Historical notes on the Blavet Valley
Map of the Blavet estuary by Nicolas Tassin from his work ''Les Plans et Profiles de Toutes les Principales Villes et Lieux Considerables de France'' published in 1638 in Paris.
In Roman times known as Vindana Portus and possibly as Blabia (though this is disputed), the principal settlement at the mouth of the river became Port Blavet (centre of map above) in the Middle Ages and was later renamed Port Louis after King Louis XIII.
The waters off Port Louis may have been the site of a substantial sea battle between the Veneti tribe and the Romans in 56 BC - it may however have taken place in Quiberon Bay. The Veneti, a seafaring tribe based in the Morbihan, had initiated the first rebellion against the Roman rule of Gaul established in 57 BC. Julius Caesar the Roman commander (and later Emperor) made great efforts to defeat them as an example to the other tribes. The Roman forces engaged the Veneti at sea having failed in their attempts to defeat them on land. A Roman fleet supported by Gallic allies sailed from the Loire under the command of Brutus to engage the Veneti. Caesar describes in his "Conquest of Gaul" the Veneti deploying 220 ships to face the Roman fleet. The Veneti capitulated following the destruction of their ships in a day long engagement - their leaders were executed and the remainder sold into slavery.
Hanebont now Hennebont, was the first bridge crossing on the river and the town was fortified (circa 1250) to protect the bridge. It was here that Jeanne of Flanders (wife of Jean de Montford, later Duc Jean IV) when besieged by Charles de Blois during the Breton wars of succession (1341), attacked her enemy's camp setting fire to it (earning herself the sobriquet "Jeanne la flamme").
Enlarged detail of the Tassin map showing Port Blavet with Hanebont (Hennebont) to the North.
It was here in the reign of Louis XIV that the French East India Company was established (1664) and is today the site of a museum to the company. The boatyards established in this period on the opposite bank of the estuary developed into the town of Lorient named after one of the first ships constructed there (the Soleil d'Orient). Initially named L'Orient, the name was changed to its present form during the Revolution. Following the loss of the French colonies, the East India company was wound up in 1770 and the shipyards taken over by the Government for use as a naval port and arsenal.
1638 Tassin map showing Port Blavet and the citadel prior to the extended defences of 1636.
1786 map by Bonne, showing the Blavet valley (in the Diocese of Vannes - pre revolution) from Port Louis to Pontivy. Note Lorient is shown with the original spelling "L'Orient".
The Post Card Museum "Cartopole" at Baud offers a social history of Brittany from the early days of photography, 1850's onward. Images can be viewed and purchased from their web site.
World War 2
The Keroman submarine base, Lorient
Units of the German Army moved into Brittany's Atlantic ports on 19 June 1940. Lorient became a major German base, home to the largest of the U-boat (submarine) bases on the Atlantic and for a while the Headquarters of the German Submarine commander Admiral Doenitz. In August 1944 elements of the US Army 4th Armored Divison moved into the area following an East-West route through Baud in an attempt to capture Lorient - the record of the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion tells the story (in the link select 51st unit diary for Aug 1944) . After a week the Division was relieved by the US Army 6th Armored Division which had moved across northern Brittany with its southern flank passing through Pontivy toward Brest (see map of the containment of Lorient). The 4th then withdrew rapidly to the East. Both Divisions were part of General Patton's US 3rd Army which subsequently struck East at great speed after leaving Brittany. The 6th remained at Lorient for a month and were relieved by the 94th Infantry Division. Lorient remained in German hands until the end of the war, under siege.
French Agriculture 150 years ago
Illustrated London News 1854 article
Agriculture in France is still compared to our own agriculture in a backward condition. A few years ago, in many of the provinces of the South of France, it was in the same state, if not deteriorated, as in the time of the Romans. A crooked stick, shod with iron, dragged by a donkey and a woman, was in common use as the plough. The instrument now used in the North of France, as represented in the sketch, though much superior to the crooked stick, and even superior to the wheel ploughs dragged by four horses, still in use in some parts of England, is very inferior to the swing-plough used in Norfolk or Scotland. Harrows, thirty years ago, were hardly known in the South, and the clods were pulverised by wooden mallets. Manure was carried to the fields by the men and women in baskets or tubs, on their backs; and the grapes were pressed - perhaps they are to this day - by the peasantry - men, women and children - jumping on them as they lay heaped in the tubs or vats. You might see the legs of all the villagers stained almost up to the knees with the juice of the grape. France, however, like the other countries of Europe has made in the latter years prodigious progress; and though these primitive processes still linger in some out of-the-way places, the agriculture of France has, since then, approximated to that of Belgium, Germany, and England.
France is considered to be more favourable for agriculture than any country of Europe. Of all the great countries of Europe it has the fewest mountains, the fewest arid and waste spots, the fewest places where nothing will grow and where nothing is cultivated. Other countries possess districts more fertile perhaps than any to be found in France - such as the rich meadows of Belgium, the marshes of Holland, the Vale of Evesham, and the Lincoln Fenn; but the soil generally of France is good, while it is of various descriptions, adapted to almost every kind of culture. The climate is excellent throughout, approaching that of Greece on the shores of the Mediterranean - producing oranges, pomegranates, and olives; and that of England, in Picardy and Normandy. Of all the countries of Europe, except our own, it has the greatest portion of its surface cultivated.
M. A Moreau de Jonnes, a French statistical writer of considerable celebrity, informs us that only France and the British Isles have yet more than half their surface cultivated. Of 100 hectares - the former has 54, the latter 55, under cultivation. Belgium has only 48, Denmark and Prussia, 40; Italy and Portugal, 30; Germany and Spain, 27; Switzerland, 25; Holland (of which a large portion are sandy wastes) and Austria, 20; Russia and Poland, 18; Sweden and Norway, 14. The improvement in cultivation has consisted in introducing better breeds of animals; inventing and employing better agricultural implements - ploughs and threshing machines; draining and improving marshes, cultivating greater varieties of green crops and cereals, including beet-root for sugar, of which as much as 64,000,000 kilogrammes were made in 1848; and including rice now cultivated in considerable quantities on the shores of the Mediterranean, giving abundances and well-being where formerly were sterility and fever. A consequence of improved cultivation is that on the average, every hectare of ground now produces 13 hectolitres of grain, including every species cultivated in the estimate; while in 1788, the quantity produced was only 8 hectolitres. The produce of agriculture, therefore, has increased more than a half since 1788; and there is yet great room for improvement. A greater consumption of meat, which has rather decreased than increased of late years, would increase still more the quantity of grain obtained per hectare. But what has already been achieved may excite surprise; and, considering how much of the surface of Europe is as yet uncultivated, it justifies hopes of great improvement yet everywhere to come in the art of agriculture, and great extension of the means of subsistence, of which our forefathers had formed, and could form, no conception.
The total average production of wheat in France is estimated at 70,000,000 hectolitres, equal to about 26,000,000 qrs. Or nearly double as much as is grown in Great Britain, for a little more than one third more people. 21,600,000 in Great Britain and 36,000,000 in France. The consumption of bread of one description or another, but much of it coarse, is greater in France than in England, or in any other European country. M. Moreau de Jonnes states that the annual consumption of wheat by each person is - in France 203 litres, in Great Britain and Ireland, 163; Spain, 127; Austria, 62; Holland and Belgium, 57; Prussia 46; Poland, 25; Sweden, 8. In other countries, the coarser kinds of grain, and principally rye or barley, or oats, constitute a much larger proportion of the food of the people than in France. In 1784 the quantity of wheat grown in France did not exceed 40,000,000 hectolitres; and then the consumption of wheat per head was not more than 125 litres. But the great extension of cultivation does not save the French, though they possess such a vast tract of fertile country and such various climates and soils, from suffering dearths and gluts. Since 1847 wheat has twice varied in price more than cent per cent, and in the present year, 3 as compared to the year before, the price rose higher in France than in England. The variations were greater there than here; so that at one time, price there was lower than our lowest, and at another higher than our highest price. Notwithstanding these great variations, for which France found a partial remedy in partial Free-trade, she has, in the present century, suffered neither such numerous nor such severe famines as she suffered in the previous centuries. Like ourselves the French have advanced in agricultural in all kinds of skill, in comfort, and in wealth, are better fed and better clothed, as they have increased in numbers. Their progress has been slower than ours, the increase of the people smaller, but they have both increased in numbers and improved in skill.
All travellers in France represent the French as being at present intently engaged in improving their agriculture, extending their manufacturing, cultivating the peaceful arts, and anxious to acquire wealth. They have changed with their rulers, from a restless to an industrious, peaceful people, and have become good neighbours. Deriving a very large proportion of their subsistence from their own agriculture, they justly hold it in high honour, and rejoice, as we see by the sketch, in their harvest home (below), and are cheerful at the labour which prepares the field for the seed.