Friday, 22 May 2009

La Manufacture de St Maur

Dotted around the lower levels of Belleville are many surviving 19th century industrial structures. This was an area of manual workers, of generally poor quality housing and, perhaps in compensation, a wide and varied selection of bars and dance halls. Many have been transformed today as the district has moved upmarket and manual work has moved to countries with lower labour costs, but others still struggle on. Two such structures, which stand back to back, perfectly demonstrate this very interesting contrast.

At number 168 Rue St Maur in the 11th arrondissement, a working establishment. A large porte cochère leads you through to a small, cobblestoned courtyard and a solid, attractive textile factory building. Above the gates as you enter it is still possible to make out the name of the establishment; Manufacture de St Maur. The original owners have long since left, but you can still hear the repetitive buzzing of sewing machines, and many of the original features remain.

On the left as you enter, the gatehouse. Built in a curious Normandy rustic, this is where visitors and delivery men would have first stopped.

On the right-hand side, one of the two entrances into the building. Set off to one side and featuring elegant curves, this entrance was probably the more prestigious and thus reserved for management and important visitors.

At the top of the main building and above the principal entrance, a clock surrounded by a sculptured portico. This not only gives a touch of splendour to the building, but would have also served a practical purpose, showing workers when they shifts began and ended. Beneath the clock, the year of construction in roman numerals. Quiz time; look carefully and tell me what year the building dates from!

Today this pinnacle no longer serves the same purpose and instead acts as a support for television arials. I'm not sure why there would be televisions inside this building today, although it is possible that it houses some offices. It seems to serve largely as a storage area, ironically for an importer of textiles from India, but some production clearly continues here. Part of the structure is also given over to a dance studio and sometime performance space.

Given the quality of the construction and its prized position today, it is almost certain that it will sometime slip into the world of gentrification and probably be transformed into more upmarket office space or loft appartments. The current construction crisis will put this on hold, but it will surely only delay the moment when the structure becomes similar to its neighbour, the Usine Spring Court (featured in my next post).

3 comments:

Starman said...

I'm not really good with Roman numerals, but my guess is 1858.

CarolineLD said...

1857? I love the rather incongruous mix of styles here.

Peter said...

Yes, 1857!

Did you also find the old Meccano factory?

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