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Boussu (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-07-30 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Boussu]

Municipal flag of Boussu - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 28 October 2006

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Presentation of Boussu and Hornu

The municipality of Boussu (20,118 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,008 ha) is located in the region of Borinage, formerly known as the Black Country (Pays Noir), half distance (10 km) between Mons and the border with France. The municipality of Boussu is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Boussu and Hornu.

Boussu is a very ancient settlement. Prehistoric remains have been found in the place called Saint-Antoine. There are also remains of a Roman settlement. The name of Boussu comes from Latin buxus, "box tree" (in French, buis). Under Charlemagne's rule, Boussu was listed in 768 as a bourg, which probably means that there was already a primitive castle there. A fortress was built there in the Xth century.
In the XIIIth century, the domain of Boussu belonged to the powerful local family of Hennin-Liétard. The castle of Boussu was seized and destroyed in 1478 by King of France Louis XI during his campaign against the Duchy of Burgundy. The castle was rebuilt in 1540 by the architect Jacques Du Brœucq, from Mons, for Jean V de Hennin-Liétard (aka le Grand, 1499-1562), childhood friend and Grand Equerry of Emperor Charles V, who made him Count de Boussu in 1555. The castle was a square of 100 m in side, linked to the fortified entrance gate (châtelet) by a gallery; its stables could house 300 horses. This was the first castle built north of the river Loire in homogeneous Renaissance style, merging elements from the Roman classicism and the Fontainebleau School's manierism. The castle had a rich decoration made by local, French and Italian artists. Boussu was the model of the "residence-castle", which influenced several architects in France, the Low Countries and Spain. The Florentine historian Guichardin (Francesco Giuccardi, 1483-1540) described the castle of Boussu as "the most beautiful house to be seen all over the Low Countries, a residence worth a king" and "a work famous for its architecture". Gaspar de Vega, architect of King Philip II, told him that Boussu was the best done castle he had seen during a travel in France, England and the Low Countries. The castle was visited by Charles V (1545 and 1554), Philip II (1549, 1558), Louis XIV (who celebrated there his birthday in 1655) and William III (1676); unfortunately, it was progressively destroyed during the wars that ruined the region in the XVIth and XVIIth century.
In 1810, the ruins of the castle were destroyed except the fortified entrance gate restored by Charles de Caraman (1769-1835), the last Count de Boussu, who also designed a 12-ha Romantic park. The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) used it as an ammunition depot during the Second World War and dynamited it on 2 September 1944. The remains of the castle were eventually purchased by the municipality of Boussu in 1989; archeological excavations made from 1991 to 2002 have allowed a partial restoration of the castle.

Hornu is also a very ancient settlement. Prehistoric remains have been found in the place called Petit-Hornu. There are also remains of a Roman settlement. The name of Hornu might come from Germanic hornia, "a slightly pointed hill" or horn, "a horn", more generally, "cattl"e. The alternative Latin etymology refers to ornus, "the flowering ash" (Fraxinus ornus L.; in French, orne or ornier). In Germanic, hornutum could also be a flowering ash wood. In 638, King Dagobert ceded the village of Hornu and its dependencies to the abbey of Saint-Ghislain.
The coal-mining complex of Grand-Hornu, built in the XIXth century in neo-classical style after the principles drafted by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (the architect of the royal saltworks in Arc-et-Senans, French Jura), was founded by the captain of industry Henri De Gorge, born in 1774 in Orsinval, a village located in France, close to Hornu. In 1810, De Gorge purchased for 212,000 francs the colliery of Grand-Hornu, founded in 1778 by Charles Godonnesche. In the beginning, the coal production was limited (10,000 tons per year) and the colliery was not very promising. De Gorge decided to dig new shafts in order to find richer veins; he was unsuccessful and close to bankrupt until the digging of the fitfth shaft, named Sainte-Eugénie after the name of De Gorge's wife, in 1814. Production then increased and De Gorge built in 1816 a workers' development (440 houses) in order to keep his miners; the modern conveniences provided to the miners were years in advance compared with the other collieries. In 1827-1831, De Gorge set up workshops for the building of steam engines, pumps, wagons, tracks and all kind of equipment required for coal mining. Social unrest reached Grand-Hornu in 1830: De Gorge's house and the workshops were sacked and he took refuge on the top of the entrance building of the colliery. De Gorge died during the cholera epidemic in 1832. Production was then of 120,000 tons per year, employing 1,500. De Gorge was suceeded by his wife Eugénie Legrand, who later transferred the colliery to her nephews.
The colliery was eventually closed in 1954. The buildings were abandoned until 1968, when the university professors Christiane Piérard and Marinette Bruwier founded a committee to preserve the industrial heritage of Grand-Hornu. In 1971, the local architect Henri Guchez purchased the site and started its restoration. The site was purchased in 1989 by the Province of Hainaut. In September 2002, the MAC's (Musée des Arts contemporains de la Communauté française), designed by the architect Pierre Hebbelinck, was inaugurated in Grand-Hornu.


Ivan Sache, 28 October 2006

Municipal flag of Boussu

The municipal flag of Boussu is red with a yellow bend.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 25 April 1990 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 6 January 1992.
The flag is a banner of the former arms of Boussu (before the merging with Hornu), granted to the municipality by Royal Decree on 19 May 1913 and based on the oldest known municipal seal, dated 1574 (as shown by Servais). The arms of the new municipality are made of the former shields of arms of Boussu and Hornu placed side by side.

The Heraldus website gives a detailed account of the arms of the lords of Boussu. Before the early XIIIth century, the lords of Boussu bore:
D'or au double trescheur de sinople au sautoir de gueules brochant sur le tout (Or a double tressure vert a saltire gules overall). Some sources gives a chevron instead of the saltire.
In the early XIIIth century, the lords of Hennin-Liétard replaced these early arms by their own arms:
De gueules à la bande d'or (Gules a bend or). The change was made by Baudouin II le Jeune (c. 1202-1259), who dropped the name and the arms of his father, Baudouin de Quincy for those of his mother Marie de Hennin-Liétard.

The Gelre Armorial shows the arms of Jean de Hennin, lord of Bossu (Boshert, #1535, folio 106v) as the arms of Hennin-Liétard, and the arms of Baudouin de Hennin, lord of Fontaine (Boudewin de Fouteynis; #1083, folio 85v) as quartered Hennin-Liétard and Luxembourg.

The former municipality of Hénin-Liétard, located near Douai, in the north of France, was merged in 1971 with Beaumont-en-Artois to form the municipality of Hénin-Beaumont. According to Brian Timms, the arms of the Hennin-Liétard family are not used by the municipality of Hénin-Beaumont but they are used by the municipality of Cuvillers. The municipalities of Cremarest and Hédigneul, also located in the north of France, use the same arms, but those arms are not related to the Hennin-Liétard family.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 20 October 2006