In 1970 as free love was having mixed results across the world and the Beatles argued over their LP collection after one of the worst break-ups of all time, the sun shone in Beuvron-en-Auge.
Dust and desolation
Michel Vermughen looked out through the small window panes of his home onto the village.
It was high summer and the dusty street was quiet, occasionally disturbed by a car zooming through or a cat chasing a mouse. All doors and shops stayed tightly closed, the few inhabitants keeping out of the midday sun.
At one end of the street the 15th century carriage inn ‘Boule d’Or’ stood proudly, if a little tired; an isolated galleon of Norman history amid a sea of blurred shabby architecture.
For the wall of ancient buildings lining both sides of the main road revealed little more than modernising concrete and mud, the practical beauty of their ancient structural beams almost completely obscured.
Dreams and determination
Fortunately for Beuvron-en-Auge Michel Vermughen was one of those wonderful rare human beings who has not only a dream, but enough knowledge and good common sense to make it happen.
He saw in the wide main street, the curve of the roofs and the dilapidation of the houses, the bones of a perfect Norman village.
Back 100 years and the hamlet had been a vibrant centre for craftsmen and traders.
Now it was a backwater, soon to be bypassed completely by the new A13 motorway just 6km north of the town.
Surprisingly this major piece of engineering, opening up Paris to Caen, would throw an unexpected lifeline to Beuvron-en-Auge.
Introducing our hero
Michel Vermughen was no longer young, he was born in 1923, but he was energetic and persuasive. He shared his dream of a thriving Beuvron-en-Auge with the villagers and they gave him the chance to prove himself. He was voted mayor in 1971.
In 1972 he shrewdly set up the Association for the Projection and Enhancement of Beuvron-en-Auge. This formal association gave the town access to heritage loans and grants…
Slowly but surely the layers covering old beams were stripped away from the buildings of Beuvron-en-Auge revealing what Michel had known all along; a wealth of traditional Pays d’Auge architecture.
The lost market hall
Sadly the market hall on Place de la Halle could not be restored, its unsteady remains had been torn down in 1958.
Old photographs reveal the hall to be a classic rectangle of once sturdy pillars topped with a plain square room. Without a market hall the village was missing its heart.
A loss is another’s gain
Then trouble with the A13 offered a surprising opportunity. The new road would be forced though the valleys of the Pays d’Auge and right over cottages that had stood in green fields for hundreds of years. They would be lost forever.
With a stroke of genius Michel asked heritage funders to save the bones of these unique buildings and use them to create a ‘new’ market hall for the centre of Beuvron-en-Auge. The hall would celebrate the local style of rural architecture and be a symbol of resurrection and hope.
Mayor Michel Vermughen was by now fully supported by the community and the influential President of the Regional Council, Michel d’Ornano. He got his wish.
A labour of love, for the Pays ‘d’Auge
A labour of love and history, the market hall was completed in 1975.
It is a triumph of traditional design and stands charming and strong in the middle of one of the most beautiful villages in France. And that is an official description.
Just 152 villages across France have been awarded ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’. Beuvron-en-Auge is rightly one of them.
Recognition and thanks
Michel Vermughen continued as mayor for over 20 years, overseeing continued restoration with unflagging enthusiasm.
By the time of his death in 1996 Michel’s achievements had been recognised with many awards including the highest, the Légion d’honneur. A plaque in the village commemorates him and announces his motto ‘rénover dans la tradition’!
Now, if you look out through ancient window panes onto the village, every view is coloured by beautiful arrangements of flowers. The roads are rarely quiet and happy visitors fill every nook, enjoying long lunches, buying unusual Normandy treasures and exploring the pretty town.
Beuvron-en-Auge is alive again.
Oh and that lovely town square, with the market hall and beautiful flowers? It is now called ‘Place Michel Vermughen’ of course!