Deep in the soft countryside of the Pays d’Auge, at the end of a quiet lane, stands Manoir de Querville.
Looking through the arch (Querville is a private residence) we spy the building in our postcard. Fancy brick and stone topped with a timber frame. A grand home that has been reworked over the centuries, to fit the changing needs and aspirations of its inhabitants.
A manor has stood on this site since the middle ages. On the far side, hidden from view to the casual visitor, are remnants from the 13th or 14th century. At that time the building was probably a simple square tower; hall and kitchen with rooms above. Alongside those rocks are newer smooth stones and brickwork. Above this damp-resisting base is an ancient wooden frame.
There are carvings on the old beams dating to the 16th century. Dragon heads roar across the top of windows and wild men stare out, twins to faces carved on the famous Lisieux ‘Manoir de la Salamandre’ lost to the bombardments of 1944.
Over time windows have been enlarged and at the end of the sixteenth century or in the early years of the next, the facade facing into the courtyard was transformed with patterns of limestone and red brick that survives today. Finally, in the eighteenth century, skylights were added to the high roof.
Cider-press, byres and barns
Around the manor house arranged on three sides are a cider-press, byres, barns, and outhouses. An octagonal colombier, has gone, lost between restorations. For centuries Lords had the right to keep a huge colombier housing hundreds of pigeons, while their vassals and peasants could not (although the birds may feed on their crops). So important were these pigeons as a source of food and income that, as Customs of Normandy states; ‘The rights attached to the dovecote (which are), purely feudal rights – are not relinquished if the building goes out of use or is demolished, to conserve these rights, it suffices if the remains of the dovecote may be made out’. It took a revolution to overturn the laws of le colombier.
Around Querville for centuries was a moat. It may have started as a ditch, but the purpose is the same – to defend the manor and its buildings. Fortifying a manor was necessary in difficult medieval times, but each lord was answerable to a higher lord or king who didn’t want his vassals becoming too powerful and their dwellings too strong… An old law in Normandy (quoted by M. Bur in ‘Le Chateau et le Droit’) states ‘No-one in Normandy has the right to excavate a defensive ditch on flat land unless it is possible throw out the earth from the bottom without the aid of a ladder, nor to erect a palisade unless it be of a single row of fencing without enfilades or salient [rows of large pointy sticks]’.
The entrance pavilion, a link between large barns, looks more fairytale than battleground. From the top of the lane it gleams in the sunlight, a pretty chequerboard of cream and red. This manor was built to impress.
The lords Querville held on to their manor through wars (a Querville was on the side of the English during the 100 years war) extending it until the end of the 17th century. Early Querville family history is misty with the earliest papers noting Henri de Querville living here in 1463. Hector de Querville presented his proofs of nobility to the Elect of Lisieux in 1540 and was governor of the town. The name seems to end at the manoir with Anne de Querville, who appears on a tax role in 1683.
After Anne, Querville became home to many families, either through sales or by marriage; Boislauran, Vauvert, Marguery, Gardin, Fautereau and very importantly in the 20th century the family Courtmanche.
Saved from ruin
The 20th century did not start well for the manoir. Photos from 1927 reveal missing tiles in the walls and woodwork in need of restoration. By 1959 the estate was up for sale and the buildings in danger of being sold for salvage.
A passion for the Pays d’Auge saves the Manoir de Querville
Then Henri Pellerin of the estimable Pay’s d’Auge magazine (still published today) placed a photograph of Querville on the cover and printed an article about the sale, calling for the ancient manoir to be saved. He described manoir de Querville as ‘an aristocratic dwelling, a home of quality people, without blistering and vain ostentation’.
Thanks to Henri’s article a sympathetic buyer was found and by 1961 Querville belonged to the Courtemanche family, who restored the buildings and are the current owners. Their Querville calvados is apparently exquisite.
Calvados, photographs by Raymond Quenedey 1927