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A Frenchman’s home is his castle, in Cahaignes

An old postcard of a classically beautiful 17th century castle took us to Cahaignes.  We could find nothing online about it, perhaps a private owner had sensibly protected their privacy.

Château de Cahaignes
Château de Cahaignes

Be careful what you wish for

Cahaignes is tiny, balanced on the Eure plains between Rouen and Paris with very few roads to drive down looking for a castle.  Then we spotted a clue  Rue de Château.  Of course, the practical Norman  street name popular in towns and villages across the region.

We drove carefully along a quiet road bordered by trees on one side and an open field on the other, not wanting to upset any sensitive Château owner.

Then we saw Château de Cahaignes and realised there would be no-one to care about our interest.

Through an open gate, along a path deep with weeds and coarse grass, past a dry pond filled with willow trees, is desolation.  The roof of an entire wing has fallen in; shutters hang, windows gape.

And an open front door.  Now this is not something we recommend or are proud of but all the open gates and doors were too much temptation.

We very cautiously, calling our hello’s, walked into a dark fairytale.

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A private space

Later online we found an odd little tale about the Château that made sense of an upstairs room.

We had seen a room on the first floor, on the dry side of the building, that looked as though someone had been sleeping rough in its draughty grandeur.  Empty heating oil containers, stacked newspapers and horse racing results suggested efforts to maintain some comfort and civilisation.  On seeing this personal space we left.

The news item told a story about Ernest Hubert Jean Picot that filled a few gaps but many more are left.

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More questions than answers about Château de Cahaignes

Chantal Le Gall was elected mayor of Cahaignes in 2008 and her passion for the village extends to all its inhabitants.  Of course she knew of the Château and her heart ached to see the moonglow of ancient limestone fade to grey as its life became increasingly precarious.

She visited Ernest, then 88 years old, to talk and to offer assistance.  Three times she visited and each time was rebuffed by a redoubtable gentleman with pride as big as his house.

The Château continued to crumble.  Ernest lived in dusty peace.

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Intruders repelled

One terrible day a fire broke out, smoke seen from the village bought the pompiers, the firemen.  Bristling with efficiency and professional knowledge the pompiers approached the Château.

Whereupon much to their surprise and horror a furious Ernest Hubert Jean Picot hurled abuse at them, threatened to shoot them all and generally failed to be at all grateful.

The pompiers were forced to retreat but fortunately quite a lot of Château remained.

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A noble retreat

Sadly despite an impressive determination to remain lord of his castle, not long ago Ernest was forced to leave for a retirement home.  The mayor has been in touch with his daughter.  A Parisian surgeon has fallen in love with the Château and is desperate to return it to its former glory.  As yet Ernest’s daughter has shown no urgency to sell, hampered possibly by Ernest’s breaking heart or complex French inheritance laws.

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It is easy to see why Ernest loved this graceful building.  Designed in the French way just one room deep, the rooms are elegant and drenched in sunlight.  One room still has painted panels of turquoise blue, decorated with dancing monkeys exactly like those in Chantilly.  Except for the ugly cut from a knife by an unsuccessful thief.

Perhaps in his mind and in his dreams Ernest is still in that upstairs room, leaning close to the old heater talking to the little cat we could hear but could not find.  Talking about old horse races, the winners, the losers and how nothing would ever truly take him away from the Château de Cahaignes, his home.

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We later discovered an old postcard of the interior and had already, incredibly, matched exactly the same view.  Have a look here.

The château is now on the French Heritage website, with details of past owners here.

urbex

24 thoughts on “A Frenchman’s home is his castle, in Cahaignes

  1. Hello, and many thanks for all this detail. My own ancestor was William de Cahaignes back in the days of William the Conqueror, and went with him in 1066, and became the founder of the (Anglesized) Keynes family in UK, of which I am a member via the Australian branch. So although this magnificent chateau is obviously much more recent, it may well be on the site of an earlier one belonging to deCahaignes – hence presumably the town’s name. I intend to visit the town tomorrow (10 Feb 18), on my way back to Paris from a thoroughly enjoyable journey in history in Normandy. Kind regards, Pete

  2. Hi everybody,

    I drove past the Chateau des Singes last August and was hoping to have a look around, but we saw the notice posted on the gate and tried to call the phone number on it and got no reply. So we did not enter and continued onwards to Champs Romain.
    We are hoping to visit again this year, possibly with permitted access if we can contact the new owner.
    Does anybody have the phone number posted on the notice on the gate, as it would appear that I went old school and jotted it down on a bit of paper rather than saved to my phone.
    Hoping that you can help

    Kind Regards

    Darren

    1. 08/03/16

      Hi Darren,

      What is the latest news on Chateau Cahaignes? Has the Chateau definitely been bought by mme corbasson and are there renovations currently being done? I had a look on google maps which had been updated, 2016 and it still looks deserted. Do you know who mme corbasson is or are? I first saw pictures, last year 2015, by chance online of this magnificent, stunningly beautiful Chateau and I have fallen madly and deeply in love with it.

      Any information would be greatly appreciated.

      Many thanks.

  3. Hi, it is the end of June 2015 and we have just finished a photo shoot at this stunning chateau. The chateau has been sold to mme corbasson. I am reluctant to provide a phone number and leave it to the new owners to share this detail with you. The house is now privately owned and access is prohibited unless you have permission from the owner. Doors and windows are boarded and renovation is taking place. There is also a caretaker living at the property. The house can still be accessed by photographers etc but there is a daily fee for anyone wishing to take pictures. We spent a wonderful afternoon at the chateau. The poor chateau was in an even worse state of vandalism than the photos on this blog.. Mirrors smashed, panels removed and the pictures of the monkeys cut from their frames and removed. There is no excuse for this theft and lack of respect. Shame on all those who chose to wreck this beautiful chateau.

    1. Thank you for this update. Very good to hear confirmation of an owner and that someone is living on site. We look forward to seeing the renovated château from a polite distance.

  4. Thanks a lot! i am french and i live at 5 minutes drive of this castle. during all my childhood i wondered what happened here contemplating this castle from the road. Thanks to you i learnt more things about it than all the french sites and documents. Everytime i went through this road i was wishing to be rich enough to rebuild it and i still wish it. What a disaster to see all that!

    1. Hi Eileen thank you for your comment, it’s good to meet a fellow fan of this beautiful building! We hope your childhood dreams come true.

    2. 08/03/16

      Hi Eileen,

      What is the latest news on Chateau Cahaignes? Has the Chateau definitely been bought and are there renovations currently being done? I first saw pictures, last year 2015, by chance of this magnificent, stunningly beautiful Chateau and I have fallen madly and deeply in love with it.

      Any information would be greatly appreciated.

      Many thanks.

    1. Hi Chrissie, thanks for getting in touch. Since this was posted we have heard that the Château has been purchased and is now completely of limits.
      Hope you have great holiday.

    2. Hi recently visited the castle. You can still drive upto the door as described above. An amazing place and some amazing history. From Google I’ve found that Ernest was an inventor. He has 14 patents to his name.

  5. I should like to hear the ghost stories. I believe perhaps a very young lady passed near the stairs. I wish i had the means to fully restore this mans breathtaking home!! My grandfather was in construction and I can only imagine how much work was put into it. Please do, if you know him and he is with us, let him know how in love so many people are with his beautiful home. It is so beautiful and has so much passion and love from just Ernest let alone other ownera that it is impossible to view and not begin crying … ty for sharing. I thirst for more information.

    1. We agree Cynthia, this story has not finished. Thank you for your lovely comment, anything more that we learn will be shared.

  6. Re: Hildegarde
    The house actually sits in the middle of 27 hectares all in one piece, divided 1/3 woods,1/3 pastures and 1/3 orchards. There is a wash-house and natural spring that used to bring water to the Miroir d’eau infront of the house.

    1. Actually its 13 and a bit ha, I am looking on information on the plastic surgeon who is interested in buying the castle, since it would be interesting if more people invested in the castle, then it can be quickly restored, since it will cost a lot of money.
      Any other information is welcome too, like owner details, history, …

  7. Despite the sad state of the house at present, I feel you must know the tremendous work that Ernest did to his house:
    The lovely marble floor that you can see throughout the ground floor has been laid by him, based from old original tiles he found in the cloak room under the Grand Escalier. From the remnants in place, he recreated the floor pattern and re-opened the quarries where the marble was originally sourced.
    He put the fire places in the lounge damaged by the fire – as well as all of its wood panelling. The fireplaces were nicked in both that room and the Salon de Musique (galerie next to it). His attention to detail was such that when he commissioned the wood panels, following extensive research in other castles of the same period, he had realised that wood panels were painted in different shades of grey / cream, all of which he recreated and are still there under the fire damage/black mould.
    There is a cellar running under the house (centre), that served as a jail in the 16th century (the bars were still visible 20 yrs ago) with 2 blocked tunnels, one going towards the church and the other towards the fields opposite the house.
    When he carried out some work to the now collapsed side, he found in a cavity of the wall the dead body of a cat and 2 priests robes (1 funeral and the other for weddings) probably hidden during the revolution by the priest in residence (the chapel was above the old kitchen).
    Maybe I can share some ghosts stories too at some point.
    Ernest never had a cat to talk to – just a rescued red Irish Setter called Elliott…

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this information Suzzette, we look forward to hearing more!

  8. This place takes my heart – I hope the good doctor is able to purchase and restore, this building deserves a place in history.

  9. A heartbreaking situation.

    If you look at the carte cadastre for the area, the parkland is heavily divided, it may be that the house is attached to only a small part of the former gardens, with a ransom strip from gate to door. This could greatly complicate any sale.

  10. What a gorgious place. And what a sad story. These pictures linger on in my brain…:-)
    Thank you for sharing !

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