The entrance pavilion of Manoir de La Pommeraye is picturesque even on a cold winter’s day. A central archway edged with pale stones is flanked by sturdy stone tower and topped with a balcony and roofs that would look quite at home in a fairy-tale.
But for Normandy, this building is not outstanding. Its main decoration is carving that looks like an afterthought, an embellishment to give the indication of unconfirmed nobility. There are no shiny, rich green tiles like pretty St Germain de Livet, or the dramatic red and white checkerboard walls of Manoir de Querville. Still its unique shapes speak of a long history.
Medieval manor fortresses
Magnificent gateways like this can be found all across Normandy. They were once the entrance to small forts comprising a manor house, cider press, granary, bakery… all would face into a large courtyard and dovecote, their backs to a vast enclosing wall. Being rich was always a dangerous profession in medieval Normandy, thick walls and big doors helped. At La Pommeraye just the entrance and a little of the wall to the left have survived.
The first stronghold here is recorded in 1345, purchased by Simon Houël. It was a fortunate choice. Just two miles from the river seine and the vibrant port of Berville-sur-Mer, the manor stood in rich pastures next to a river. The Houël family lived here for nearly four centuries, rising to the nobility by ingratiating themselves with the right people – Thomas Houël helped defend Mont Saint-Michel from the English in 1424 – and marrying well.
The trouble with neighbours
A very short distance along the river is the remains of abbaye de Grestain, whose modest remains bely a grand past. A Benedictine Monastery was founded here in 1040 by Arlette, mother of William the Conqueror, and her husband Huerlain. They chose this place as the Carbec river that runs along the valley helped cure him of leprosy. The Abbey grew extraordinarily rich, and so was thoroughly raided during the 100 years war in 1358, 1365 and 1366.
Then followed a few years of stability for the Abbey, if not peace.
Within ancient Rouen records there are many mentions of the Abbey’s turbulent relationship with its La Pommeraye neighbours. Disputes over fishing and grazing rights were frequent with one particularly ferocious disagreement fought by Philippe de Houël, Sieur de La Pommeraye against the Abbey at the Rouen courts for eight years, from 1664 to 1672.
By then the Houël’s were aristocracy, thanks to Guillaume marrying a distant relation to the King of France in 1590; rich Ivonne de Dreux. The death of Dreux relations added ‘Baron de Morainville’ to the family name. Their home was a chateau near, or under the current Chateau de La Pommeraye, along the lane from the gatehouse.
Debt and revolution
By the 18th century after three hundred years at La Pommeraye, the Houëls had became perhaps a little complacent, and the line threw up a wrong-un. Philippe d’Houël, Lord de Berville (complicated family tree…) showed considerably less good sense than his ancestors, his business investments failing miserably. We know because in 1718 the bailiffs came calling:
“Charles Grandin, priest, assessor to the bailiwick, seized from Philippe d’Houël, Esquire, Sieur de Berville, for the payment of his creditors, properties which belonged to him, among which were a hovel with buildings for use as house, barn, cider press, stable, dovecote.”
The hovel is thought to be the remains of La Pommeraye’s old manor fort.
The family enjoyed their dwindling inheritance for a few more years until 1789 when revolution shook up the old order, demanding ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ for all. The charms of French nobility were hotly debated and in 1792 Jacques Philippe Henry d’Houël de La Pommeraye, Baron de Morainville, previously mousquetaire de la Garde ordinaire du Roi (Kings Musketeer), thought it wise to emigrate. The manor at La Pommeraye was confiscated by the revolutionary government, and that was the end of the Houël’s of La Pommeraye.
In 1800 Chateau de La Pommeraye was snapped up by Claude Masson de Saint-Amand, one of the first Prefects of the Eure who clearly thought some were more equal than others.
Ripe for renovation; Neo Normand
By the 20th century the chateau was in poor condition. As far as we can tell the gatehouse, last remnants of the old manor enclosure, was separately owned. When the chateau was destroyed in 1912 (fire?) it was abandoned for a few years until 1919 when someone with vision, and a lot of money, employed fashionable architect Henri Jacquelin to renovate.
Henri’s style was romantic rather than historic and he reconstructed La Pommeraye as a thoroughly modern manor with 20th century comforts encased within a ‘Neo Normand’ style, sometimes referred to as ‘troubadour’. Another Pays s’Auge manor to benefit from Henri’s rather fearless approach to renovation was Château de Saint-Hilaire de Louviers.
An old postcard reveals that little was lost and perhaps a lot gained by Henri’s efforts at La Pommeraye. The earlier house looks to be a respectable 18th century white box, almost English in its proportions. Henri replaced the box with a wood framed central section finished with oversized turrets at each end. One round, one square, the turrets are pierced with a number of large 20th century style widows. The finished home looks enviable if not authentic.
How has the gatehouse changed? For now we can only look back to vintage postcards from the early 20th century where it looks very similar. Just another fairy-tale piece of the Normandy landscape.
We found this funny little film of the gatehouse, although the director seems rather more interested in the chickens and cows. Probably from Normandy.
La Pommeraye on the French Ministry of Culture buildings register.
Dictionnaire historique de toutes les communes du département de l’Eure; histoire – géographie – statistique, by Anatole Caresme Charpillon 1868
No you aren’t imagining things, there are other La Pommeraye in Normandy, to be expected in such an appeley place.