has an en-suite WC and basin and a Dressing Room with storage cupboards behind the bed.

Outside, the house is surrounded by its maturing gardens and park which grow more beautiful with each passing year.  The Upper Terrace provides shaded seating and spectacular views, the Rose Garden contains some lovely old fashioned roses and the Column Walk provides a vantage point to admire the features of the house. 

The Park is planted with a variety of trees and shrubs to provide interest and colour all year round, including the Broad Hedge along the lane and at the bottom of The Park is a "Miraculous Spring", said to cure children who suffer from nightmares!


How it all began .....

From the fall of the Templars in 1307 until the French Revolution in 1789 and the rise of Napoleone Buonaparte as the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 1700's and early 1800's, "Templars" was home to a succession of Commanders and sergeants of the Knights Hospitaller; the Knights of Jerusalem, the Knights of Rhodes and then of Malta.  Whichever of the titles you wish to use.

Since the Knights departed the shores of France to continue their good works from more friendly parts; works that continue to this day and grow from strength to strength incidentally: "Templars" has changed hands as part and parcel of a succession of agricultural land deals; providing shelter from time to time for the poorest of paysans but never as a home that was to keep pace with the demands of a fast changing and modernising world.  Nor for that matter was it to be restored or kept in anywhere near perfect or even liveable condition.

A tractor size hole was made in the South West wall (front) in the 1960's. The mullion and transom of the front Renaissance Window in the Solar (1st floor) were wrenched out.  The legs of the Excideuil stone fireplace were heaved from a 7 foot thick chimney breast wall, to be sold for their carving and a tractor, a bulk oil fuel tank, a Renault 6TL and a Citroen BX were to take up residence in the Guard Room (ground floor).  A vain attempt to rid the Guard Room of a hump, caused by the slight rise of the floor over the vaulting of an air shaft through the 14 feet of external wall caused a 25 sq feet hole into the cellar vault, or crypt, again, whatever you choose to call it by.

However, "Templars", "La Maison du Commandeur de la Commanderie de St Paul la Roche", "La Maison Templier", "La Commanderie" and so on, pick a name, we chose "Templars".

"Templars" was intact and unabused, as much as the passage of time and the vagaries of a tribal France with little imagination and as little respect for its own heritage, particularly if the ancient hovel on a hillside does not carry the relevant grandeur to qualify title or uniform, would allow.

How we got involved !

In 2003, a valued customer, an imposing barrister for whom we bowed, scraped, mowed, strimmed and scrubbed in his little holiday château of only twenty something rooms, asked us to find a medieval house for a colleague of his.

"Not as big as mine, not as grand as mine and affordable from a refurbishment point of view for a man not as successful as I".

We kept our eyes open of course but we did not make any great effort, even when an austere grey house presented itself in a give away, estate agents brochure.

For several months the "ugly little grey house" as I'd christened it, was advertised for sale.  We never even read the text.

One wet and windy January lunchtime Chris was flicking through the pages of a property paper and noticed that the grey barrack was still unsold.   As I munched, he read, "Authentic Knights Templar etc. etc.".  To kill time on a vile day I telephoned the agent with our "legal eagle" in mind.

The agent enthused to show us "A house with many authentic features" as soon as we could cover the 25 miles between home and the hovel.

We knew as we drove up the lane that the building we were looking at was special.  On crossing the threshold into the Serpentine flagstone floored Guard Room we were breath taken by the understated and awed by the almost invisible.

The hewn granite fireplace, its arch towering over us, the proportions of the fabric of a house no bigger in land area than our small farmhouse and barn conversion, were awe inspiring.  A vaulted cellar with stone steps winding underground.  A spring welling into a granite basin in the far corner of that same cellar.   A ramp staircase winding in a series of half landings and landings around a newel wall; its treads and risers in fact huge beams, set corner to corner as they rise through the house.  Thirteen meurtriers (arrow loops) set into its walls.  A "Latrine" (thunderbox, loo etc.) built into the thickness of the walls.  The soaring beam work in the high 62° pitched roof with Pigeonnier (split pigeon loft/dovecote) built into the apex of the central chimney wall.

We forgot about the plea for the defence and our call to serve the well healed barrister.

We went home in a state of great excitement and agitation to consider the prospects for us becoming the owners, guardians, restorers and occupiers and to tread ground that had not been trod since the Knights had looked out over "Rupus Sancti Pauli " so many hundred years before.

Ordinary little people who scratch the soil and tug their forelocks to their customers in order to carve a meagre living out of life are not normally destined to be owners of historic buildings are they?

And then .....

 We put our house on the market.  We signed papers, visited offices, shook hands, shed tears and it was eight months later that we became the owners (along with a whole shoal of French loan-sharks) of a building, important to its local community for hundreds of years.

Our meetings with the architects of the French conservation authorities were an unmitigated success.  What they wanted was exactly what we had envisaged.  We instructed our draughtsman, we sought tradesmen and went to work ourselves to begin the weary process of hacking away at the generations of plaster: in parts, five generations.  The most recent we considered to be early 20th Century, the earliest, decidedly pre 15th Century.  Plaster soaked with human blood!  How many hundred years ago?  Traces of burning!  Smoke or soot stains on plaster and stonework, as flame had passed in (or was it out?) through the arrow slots in the three foot thick walls.

Our findings and suppositions I recorded in a spare diary.  Wall painting on 16th Century plaster was not saveable, so badly damaged in preparation for yet another upgrade to the interior decor in the 18th Century.  Three more bricked up meurtriers, stone seats set into the walls, yet another meurtrier covered by an early 20th Century concrete sink cast into its embrasure came to light.  It seemed to be a thrill a day!

The plans where passed some funding was loaned by the "sharks" and restoration was under way.  The clearing of land infill behind the house brought to the surface a Knights Templar sarcophagus engraved with their cross and revealed in the rear wall of the house a fortified outlet for the airshaft from the vaulted cellar.

Excitement over our work grew as the results became evident.   Our morale was boosted, if not the coffers, by the great enthusiasm of our neighbours and the village fathers.  The Mayor, disputing the camouflage of the hole made some time during the mid 20th Century in the Guard Room exterior wall (front elevation), gave us the opportunity of divergence from the demands of the "Batiments de France" whose guidance we had sought at the beginning.  With massive wooden structured frameworks in place, I'd received the nod for us to embellish it in stone.   The plans and proportions for a porch, inspired by English village church entrances were completed in a short half an hour!

The "Stop-Go" regime of our restoration was to take over four years and at the onset of winter, the prospect of the Seasons cold was daunting.  No central heating; the fire of blazing logs and the radiated heat of a canine composter called Ortense whose length is only equalled by her breadth x 2 of her after-dinner girth! Our blood just managed to stay above freezing!

Liveable "Templars" now was.  An extension houses the modern amenities, a kitchen and a bathroom.   The design we had proposed for the 360 sq feet of relatively modern living space had been prepared in the style and materials of the existing ancient structure.  The plan was to replicate, slightly offset, the end elevation of the house. Same angles, same roof profile: it was rejected out of hand and the official view explained that, "If a property of such antiquity was to be extended to provide missing amenities such as a kitchen, a bath and a flush toilet, then that extension must obviously be of the 21st Century, not a 21st Century copy of something pre-dating by several hundred years!"  So, as you see it now, the sketch of the chief architect of the "Batiments de France" has become our albatross, our reality!  Our sympathetic design relegated to the dustbin.

The window surrounds; oak of massive section to house the modern double glazed frames.  Cut stone arched windows and an "Oeil de boeuf" glazed with hand made leaded and stained glass and an interior open to the roof, in barn or stable fashion, giving a more sympathetic appearance to the appendage.  Yes, with time it will age-down and heal the wound, we hope.

A lesson in history...

Today it seems that all history has to be finite.  So much history from the epochs of days gone by has been dramatised on film and television, that the graphic portrayal, be it Shakespeare’s plays, Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, The American Civil War or the Alamo, has become the reality of historical events.

To our modern minds these portrayals, even to the script contents and location settings represent almost indisputably, the truth, Gerard Depardieu represents the French Revolution, John Wayne, the all American cowboy and a host of actors being the living truth of the history of England, the world.

However, as much as has been revealed by modern science in the realms of archaeology, it has to be understood that the greater part of what all but the learned see as the detail of history is often, to a greater extent, literally garnished with imagination, supposition and speculation applied generously to the merest traces of factual substance.  When I was at school; long, long ago: the Middle Ages were often known as "The Dark Ages", our history master being reluctant to recognise modern history as starting much before the Tudors. 

"Please Sir, why are they called the Dark Ages Sir?" 

Sir would answer that, "As little was written at the time, to be referred to as an actual history of the period in times to come, almost all knowledge was confined to the Parish Registers, monastic records, church archives and hand-me-down legend that could never be substantiated."

To know all that we can know, will always contain a heavy slice of guesswork; we have to read between the lines of the facts that can be proved, adding conjecture with romanticism and arrive somewhere down the line of "maybes" at a suitably plausible dramatisation of probabilities.

Knights Templar in their chainmail and white surcoats emblazoned with the red splayed cross, the logo of the order. The Knights Hospitalier, their white, eight pointed cross dramatically displayed against sheer black. Gregorian chants, Brother Cadfael, The Da Vinci Code and the clash of sword against sword.  The hiss of blazing crossbow bolts being let loose and flying on their deadly path towards enemies unseen as you hammer on the door to take shelter within.

Wonderful stuff, wild imagination, the thrill of boy's own comics and perhaps just a grain or two of truth long lost in the annuls of time.  After all, their was Bernardus de Villaribus (Bernard de Villars) and his men snatched away on Friday 13th 1307 to be incarcerated at Limoges, to be later transported to Clermont-Ferrand and finally to Paris to stand trial for acts against God and the King.  FACT.

Who and how many came in the name of the Protestant Church to wreak slaughter on the inhabitants of La Roche St Paul?   How much blood flowed?  What became of the corpses of the monkish Knights, Brothers and villagers?   Did anyone survive that day in 15-- and what year was it actually?   Ah!  But FACT.

Later, perhaps in 1588 or 1589/90. When the Knights Hospitaliers came home to repair the damage; modernise and improve the ruined remains of the gutted Commandery and let their lot then be supervised from the mother Commandery at Condat, what did that day bring?  TRUE.  But.

When did they leave for good?   Who turned the key in the lock at that final moment and was the removal van there waiting with its engine running? Where did they go?  Driven out or of their own volition?  To foreign parts or to Condat first before a greater gathering of the clan and then, off to pastures new or was it a final last stand against the generals of the thrusting young emperor ?

We build our stories on a mere thread of evidence and exciting they are too but not history.   No more than historical drama.


Historically we know..... The house now standing here, on its bare hillside, was built over a spring and against an enormous gism of pure white quartz by the Knights Templar on land given around 1140 as a donation to their cause and in support of the Crusades by Guy Flamenc de la Roche Saint-Paul, Seigneur du Château de Bruzac and Overlord of St Paul la Roche at the time.
The first Knights Templar arrived in the Périgord in 1138, by invitation of the Bishop, so this was an early and important site, rapidly becoming one of the most important Commanderies in the Périgord.

We know that the Commandery was laid to siege in 1143 over contested rights of ownership of the land. With Guy Flamenc with his friends, The Knights Templar against Adhémar IV (1110-1148, 12th Viscount) and his brother Guy (1113-1148, 13th Viscount), Co-Viscounts of Limoges along with their ally Bozon II (1110-1143), 8th Viscount of Turenne and brother-in-law of Adhémar IV who had married in 1134 his sister, Margaret (1119-1202).  We know that Bozon II was killed by an arrow and the frightened Co-Viscounts of Limoges lifted the siege in December 1143.

Dispute of ownership was then set aside and as archives reveal, heavy horses were reared on the lands, to be driven south and embarked on a voyage to the Holy Land.
We know that "Templars" and its small adjacent Garconnière (literally a "boy tower" or "bachelor pad") is on the route of pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostela.

We know that Richard the Lionheart passed by (but how close we know not !) around the time of his attack on Chalus which resulted in his death.   How close did he come?  Did he perhaps stop at the Commandery to take fresh horses?   Bed down for the night even, before the final 15 mile push to Chalus?

We do not know, it is doubtful that we ever will.   It is possible; it is not improbable but it is a romantic notion and that it will remain, not history.  
Merely a wonderfully imaginative, inspiring, historical fiction.

Back to the present day.

The restoration is ongoing and an exciting find, under mud, silt, earth and debris has been the original floor of the cellar.

At an average depth of 18" I struck stone.  It proved to be slabs of schist, about 50% of a floor.  Thinking ourselves lucky to have so much left intact we sought to lift the stones, trench around the walls to put in a perforated drain pipe, remove a 4" slice of soil and replace it with impacted shingle and re-lay the slabs, standing to chance to acquire the rest.

No such luck.   The spade struck hard with a shower of sparks and slid!   I followed as the spade sped away passing neatly under a biscuit of compressed soil.  Crash!

What had revealed itself is a cut and napped quartz floor under the schist slabs.  A lined diagonal drain is cut into the quartz and the evidence is that the quartz floor is original 12th Century.  We have found coinage wedged between the quartz blocks in witness to its medieval origins.

Mother died, her legacy helped enormously.  We committed ourselves to a programme of leaded stained glass windows and limed oak and chestnut woodwork in the style of manufacture of the 15th - 17th Centuries.

Copper guttering, cut stone work in stone sympathetic to the project from as far away as Spain and Alsace; the Sarcophagus destined to be moved into the cellar (will that make it a crypt then ?) before too long as it is starting to suffer the effects of drying out to the detriment of the carving.

"Templars" is like a living museum, we live here with trappings and object d'art from every era of history to the present day.  A programme of maintenance of the existing will have to be budgeted after the cost of living and repayments of loans, forever to be the monthly nightmare as they are for so many of us, eh ?

"Templars" was saved from the bailiffs in a moment of crisis with the French loan sharks.  Two years into the restoration, thirteen individuals, family and friends, from around the world put together a package enabling us to, with great difficulty, get the sharks and their menaces out of our hair.  When finally our house sold, the brave and generous 13 were repaid and they will forever be part and parcel of the story of our quest to save "Templars" as intact as possible for the benefit of history and the interest of younger and future generations.

At the end of these posts you will find space for your comments, thoughts, observations and participation. Your inclusion in this site will be of great importance to us and I must say, we have not set up the blog as a begging bowl, just as a means to share our enthusiasm and excitement of such an unusual project.

"Safari Picnic" & in the newspaper as well !

June 2014 was a busy month with lots to do in the garden and we participated on Sunday 1st June in a "Safari Picnic" to raise funds for the local association "Les Amis de la Roche Blanche". 

The village fête was held on Ascension Day, fireworks, dancing, car boot sale, market, etc. A great success thanks mainly to the sun shining all day long and the hard work of all those involved. On the Saturday night "Les Amis de la Roche Blanche" held a disco evening for the younger inhabitants of the commune and the picnic was held on the Sunday.

Everyone met at the Salle des Fêtes at noon and then set off on foot to cover the 3km circuit that is being put in place along with the "Geosite", a geological garden in Saint Paul itself.  The group arrived at "Templars" and had the chance to look around the gardens and the outside of the house. Drinks were served in the shade of the trees and everyone could sit and admire the view. 

From "Templars" the group went to the site of the famous "Roche Blanche", just the other side of the road from us, and enjoyed their picnic lunch in the peace and quiet of the countryside.  They then went out along the bottom road of the quarry to join the road that winds back up the hill into the village with points of interest being referred to along the way before a well deserved cup of coffee and cakes in the Salle des Fêtes.

Fame at last!  After being on the BBC programme "Escape to the Continent" at Easter we were contacted by a journalist from the English language newspaper "The Bugle" who proposed to write an article on the house and its inhabitants. Here is a link to the June edition of the paper which has the article in it:

As seen on TV ! !

We had the TV cameras here at Templars!!  This was to film the house (not us!) for a new series produced by BOUNDLESS PRODUCTIONS for the BBC which started on Monday 7th April 2014, on BBC 2. Templars was the first of the houses shown in the episode on the Dordogne region which was screened on Monday 21st April 2014.

Following the success of UK TV series "Escape to the Country"  a new series looking at property abroad called  "Escape to the Continent"   has been recorded.

We met the Production team when they came to view the house last September and then to film the property.  We also met the presenter, the charming Alistair Appleton.  The sun shone and the sky was blue, a perfect day for it.  Now we can say to everyone "As seen on TV" !!

Templars facebook page:

Epiphany Supper

The Guard Room transformed for Epiphany. Our own special recipe for the homemade "Templars"mulled wine, home made soups, cheeses, coffee and Galettes (the traditional cakes for this feast day) with friends here to help us celebrate the end of the Christmas Holiday once more.
This has become a tradition, a lot of hard work to prepare everything but well worth it when everything is ready! The Guard Room is bathed in the glow of a myriad candles in the chandeliers, candlesticks and candelabra around the room (between 80 - 100 candles, takes some time to light them all!), fairy lights, oil lamps and a blazing log fire to complete the scene, a magical evening indeed and a very special way to start the New Year !

Journées du Patrimoine 2009 - 2018

Les Journées du Patrimoine 2009.

We were asked to open our house to the public on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th September 2009 for the European Heritage Weekend - Les Journées du Patrimoine.  Despite the showery weather and the fact that it was the first time we had been asked officially to participate, we had a great time!

It was exciting seeing our house printed in the official magazine for the Aquitaine Region and putting up signs and posters in readiness for the afternoon visits.  It was worrying not knowing who would turn up (if anyone!).  We had over 20 visitors on the Saturday at a steady pace which meant we had the time to show everyone around the outside and inside of our home.

The Sunday was quite different!  We had about 100 visitors in the afternoon and we did our best!!

Hopefully everyone who came enjoyed the tours and I know that we enjoyed sharing our home and its history with so many people.  We have page after page filled in our Visitors Book with some wonderful comments, by so many of the visitors; thank you very much indeed!!  We had an impressive mix of nationalities - English, French, Dutch, Belgian, German, Swedish and American!!

Les Journées du Patrimoine 2010 - 2018

Following the success of 2009 we have opened every year since (and by appointment from April – October). We have worked in conjunction with "Les Amis de la Roche Blanche", an association dedicated to preserving the memory of the quartz and the site at St Paul la Roche.  They have held exhibitions and guided tours of the site of the Roche Blanche etc.  It seems to work well, visitors could see our house and the exhibitions etc., 2 for the price of 1!

The weather has not always been kind but the number of visitors is still very impressive. We have on average between 150 – 200 visitors over the two days; our record was in 2017 when we had nearly 300!!

As we sometimes have a lot of people at once, we do apologise to those who have had to wait or perhaps did not get the chance to see everything properly (come back again!),  at times we really felt that we were under invasion!

Having said that, we found it as much of a thrill and pleasure to share our home with so many people who are interested in the heritage and history of France, it really does make all the hard work so worth while.  Again, we have had a great number of wonderful comments covering many pages in our Visitors Book, now well into the second volume, which has now become part of the history of the house. 

We opened our house to the public on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st September 2014 as part of Les Journées du Patrimoine and as part of an historical and geological circuit, organised by the tourist offices of Jumilhac-le-Grand and Lanouille.

In 2017 we were part of a Knights Templar circuit in the area organised by the Tourist Office in Thiviers, yet another way in which we are only to happy to help and  participate  in order to promote the heritage and tourism in our area.