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Museum of Textiles & Social Life, Fourmies
part of the Fourmies-Trelon Ecomusée

Ecomusee textile machine
Demonstration of cloth weaving machine - at Museum of Textiles & Social Life, Fourmies

Mill Town relives its past
Clogs and shawls in a French country town?

Watching the clatter of the old textile machines making wool almost faster than your eye can see takes you back to when Fourmies was a town of woollen mills, the biggest centre in France for spinning woollen yarn.

Going round the Museum, you see displays, objects and old photos - that show you what it was really like working in those steamy sweatshops for long hours and little pay.

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The Story of how Fourmies became the centre of French woollen industry
The wooded hilly area around Avesnes was home to many early craft-based industries. Like the Pennine valleys of Lancashire and Yorkshire, it was busy in France's "industrial revolution". Ponds were created on many streams to drive waterwheels - first (from the 16th century) for forging iron, then in the 18th and 19th centuries, water powered the spinning machines to make yarn from cotton and especially wool.

Napoleonic wars
The Napoleonic Wars kept out English competition, and in 1805 cotton-spinning started in Fourmies.
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Nineteenth century woollen boom
By 1820 the town had 2 cotton mills, 3 ironworks and 1 glassworks. During the 19th century, woollen mills boomed - in 1910, Fourmies was producing nearly HALF of France's wool!

The railway arrived in Fourmies in 1869, bringing cheapcoal supplies. The mills switched to steam, but water from the old mill-ponds was still needed to fill the boilers of the steam-engines, and to wash the wool.

The Famous Strike
1. In May 1891, the workers in Fourmies' mills went on strike demanding "an 8 hour day".
2. Strikers marched bravely - but France still had strong anti-trade union laws - strikes were illegal.
3. Popular songsheet cover commemorating the famous Massacre in Fourmies of1st May 1891 - when Troops fired on the workers as they marched into the square outside Fourmies church.

First World War and after
During the German occupation 1914-18, 80% of the woollen mills were destroyed or stripped of their machinery. After the war, 25 of the mills joined in a giant combine, "SFRF" to re-equip and rebuild modernised mills,

This strength helped the mills survive the 1930'sDepression - in 1949 the Fourmies mills made 85% of French wool.
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Fourmies Textile Museum

1950s industrial crisis
Cheap competition from the Far east wiped out the French woollen industry between 1950-55, just as it did in Yorkshire. Today the area has become a quiet rural backwater.

Part of the region's Ecomusée
The museum covers 9 sites - each preserving a relic of these old craft industries, and where possible recreating its skills and the past way of life associated with those craft workers of a bygone age.
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Background information
Industrial revolution in France
Water-power & watermills
Textile industry

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Location: Ecomusée de la Region Fourmies-Trélon,
Place Maria Blondeau BP65, 59612 FOURMIES

Information/ reservations:
Tel: 00 33 3 27 60 66 11
Fax: 00 33 3 27 60 23 88




Fourmies-Trelon Ecomusée © Copyright 2001-07 Invicta Media. Last updated 8th August 2007