Looking up from endless intriguing brocante along Rue de la Madeleine we saw, quite by chance, the match for our vintage postcard.
Treasure hunting at Les Andelys!
We were exploring the annual Foire à Tout des Andelys, one of the biggest Foire à Tout in the country, certainly in Normandy.
The fair is a perfect mix of market stalls, brocante traders and families selling assorted bits and bobs after a good clear out.
Along leafy Avenue de la République local Les Andelys associations showed off their specialities and crowds of the curious gathered around old-fashioned tractors and a well polished FFI car.
We were staying in a hotel by the river, famous for once housing a toll chain across the Seine. After a superb meal of many many exquisite courses the evening before a long walk around the town was welcome.
To buy or not to buy…
The discovery of a set of old postcards, depicting actors in scenes from Joan of Arc’s life, already made the day a success. An antique medical box complete with deteriorating medicines had been resisted (and later regretted). A heap of carved frames were still being considered.
It was hot, our car was now about a mile away at the hotel and our decisions to buy were based on our willingness to carry whatever caught our eye. The plan had been to hunt for our postcard match after a thorough rummage, but there it was up Ruelle de l’Horloge. Minus the small boy.
By now it was mid afternoon; we had been strolling around the fair since early morning. The call of a cafe and a cool drink was strong and that is our excuse for not walking up the alley for a closer look.
But we did look it up.
Slightly bonkers Belfry
The tower, known as Le Beffroi, was made using beams taken from the former Capucin priory church up on the hill opposite Château Gaillard. The clock mechanism was rescued from a church named for Saint Madeline, destroyed during the French revolution. Normans are not ones for waste and put it all together in a new location some time during the 19th century.
For reasons not entirely clear this incredibly tall tower, faced with smooth grey slate tiles, was built over an arch above an alleyway. As well as impressive age the clock face has one very distinctive feature; the Roman numeral 4 is displayed not as IV, but IIII.
Oddly for a belfry, there are no bells. But chauves-souris? (Bald-mice French for bats!) Caves along the Seine are full of them, so it is quite possible.
Recycling, 17th century style
The Capucin priory still stands at the end of Rue de Capucines, constructed from familiar white stones. It was largely rebuilt in the seventeenth century using chunks of Château Gaillard, with permission from Henry IV who ordered the Château’s demolition in 1603.
The Capucin took over the building from a leper colony in 1545, leprosy was rife in medieval Normandy. Much later, after an interlude with the Charitable Association of St. Mary of Batignolles from 1876, in 1961 it ended up owned by the town. By 2006 a new group took on the now badly dilapidated building, raised funds and it is now beautifully restored and a day care centre for disabled adults.
Foire à Tout Les Andelys – where and when?
Just 40km south east of Rouen and 100km from Paris, Les Andelys embraces medieval Petit Andelys by the river and newer Grand Andelys climbing up the valley.
La grande Foire à Tout des Andelys is usually the second weekend in September, 8am to 7pm both days, along Avenue de la République and surrounding streets. Expect around 500 mixed sellers.
This year we plan to add some extra time to explore Le Beffroi, the Nicholas Poussin museum, Clotilde’s Spring, the gentle riverside…
Château Gaillard? Well have a look here… The sad secret of Château Gaillard.