Last modified: 2021-06-20 by ivan sache
Keywords: liévin |
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Flag of Liévin - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 26 December 2020
The municipality of Liévin (30,423 inhabitants in 2018; 1,263 ha; municipal website) is located 20 km north of Arras.
Liévin was already settled in the Gallo-Roman times, as evidenced by the remains of two cemeteries found in 1903 when establishing the coal mines. The tradition says that the town was founded in the 1st century BC as Levesano, "the purifying water", here river Souchez that also waters Angres and Lens. Remains of a villa and 752 tombs forming the biggest Frankish necropolis in the area were discovered in 1905 on the Riaumont hill.
Liévin was first mentioned, as Lévin, in a charter issued in 1070 by count Eustace. The castle of Rollencourt, built in the 11th century, had famous owners, such as William of Orange, prince of Nassau and the counts of Aumale. The last owners of Rollencourt, the Jonglez de Ligne, a family of rich merchants who purchased a title of count from the pope, built a new castle in 1878, which was destroyed in 1917 during the First World War.
Coal exploitation started in Liévin in 1858. Population increased from 1,400 around 1850 to 26,000 in 1914. Two companies were involved in coal mining in Liévin, the Compagnie des mines de Lens and the Société des houillères de Liévin. The wealthy Compagnie des mines de Lens, based in the adjacent, much bigger town of Lens, established the "model" workers' estate of Saint-Amé, organized around the Roman Catholic church, the presbytery, and religious schools. The Société houillère de Liévin established its seat on the Riaumont hill and a temple for the white collars, most of them being Protestants coming from Alès. The two components of the town were known as Liévin-les-Mines, close to Lens, and Liévin-Village. From 1890 to 1948, Liévin was crossed by the "tramway", indeed a 50-km long railway line that served the mining towns from Lens.
Liévin was totally destroyed during the First World War. The War Cross awarded on 10 August 1920 mentions "The town of Liévin, rampart of the town of Lens, was completely destroyed by the artillery. In spite of the high too, the town was always worthy and valiant in the difficulties and under the enemy domination".
The mining companies maintained their total, paternalistic control of the town, establishing cities that lived in autarchy and had little contact, if any, with each other and with the neighboring town. The companies concentrated in Calonne, soon known as Calonne the Red or Little Moscow, the Communists and union leaders, who worked in pit No. 5, deemed very dangerous. The companies relied on immigrant workers, especially Poles coming from Westphalia, who developed their own sport and culture societies.
In 1941, the coal-mining basin revolted against the working conditions imposed by the Germans, Several miners from Liévin, one of the strongholds of the revolt, were arrested, deported or shot. After the liberation, the nationalization of the coal mines did not really improve the status of the miners. In 1948, a general strike resulted in the proclamation of the curfew in Liévin, the government being scared by a potential Communist insurrection. From 1960 to 1970, 60 of the 67 pits closed. Following the tragedy in Saint-Amé, the last coal mining pit closed in 1974.
The disaster of Liévin occurred on 27 December 1974 in pit No. 3 of the Saint-Amé shaft. A firedamp explosion killed 42 miners, leaving 140 orphans. Less than 60 miners survived the tragedy; the last one, Salvatore Ranieri, passed away in February 2016.
While the mining company invoked fate, the daily Libération called the disaster an "assassination", invoking flaws in the aeration system. Workers' unions sued the company (that is, the state). Judge Henri Pascal visited himself the galleries and appointed independent experts. In June 1975, Augustin Coquidé, chief engineer of pit No. 3 was indicted and the company was sentenced to pay annuities to the miner's widows. It was revealed that the last three days of December had been retained from the wages paid to the widows; some of them even had to pay for the working clothes of the husband. Two years later, Coquidié was sentenced to a fee of 10,000 francs, soon appearing as the ideal scapegoat. Anyway, the responsibility of the company was recognized, for the first - and last- time in the history of mining in the north of France. The lawyer Henri Leclerc provided clear evidence that security procedures had been canceled because of the economic recession.
The clock of the Saint-Amé church has been stopped at 6:19 since then. The church houses a sculpture by Raymond Mason "A tragedy in the North. Winter, rain, tears" and stained glass-windows honoring the dead miners.
In 2014, during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the disaster, 43 flags featuring the portrait, name and age of the dead miners were hoisted in the town. The event was the subject of the novel Le jour d'avant (The Day Before), published by Sorj Chalandin in 2017.
[The Conversation, 8 October 2017]
Ivan Sache, 2 May 2021
The flag of Liévin (photo) is white with the municipal logo, which features a fanciful stylized shield vertically divided gray and red and the name of the municipality in blue, with the acute accent "emphasized" and wrapping the gray part of the imaginary shield.
Olivier Touzeau, 26 December 2020