Marie Celeste?

About eight years ago, one of our neighbours died suddenly.  He was an elderly man, and he had had a physical handicap from birth – one leg was shorter than the other.  But despite the handicap, he had worked hard all his life, and had valiantly earned his living running a market garden.  In his retirement he continued to garden.  He had a large piece of land, not far from his house, and he shared that with some of the neighbours.  I would often see them all sitting there in the shade, watching things grow and chewing the fat.

Our neighbour died intestate, and he had no close relatives who would have inherited his house and lands.  The French genealogists have not been able to track down any heirs, or if they have, the heirs have refused the inheritance.  So the property has gone to the state, and was recently sold by means of a postal auction.  Before the sale, a viewing day had been arranged, and since I am incurably curious, I went along! 🙂

The house is half of one of the grandest buildings in Saint-Chinian, built in the 18th century for a wealthy merchant.  Under Napoleonic law, property has to be divided between the children, and so it came that the grand house was divided into two, some time ago.  Our neighbour’s half was the “poor” side of the house, with a large garage on the ground floor. I had visited the “grand” side of the house some time ago, and had seen the  immense stone staircase, with the most gorgeous wrought iron balustrade, as well as some of the very large salons.

The “poor” side of the house interested me, since no major renovation works had been carried out for absolute ages.  I took my camera and took as many pictures as I could.  There is currently no electricity, so some of the pictures are a little under-lit.  As you can see, this is a bathroom:

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On the first floor, the floor tiles had been re-laid – by the look of the tiles, sometime in the 1930’s perhaps?

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I love old wallpaper – you’ll see more patterns later in the post.

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Some of the rooms were large, and others much smaller and oddly shaped.

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The staircase in this half of the house must have been a later addition, or perhaps it had been a servant’s staircase, which had been updated.  The doors on the landing are the originals from the 18th century!

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Another beautiful door on the second floor:

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I’m not sure if the pattern in the picture below is stencilled onto the plaster or printed on paper.  It could have been intended for a child’s bedroom?

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On the second floor there were a number of small, interconnecting rooms, and there was some wild wallpaper!  The imitation-tile paper was in what looked like a walk through store-room, or dressing room.  Or perhaps it would have held the commode?

Another surprising room on the second floor – this was the only ornate fireplace in this half of the house.  There are several in the other half.  Perhaps the others had been taken out?  With the white tiles along the wall I imagine that the room would have served either as a kitchen or a bathroom, but without much evidence of plumbing.

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Here is a glass door knob from one of the doors.

P1150610The real surprise/mystery was on the ground floor, which was mostly taken up by the garage.

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To the left of the door, in the corner, you can just about make out a toilet, presumably the only one in the house, when it was first installed.  To the right of the door is the base of an old wine-press.

On the wall which divides the two houses there was still a door and a key:

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But the mystery was this:

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A hole in the ground, with steps leading down to an archway – the entrance to a tunnel, heading in the direction of the river?  An escape route for aristocrats during the French Revolution?  A secret passage to the house across the road, where the mistress might have been installed?

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Unfortunately the flash on my camera was not powerful enough to illuminate very much, and the torches we had did not shine very far either.  The light switch close by would not have been much use even if there had been electricity in the house!

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So the mystery remains!  Perhaps whoever buys the house will be able to solve it?  I do hope so!!

P.S.  Annie, my trusted proof-reader, has advanced a theory about the rooms without fireplaces in this half of the house: they might have been bedrooms and thus not needed any heating.  They might also have been used for servants or storage or…

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