Cevennes, evoking the
early Twentieth Century

At the beginning of the century, the oldest inhabitants report, the village of Saint-Germain-de-Calberte was particularly alive.

A fact which reflects the vitality of this village: at that time there were 13 cafés in the mid 1910s. (only one remains today).

In the North of the village, there were café Deleuze where youth came and danced on feast days and Sundays, café Amouroux, café Verdi, café Plantavit, with a small vineyard. In the center of the village, café Boniol was near the present Post office, café Sicard and café Europe were next the present baker’s. These cafés were the spots preferred by the bowlers, who played their favorite game on the pavement, with bowls made of wood, or “studded ” bowls, which were of wood and carefully covered with nails just like fish scales.

In the center of the village, café Pic was on Cantarelle street, also welcomed youth on Sundays, when these girls and boys did not go near Mazel or Flandonnenque, to dance with the music of an accordion or the beat of impromptu songs. In the South end of the village, café Soulage had a small shaded terrace.

As in many villages of the Cevennes, these cafés were only an additional economic activity, mainly on days of fairs and festivals. “Of course, they were not filled, every day. ”

At that time, the café was a place of meeting for the inhabitants of the village. But it was, particularly for people of the countryside, the spot where the last news was learned, as one came once per week to shop at the village. One went into a café to discuss and keep in touch, with a good glass of country red wine. That gave a little strength to the calves, for many people needed one or two hours to walk back home. They were loaded with a “biasse ”, a long double sack split in its middle, and which was carried on both sides of the shoulder. It contained all that was essential but was not produced personally: oil, sugar, pastes, oil, pepper, some coffee, fresh bread when the farm batch had been consumed, salt when a pig was killed, and traditionally in Christmas, an orange for each child in the family. Often in cold winter, coffee was preferred and served in long and thick stemmed glasses, accompanied with a little conical and graduated bottle of brandy. One tasted these drinks on the table marble, which was the only luxury of these establishments, with sometimes one or two large mirrors placed face-to-face.

Other establishments were more important, café restaurant Lafont, located at the North entry of Saint-Germain, welcomed cabs and horses in its vast arched stable. On its second floor, a guest table was proposed.

In her boarding house, Agathe, so-called “Gathou ”, welcomed her clients, especially workers from construction sites of the neighborhood. There, Stevenson made halt, at his stay in Saint-Germain-de-Calberte. Close to the old town hall , the café restaurant Mazauric, also called "Trappelou", was the meeting place at the periods of elections or election campaigns, which were sometimes animated. One of them literally split the village into “Supporters of Dreyfus ”and “Monestieristes ”, during the year 1912 which opposed Dreyfus and Monestier.

At the South entry of the village, one found the café restaurant Saint Martin, which kept on growing and got a certain fame in the neighborhood. This is the only restaurant, which was remaining until recent years.

If all these establishments had only reduced activity during the week, they could hardly contain all the customers on days of fair. “They were completely full, it was often necessary to pass several establishments, to find an empty table”.

The sheep market was held at the church square, then called " place du Castre ". It extended out of the village until a new plan. The vendors (maquignons) often arrived the day before with a “diligence”, as they wanted to be present, early in the morning, at the opening of the market. Often the deal, “patcho ”, was concluded in a café.

Stallholders and hawkers also animated fairs, and their displays extended from Cantarelle street to place du Castre. Most of them came from Anduze, Saint-Jean-du-Gard, La Grand-Combe or Florac. They traveled in carriages drawn by a horse or a donkey, and they used to ride for a large part of the night and sometimes for the whole night, because they needed to arrive early to choose a well stocked stage. Some accustomed merchants made their place retained by the “town shouter”.

The displays were of many kind: merchants of clothes, of sheets, of cords, of knives, of collars and small bells for the sheep, of sweets, watch makers, clog makers, and shoe-makers. “Three watch makers came regularly - one came from Saint-Andre-de-Valborgne, he was one of the first merchants which came in automobi1e for the Saint-Germain fair. It was small red Renault car: people from the countryside were in raptures to see a carriage moving without any horse. Another watch maker of Saint-Jean-du-Gard rode with his case on a bicycle, and he was called the “Swiss man ”. A young couple from Saint-Jean-du-Gard were specialized in selling small clocks and alarm clocks ”.

“So, you can imagine how great was the joy of the country children, when they discovered all these displays for the first time. “Our parents led us to offer us an outing, but they also bought what was necessary to us: clothing, shoes, wooden-soled shoes, but very seldom of the shoes. On Sundays, we had a pair of shoes, that our elder brothers had already worn and we wore clogs, at our very first steps ”.

The most important fairs were those of November 19 and May 3. Let us quote about this subject, the very particular fairs of “loue ” (renting), which took place with the hamlet of Ayres (not far from Saint-Germain). On the top of this mountain, on the last Sunday of September (the “smaller loue”) and on the two first Sundays of October (the “greater loue”), youth put their week clothes under their arms. They went and proposed their service for picking sweet chestnut. They used to leave their work clothing in pledge to the landowner, who would hire them for the season of picking sweet chestnuts. The fame of these “loues” largely extended far beyond the neighboring villages, and some young people could come there, down the north of department Lozere.

A great festival was held under an enormous, secular chestnut trees, and people danced and played; moreover, youngsters of Saint-Germain knew the music, most of them were good instrumentalists in the harmony directed by Doctor Portal; the rehearsals took place in the field “La Garde ” below the Protestant church.

As fairs were places for exchange and important trade, many stores ensured the supplies.

The grocer’s Benoit, place du Castre, was also a tobacco shop. In front the Catholic church, grocer’s-hardware store was also a butcher’s-pork-butcher’s. The store called " co-operative " moved several times. The store Figuière was also a cloth trade, it stood in front of the present baker’s.

The baker’s Daumet was held by the same family, from father to son. It was located at the site of the present baker’s. Also, the baker’s Chabrol was below the house of “Gathou ”, and the baker’s Fabre was on “ place du Castre”.

The smart ladies of Saint-Germain could wear beautiful clothes. So, two fabric merchants were found: Labaume and Tinel in the higher street; and the cloth trade, held by Rachel Benoit, close to café Plantavit.

They could also have nice shoes: clog maker Mazoyer was in the higher street, and clog aker Afflatet was in the lower street. The shoe-makers Ayral and Saltet, respectively in the street and on the square of the town hall, produced shoes, wooden-soled shoes and custom tailored shoes.

All the fabrics took form at Mrs Aline’s, a dressmaker; the nimble fingers of seven trainees changed laces, cadis, cretonnes and silks into blouses, waistcoats and gowns.

At that time, the ladies wore especially the chignon, highlighted by a head gear made by some milliners. There was one hairdresser for men, he was Lapierre, also called the “flute ”.

The life was not always easy for housekeepers, they had to go and seek water with a bucket, from the fountain, which was located close to the church. They had to wash their linens in the brooks " l’escale-vielle" or “la lune”. Four lavenders kept on working whatever was the weather, sometimes by rigorous winters; they had to break ice with a beater. Marthe Fort, Madame Bancillon, Madarne Pascal and Rose Rouvière ensured this painful trade until the construction of the municipal laundrettes; and they never stayed unemployed, for there were many people in the village.

Saint-Germain, a canton chief town, welcomed many civil servants -. six gendarmes (policemen) housed at the site of the present holiday camp, four teachers, four roadmenders, three mailmen, a post-office employee and his assistant, two forest agents, two employees of the indirect taxes, an Treasure employee, a receiver of Recording, a tax collector and his assistant, a judge (Justice of Peace)with a clerk, a priest, a Pastor... Craftsmen and “fellows” were numerous. Three masons, Filemon, Meynadier and Bruc, built the bell-tower of the church. Two contractors of public works, employed many workers, Lechapt and Plantavit, and two carpenters.

In the countryside, the last millers closed their mill, in Cros and Croisance.

As only few craftsmen came from outside of Saint-Germain, many youngsters left, each year, either for the “threshing-machine ”, or the slopes of Gard, where the “colles ” (teams) of forty grape pickers cut matured grapes and carried them near Chateaux Roubaux or Gallician. The girls were either in Remoulins for picking cherries, or near Chateaurenard for the sending table grapes.

But what highly livened up the village, was the fifty thread makers, who worked every day in the spinning mill, whose high chimney stood up in the lower street.

“When you know that one cocoon produces a silk wire, which is up to 1500 meters long, and that a thread maker spun 1400 to 1550 cocoons per day, so at the end of one day, these fifty thread makers had obtained a silk wire length, which was twice the circumference of the world... ”,

After Marcel ROUX and Maurice ROUX

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