2015-08-04 Fismes – Seraucourt-le-Grand

Today’s photo is of the glass and mirror factory in the village of Saint Gobain. The company of Saint Gobain is probably the biggest company you have never heard off before but if you have a ClimaCoat windscreen in you car, then it is made by Saint Gobain. They are one of the biggest companies in France and this humble factory is where they started out back in 1693. Elon Musk and Tesla are getting a lot of buzz for their gigafactory in Nevada which will double world battery production when it opens in 2018. Well, in my opinion, this was the world’s first gigafactory because when this place opened in 1693 it also doubled worldwide production of glass and mirrors. Prior to this factory being built, mirror and glass production was monopolised by Venice, and as a result, panes of glass were very expensive. But after this factory was opened , windows and mirrors were added to houses all over Europe. The mirrors in the famous Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles were supplied by Saint Gobain and they exported worldwide from this small factory at a time when there was little global trade in manufactured goods.

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Today – 95 km. Total so far – 2360 km. Much cooler today and not too hilly made for a fine day’s cycling until I got to Laon. The traffic on the D1044 between Laon and Saint Quentain was just crazy for such a narrow road and it made for a scary finale to my day’s cycling.

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Young Labrador pup at campsite in Fismes. There were a few pups running around the campsite and this little fella wondered over for a closer look as I was packing up to go away.

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Town hall in Fismes. For such a small dot on a map, Fismes is quite a large town and has quite a lot of history to it. 3 times it has been destroyed; first by the English in the Hundred Years war, then in 1814, by the Prussians fighting Napoleon and finally during World War 1 in 1918.

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Town hall in Fismes in 1918. The battle of Fismes in August 1918 was one of the most vicious in the whole of the First World War. After the failure in the Second Battle of the Marne, German troops retreated to Fismes and set up a new front along the Vesle river. On 3rd August 1918, American troops tried to break through this new front by attacking Fismes. This battle was unique because of the extreme violence and street fighting that occurred, as well as the presence of storm trooper attacks and flame throwers. Most of the battles in WW1 took place on farmland whereas this battle was street to street, just like Stalingrad.  Over the course of just a month, Fismes would be lost and won again five times by the Allied forces.

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Memorial on bridge between Fismes and Fismette. The inscription says “This bridge is dedicated to the 28th American Army Division from the state of Pennsylvania and to those soldiers who gave their lives to liberate Fismes.” On August 4th 1918, exactly 97 years ago, over 3,000 Americans were killed trying to capture this bridge, which is almost as many as were killed during the Twin Towers attack on 9-11.

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Sign at border between the Marne and the Aisne. Notice how narrow the road is and how wide the truck is compared to the width of the lane. I found the roads in Aisne the worst in all of France to cycle on because they are so narrow for the volume of traffic.

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A wild boar and 4 piglets foraging in a field near Blanzy-les-Fismes. One of my favorite photos from the whole Tour de Travoy. You would often see signs for wild boar but never once did I think I would spot any.

Family of wild boar in a stubble field.  The boar looked a bit thin and must have been incredibly hungry to risk foraging for food 50 yards from a busy road.

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British WW1 cemetery in Vendresse. The cemetery is located on an approach road to the Chemin des Dames ridge. Most of the soldiers in this cemetery were killed in May 1918 when the Germans attacked the Allied positions during the Third Battle of the Aisne.

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French cemetery and memorial at Cerny-en-Laonnois. This cemetery is just one of 11 French cemeteries along a 30 km stretch of the Chemin des Dames in Aisne. This ridge was the scene of fierce fighting in April 1917, when in the space of just 10 days, over 400,000 soldiers were killed mostly French. That is more troops than were killed in the first 10 days of the Battle of the Somme and the loss of life nearly led to a mutiny by the remaining French forces. The failure of this attack led to the French commander, General Nivelle being dismissed and being replaced by Phillippe Petain. Petain promised his troops no more suicidal attacks, longer holiday breaks and also pardoned many of the mutineers. Only for Petain, who after WW2 would be sentenced to death for treason for leading the Vichy government, the French forces could have completely collapsed all along the Western Front.

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Tourist information sign at Cerny-en-Loannois. Beneath the Chemin des Dames ridge is a network of caves called “The Dragon’s Lair” (La Caverne du Dragon). The caves were excavated by tunnelers in the 17th century extracting limestone for building projects. These caves were used by both German and French forces during WW1 as field hospitals and command posts, sometimes even at the same time.

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Golf de l’Ailette near Chamouille. Golf courses are rare in France and this was the only one I came across on my travels around the country. There was quite a few people on the course no doubt taking advantage of the good weather.

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Church in small village of Monthenault. Every house and building in this village has been built since 1918. There is no trace of any structure here from before WW1.

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Entrance to the glass and mirror factory in Saint Gobain. A factory was established here in 1693 and remained operational for over 300 years until it was shut down in the mid 1990’s. At one time, over 2,000 people worked in this factory but it is now lying vacant and dis-used. There was no gates at the entrance and I was free to wander about the grounds and get some great photos.

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Manufacture des Glaces church in Saint Gobain. This small church was built as part of the glass and mirror factory in Saint Gobain.

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Plaque commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Saint Gobain company. The inscription says “The Saint Gobain company have installed this plaque in memory of Louis Lucas de Nehou, who in 1691, invented a method of producing mirrors and who, in 1693, established a manufacturing plant at the chateau in Saint Gobain, where he died in 1728”.

Manufacture des Glaces. To celebrate their 350th anniversary, the Saint Gobain company produced this 3D video of how the glass factory would have looked like in 1785 just before the French Revolution. It is a fascinating insight into industrial production techniques over 200 years ago and really brings to life what this factory was like in its heyday.

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Cobblestone road at Saint Gobain mirror and glass factory. Thousands, even millions of loads of mirrors and glass would have trundled along this road and out the stone arch on their way to houses and buildings all over Europe and the world.

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Flower basket on sign for Charmes. They really like their flower baskets in France. They put them on bridges, in windows, on lamp-posts and here on the sign for the very charming village of Charmes.

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Municipal campsite in Fere was closed. Just like in Valence, I arrived at a campsite to find it was closed. There was no sign to say it was closed but the gates were locked and there was no other camper-vans or caravans about it. There were posters in the reception for events in August yet none to say it was actually closed. It was all very strange but it meant I had to cycle another 25 km to the next nearest campsite at Serraucourt-le-Grand

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Sign for the Somme in Seraucourt-le-Grand. It was starting to get dark when I eventually made it to Serraucourt-le-Grand. The town is located on the Somme, but the river here is only the size of a stream.

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Camping du Vivier aux Carpes. It was after 9 when I made it to this campsite. The campsite was very busy and all the pitches seemed to be occupied but I managed to find spare patch of grass between pitches 5 and 6. The campsite has pools of carp for fishing but all I wanted to do when I got here was get some sleep.

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