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Last modified: 2012-05-17 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Fontaine-l'Évêque - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 26 June 2005
The municipality of Fontaine-l'Évêque (16,754 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,839 ha) is located 10 km west of Charleroi. The municipality of Fontaine-l'Évêque is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Fontaine-l'Évêque, Forchies-la-Marche and Leernes. Fontaine-l'Évêque is part of the Belgian coal-mining basin; in 1967, one third of the population of Fontaine-l'Évêquee (sensu stricto) was of Italian nationality.
The history of Fontaine-l'Évêque was studied in great detail by Joseph
Parée (1920-1985), Mayor of the town from 1953 to 1982.
A polyptich dated 868 lists the possessions of the abbey of Lobbes, located 5 km south of Fontaine-l'Évêque; a place called Lerna Fontanis (Lerne with fountains) is listed. The origin of Fontaine is straightforward because there are several fountains on the municipal territory. The origin of Lerna (later Leernes) is less evident: some authors relate Lerne to Lierne or L'ernel, meaning "a small desert"; others refer to the Celtic root *lederna, meaning "a foaming river". Parée believes that Leerns is related to herna, a Latin word used by Virgil to designate a stone; the name of the place would have been Li herna fontanis (The stone with fountains), later Liherna and Lierne (the Walloon form of Leernes). The river crossing Fontaine and Leernes is called Ernelle, formerly Hiernel.
In 1234, Lerna fontanis was split into two distinct domains, Leernes and Fontaine; however, St. Berrnard's Itinerary, a document written in 1162, mentions several times Fontaine alone. The name of Fontaine-l'Évêque was coined near 1251; the lord of Fontaine was then Nicolas, Canon of Cambrai, Archdeacon of Valenciennes, Provost of Soignies, eventually consecrated Bishop (évêque) of Cambrai by Pope Innocent IV.
Fontaine-l'Évêque was already settled in the Prehistoric times; the
most interesting artefacts from that period are a scraper made of brown
flint and a triangular blade. The place called today Croix Favresse was
an important crossroads, probably with a shrine dedicated to a pagan
deity. In the Gaul times, Fontaine-l'Évêque was settled by the Nervians
and was located on the border with the countries of the Aduatics and
the Menapians. Remains of a round tower dominating the valley of
Ernelle were still visible in 1840 in the wood separating Fontaine and
The foundations of a Gallo-Roman estate (villa) were excavated near Forchies in 1865. A Roman cemetary was found in 1895 near the Mascaux Calvary, yielding coins bearing the effigy of Emperor Nero (54-68). In the Frankish period, the forest that stretched over the region was cleared. In 868, Fontaine and Leernes constituted a big agricultural domaine, with 100 bonniers (a unit of area) of woods, 150 bonniers of arable land and six bonniers of pastures; 220 farmers, divided into free colonists and serfs, worked on the domain, which had nine breweries and two mills.
The aforementioned St. Bernard's Itinerary was written by Abbot
Jeoffroy de Clairvaux in 1162; it relates the travel made by St.
Bernard from Liège to Cambrai in 1146. Bernard stopped at
Fontaine-l'Évêque, where he cured a blind man and a paralytic. A
document dated 1154 says that Prince-Bishop of Liège Henri II bought
several castles, including one in Fontaine-l'Evêque, thus predating the
current castle, which was built in the XIIIth century probably on the
same place. However, the most important document from the Middle Ages
is the chart granted by Wauthier, second lord of Fontaine-l'Évêque in
1212. According to Wauthier's chart, the burghers had to obey the lord
after he had taken the oath to protect their rights and privileges. The
chart was confirmed by Baudhuin de Hennin, twelfth lord of
Fontaine-l'Évêque, in 1422, and remained in effect until the French
Revolution. Most of the burghers were nail makers; nail industry
started with family forges set up by the farmers in order to work
When Nicolas, third lord of Fontaine-l'Évêque, died in 1272, the town had an appearance that remained unchanged until the XIXth century. The castle was flanked by a chapel and the town was surrounded by a square wall (length, 2,800 m) protected by seven towers and opened by five gates. The main entrance gate was protected by a square donjon. The main purpose of the fortifications was not military but the protection of the town and its wealthy market against rascals. Fontaine-l'Évêque was an important market on the road from France to Germany.
In the XIVth century, Fontaine-l'Évêque was still a border town, disputed between the Count of Hainaut and the Prince-Bishop of Liège. The town was also divided into two parishes depending on the Bishoprics of Liège and Cambrai, respectively. The town declared itself "free and sovereign", did not pay tax either to Hainaut or Liège and did not sent deputies to the States of either Hainaut or Liège. However, the lord of Fontaine-l'Évêque often took blatantly the party of Hainaut, which caused violent reaction by Liège, seizure and plundering of the town. In 1313, Count of Hainaut Guillaume I and Bishop of Liège Adolf decided that Fontaine-l'Évêque would be the meeting place of mediators in case of conflict between their states. In 1395, the burghers of the town complained against their lord Baudouin VI de Hennin, who wanted to replace the Law of Liège by the Law of Hainaut. The Court of Fontaine decided that the Law of Liège should be applied. The Court set up a confederation with 13 towns from the Principality of Liège, which promised to help Fontaine-l'Évêque to defend its rights and privileges. The confederated towns revolted in 1408 against Bishop Jean de Bavière; the lord of Fontaine-l'Évêque supported the Bishop whereas the burghers supported the revolted towns. The burghers burnt down the castle and the lord's soldiers plundered the town and the town hall. Wauthier's chart was probably destroyed during the blaze. In 1441, the new lord Baudouin VII de Hennin recognized the suzereignty of the Principality of Liège in order to prevent any offence to the municipal rights. Philippe le Bon, Duke of Burgundy, sent in 1465 a garrison to defend Fontaine-l'Évêque against Liège. Marguerite d'York, widow of the last Duke of Burgundy Charles le Téméraire, confirmed in 1502 the rights of the town, with appeal to the magistrates of Liège when required. In 1554, during the Franco-Spanish war, the French troops burnt down the castle and the St. Christopher church. Fifteen Dutch companies sacked the town in 1604 and used the St. Vaast church as a stable for their horses. In 1608, Fontaine-l'Évêque was occupied by the Spaniards commanded by Pedro Hortado.In 1693, following the battle of Neerwinden, Marshal de Luxembourg besieged Charleroi and the left wing of the French army occupied Fontaine-l'Évêque. The French stayed there until the Treaty of Rijswick, which retroceded the town to Spain. In 1757, the government of the Austrian Netherlands incorporated Fontaine-l'Évêque to Hainaut, in spite of the complaints of the inhabitants to Empress Maria-Theresia. During the campaign of Sambre and Meuse run by the French Revolutionary army in 1792, the town was fiercely disputed between the French and the Austrians. The Austro-Dutch troops repelled in 1794 Marceau's army beyond the Sambre and occupied Fontaine-l'Évêque, which was quickly lost, reconquerred by the Prince of Orange and eventually abandoned to the French. A liberty tree was planted on the 3 Thermidor of the Year 11 (21 July 1794) to celebrate the "liberation" of the town.
Fontaine-l'Évêque is the cradle of glass industry in Belgium. A local
family of Venetian origin set up a glass factory in Leernes, which
worked from 1438 to 1559. On 8 March 1467, Charles le Téméraire ennobled
Maître Jean Colnet, the owner of the factory. Charles V granted
privileges to Englebert de Colnet on 1 December 1531. Quarries of
white red-veined marble were exploited at the end of the XVIIIth
On 20 March 1815, the proclamation of King William I of the Netherlands was read in Fontaine-l'Évêque. The nail makers lost their main market, France, and several workers emigrate to the north of France. On 27 September 1827, William I allowed Pierre-Camille Montigny to set up a gas factory for house and street lighting. Fontaine-l'Évêque was the second Belgian town after Brussels and one of the first cities in the world (for instance a few years before Berlin and Vienna) to use gas for street lighting.
Fontaine-l'Évêque contributed to the 1830 Revolution. On 12 September, the colours of Brabant were hoisted over the two churches of the town. A troop of 28 volunteers entered Brussels on 26 September and took part to the fighting. They merged with the volunteers from Binche, Gosselies and Couvin and fought in Vilvoorde, Sempt, Eppeghem, Wahlen, Lier and Antwerp. All of them came back home on 4 November. On 27 September 1832, Mayor Ghislain Bouly and the two volunteers François Fauconnier and Rémy Rose were given the honour flag by King Leopold in Brussels. The flag was placed in the town hall on 30 September after a parade through the town.
In 1831, Fontaine-l'Évêque had 2,847 inhabitants. Nail making
redeveloped and machines for the production of small nails (pointes de
Paris) were purchased in France. In 1833, a factory was set up for the
production of iron rods and plowshares. Some 60 small workshops made
nails and chains. Haussy founded a mechanized nail factory, which
existed until 1923. Several nail factories were founded: Otlet, later
an outfit of the Flanders Nail Factory, in 1842; Baudoux in 1857;
Lemal, Bailleux, Roelandt and Castin in 1864. The main nail merchants
at that time were Fosselart, Delcourt and Delporte. More factories were
founded at the end of the XIXth century: SA des Clouteries Mécaniques
in 1870; Dercq in 1876; Léandre Henne in 1898; La Fontainoise, which
introduced wood screws in Belgium, in 1907; and the cooperative company
L'Espérance in 1907. Until the First World War, Fontaine-l'Évêque had
the monopole on the production of nails in Belgium.
The oldest concession for coal mining was granted on 13 October 1756 by Michel Camille of Rodoan, Baron de Fontaine, to Godefroid Thiry and Co. In 1839, the Municipal Council allowed Pierre Cambier to build a lime kiln in Leernes. Similar kilns were built by Augustin Sottiaux in 1840, Antoine Bouly in 1842 and 1849 and the brothers Anique in 1847. The first coal cayats (big shafts in which the extracted coal was poured into barrels winched up by women and children) were dug between 1835 and 1860 (fosse Robert, fosse de la Pompe, fosse de Metz, fosse Pain and fosse Sainte-Françoise). Industrial coal mining started in 1866 after the first borings made by Augustin Dufranne in 1863. The first company called Société Houillière de Fontaine-l'Évêque was renamed on 30 May 1874 SA des Charbonnages de Fontaine-l'Évêque. The company bought concessions in Beaulieusart (1869) and Leernes-Landelies (1872). A steam extraction machine was set up in 1868. Industrial extraction really started in 1869. Fifty houses (corons) were built for the miners in 1871. The population of Fontaine-l'Évêque reached 6,000 in 1910. SA des Charbonnages de Fontaine-l'Évêque merged in 1929 with SA d'Ougrée-Marihaye and merged its two concessions in a single one (2,449 ha) in 1932. The new concession was ceded to SA des Aciéries et Minières de la Sambre in 1936. The last shaft was closed on 15 March 1964.
Source: Municipal website
Ivan Sache, 26 June 2005
The municipal flag of Fontaine-l'Évêque is vertically divided
black-yellow with a red bend.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag follows the proposal made by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community, Deux laizes transversales noire et jaune, une laize diagonale descendante rouge traversant le tablier.
The flag was designed after the municipal arms, D'or à l'aigle de sable lampassée et armée de gueules, à une cotice de gueules brochant sur le tout ("Or an eagle sable langued and armed gules a cotice gules").
The municipal website adds that the town of Fontaine-l'Évêque was allowed to reuse its ancient arms by Royal Decree of 7 March 1898. The blazon given on the website uses onglée instead of armée.
Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 26 June 2005
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