Niel, past and present
In 2009, Histoire(s) de La Bastide Society published three historical brochures on the three heritage sites that can be seen in the area: the Niel barracks and warehouses, the district house, and Paris- Orleans railway station. Brigitte Lacombe, chairwoman of the society and Alain Cassagnau, secretary of the society, accepted to answer some of our questions for ‘Le Portrait de quartier Bordeaux Bastide / Portrait of a Neighbourhood, Bordeaux-Bastide.
To read the interview extracted from the book
Brigitte Lacombe, chairwoman, and Alain Cassagnau secretary of the Histoire(s) de La Bastide society speak about the Niel barracks and warehouses
In 2009, the Histoire(s) de La Bastide society published a boxed set of three history brochures, on three Bastide heritage sites, Niel barracks and warehouses and Orleans railway station.
The warehouses and the Niel barracks, though they are landmarks in the Bastide background, had been mostly unknown to Bordeaux people until the consultation workshops and “Imaginez maintenant/just imagine” campaign brought them on the front scene again.
As a specialist of the right bank history, could you tell us the story of those buildings?
BL- There are two distinct so called “warehouses”. Initially a conventional warehouse was built in the years 1850 to 1860 by the “Magasins publics et généraux des Queyries Lted Company”. It was located on a vineyard which is now the rue de la Rotonde ; it was the Gironde warehouse, then it was used as a general warehouse and finally it was converted into a flour hall as it is known to be currently. That building is a storage hall that was connected to the Paris-Orleans railway station by a private track serving also a pier on the Garonne bank, it was the first private track to be built in La Bastide . With time the company felt the warehouse was too small and another one was erected, it is the one where Darwin is going to put up their head office It was a vast hall house opening directly on the pier, at a time when the river was running along the quai Queyries, before the boatyard and Alriq’s bar were built.
What happened next?
We couldn’t find any information on that Company, but they probably had financial problems due to the 1870 war. It ran out of business and sold the brand new warehouse to the state. In 1874, military equipment had to be developed and it was used as a military warehouse. The Niel barracks were erected during the following years on the bordering vineyard and grass land. It housed the Train des Equipages 18th squad and the Infantry 57th Regiment.
What were the uses of those buildings?
The flour hall was used for good storage until the 1900ds, then it was used for railway equipment storage; older people still have known it as the SNCF warehouse. In the barracks warehouse military accessories were stored, including clothing. When I visited the site for the first time there were khaki T shirt cardboard boxes on the floor.
What are the distinctive features of that architecture?
AC: It is a warehouse architecture, walls are stone walls erected at right angles, it looks very much more like a military barracks than like a railway stock warehouse. However the lay outs clearly indicated connections with the railways. Tracks were running across the site, along the outer walls and inside the hall to ensure handling. The huge bulky building was equipped with loading/unloading piers, the plain facade was ornate on its pediment with a sculpted ship figurehead, and at the time there was a twin hall which was decorated with a steam engine which went on fire in 1883, but it is interesting to note the passage from the sailing to the train era inscribed on the pediments. One may wonder whether it is the train revolution that provoked the disuse of those buildings?
BL: In fact the whole site remained a military property until 2005 when the French army put it on sale, then the buildings deteriorated at a quick pace as it was too large a property to be looked after properly when not in use. It was sacked and looted.
After the looters’ time came the artists’ time, and the Niel warehouse graffiti writings have been famous all over France. The Niel site is indeed quite a stylish heritage