When a vintage Normandy postcard shows a rather tumbledown building, we are never sure if we will find a gleaming restoration, or a pile of rubble.
Happily the manor ‘La Chaslerie’ gleams, and all because of a rather determined Parisian and his charming, if patient, wife.
Looking for a new challenge
Disenchanted by the city and business, Pierre-Paul Fourcade was looking for something. He did not expect it to be a disintegrating manor house, but it was and in 1991 M. and Mme Fourcade became the brave owners of a ruin, La Chaslerie.
The manor had not been lived in for over a decade. It was roofless and a farmer was using the chapel for his cows, but it all had an excellent provenance.
Built in the 1598, just two families had owned La Chaslerie.
In the company of kings
During the turbulent 16th century, René Ledin managed the private interests at Lonlay of the le duc de Sully. The duc was amongst other things a king’s friend, a soldier and tax collector. As trusted advisor to the duc, René Ledin became very wealthy, rich enough to build La Chaslerie.
Built for strength
You will notice it is not a soft and pretty house. The 16th century was a bitter, violent time. Kings tried to secure their hold on the nation with wars and religious persecution. Wealth had to be protected with private armies and thick walls. La Chaslerie was built with a moat, heavy iron grids on exterior windows and even the chapel has arrow slits.
The group of manor buildings at La Chaslerie is known in Normandy as a ‘village’. Everything a household needs to survive is here; stables, dovecote, press (for cider and calvados!), bakery and chapel. All would have stood within thick walls.
The chapel dedicated to St Anne is rich with murals, remarkable considering its many years as a barn. The long wall between manor and chapel is pierced with loopholes, arrow slits, so the household could move between the two buildings when under attack.
Behind the manor the land is quickly marshy. In 1991 the new owners were rather pleased to discover quite a lot of this pretty field was included in their new estate.
Always ambitious, as their wealth grew the Ledin family remembered links to the ancient noble line of d’Hozier, which surprised the d’Hoziers’ who remembered nothing of the sort.
However by the French revolution in 1789, money and marriage had conferred real nobility on the Ledin, far beyond the family’s earlier ambitions. Now Louis-Marie de Vassy, comte de Brécey et de Pirou, seigneur de La Forêt-Auvray, a colonel in the cavalry, owned La Chaserie and many more acres across Normandy. But his patriotism and wealth could not protect him when the revolution declared nobility the enemy. Rather than lose his head the comte sold what he could and emigrated to America in 1792. Le Chaslerie became ‘biens nationaux’, national property, and sold by the new government.
For the next two hundred years the Leveque family from nearby Saint-Mars-d’Égrenne owned La Chaslerie.
Our postcard is about 100 years old and reveals already crumbling grandeur. The manor was in ruins, abandoned for over a decade when M. and Mme. Fourcade bought it in 1991. M. Fourcade explained just how rundown it was in an interview with newspaper Ouest France. He says of his first night:
“All the roofs were off. I remember my first night here with just a camp bed to sleep in. I, who only knew city life, heard a lot of weird noises, furry animals, feathered … I felt like a man alone aboard a cargo ship in the ocean!”
Years of hard work followed but in 1999 they nearly lost it all. That year a terrible storm ripped in to La Chaslerie, destroying seven years of renovations. Broken hearted, the couple dragged tarpaulin over the exposed roof and courageously decided to carry on.
Now the manor is a home again, with three generations of the family living in its historic rooms. Restoration has been completed with advice and approval from the Regional Directorate of Public Affairs and the help of many skilled artisans. The renovation is so impressive it has received an award, however authenticity has some disadvantages; there will never be central heating at La Chaslerie!
The manor welcomes visitors to view the exterior without restriction. We were fortunate that Mme. Fourcade saw us drive in and popped out to say hello. She kindly shared the history of this remarkable house and their part in its long life. Our tour of the tiny chapel was particularly memorable; look out for some surprising wood carvings!
We recommend calling ahead, to ensure a tour is possible or keep an eye out for heritage open days. Renovations and care continue and we look forward to visiting again to see how they are getting on.
Find out more
Visit the very informative Le Chaslerie website (French and English). If you have any questions about the history of La Chaslerie or people involved in its history, the website includes a lively message board. There are also lots of photographs of the restoration in progress (French pages). Particularly interesting are the Chapel renovation pics here.