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Poperinge (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2021-06-19 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Poperinge - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 11 July 2005

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Presentation of Poperinge and its villages

The municipality of Poperinge (19,707 inhabitants in 2007; 11,933 ha; municipal website) is located 15 km west of Ieper, on the border with France. The municipality of Poperinge was established in 1976 of the former municipalities of Poperinge, Proven (including Krombeke since 1970), Reningelst, Roesbrugge-Haringe and Watou.

The oldest spelling of the name of Poperinge was, around 850, "Pupurninga Villa", which could indicate the estate of a certain Pupurn. The explanation used to be that the name "Pupurn" refers to a Frankish farmer. Now more and more people think it is a much older, Celtic name.
Krombeke was mentioned for the first time in 875, as Crumbeke, and refers to a winding brook. Knight Cornelius Witsoone once lost his way in the woods surrounding Krombeke for 72 hours. The sound of the bells saved him from this perilous situation. At 6 p.m. (summertime) or 8 p.m. (wintertime), the bells from the church tower chime 72 times to recall the legend.
Proven was first mentioned in 1151, as Provenda, which could be derived from the Latin word praebenda (in French, prébendes), which means "the earnings from a church benefice".
The oldest mention of Renigelst is Rinigelles in 1107, which could possibly mean "the alder woods of Rinno's descendants".
Originally, Haringe was the administrative centre of the town of Roesbrugge-Haringe, that was first mentioned in 899. Roesbrugge was first mentioned in 1183, as "de ponte Rohardi", and subsequently in 1284, as "Rodarsbrugge". According to certain hypotheses this name was given because of a bridge (in French, pont; in Dutch, brugge) that a certain Rohard built across the Yzer.
Toponymical and etymological research showed that Watou was mentioned during the 12th-13th centuries under the names Wathewa, Watawa, Watuwes and Watue. That means as much as "a humid meadow or swampy heathland".

Until the French Revolution, the town of Poperinge belonged to the St. Bertinus abbey in Saint-Omer. Clothing industry developed in the 14th century, but Poperinge wealth declined because of a cloth struggle with the neighbouring city of Ieper. The inhabitants of Poperinge are known as keikoppen (pig-heads) because of their obstinate struggle to maintain the cloth trade against Ieper. Keikopwijk (pig-heads borough) and the Keimonument (Boulder Monument) on the market square recall this nickname. The figure of squire Ghybe used to go along to parades as a knight with a kitchen spit for a sword, spoons for spurs, sitting back-to-front on a donkey and hitting a boulder. This Don Quichotte-like figure symbolized the three main towns of the clothing industry (Ghent, Ieper and Bruges) which governed the county of Flanders (the donkey) in the wrong way, and tried to suppress the stubborn town of Poperinge (the boulder), to no avail. The giant Piere de Keikop (Peter the Pig-Head) was created in 1958.

Since the 15th century, the prosperity of Poperinge was due to hop cultivation. Poperinge is often refered to as the capital of Hoppeland (Hopland). The hop plant (Humulus lupulus, humulus from Frankish *humilo, "hop", and lupulus from Italian luppolo, "hop") is a dextrorotatory, perennial climbing plant that can reach a height of seven meters along a trellis. Hops came to Poperinge from St. Bertinus abbey in Saint-Omer as an alternative for the languishing cloth trade. The hop plant belongs botanically to the family of the hemp-like plants (Cannabinaceae, Urticaceae): dried hops underneath the pillow help people to sleep. The fruit of the hop vines, the hop cone, contains a yellowish powder, lupulin or hop flour, which gives beer its flavour during the brewing process and also acts as a natural preservative. Hops are harvested at the beginning of September: in the beginning of the 1960s the mechanical picking machine relegated picking by hand and the epic of the vrimde plokkers (foreign pickers) permanently to the folklore department. Poperinge houses the National Hop Museum. The hop culture also inspired a number of giants who participate in the triennial hop pageant. Maai and Tjeppen is the hop picking couple, inaugurated in 1963, symbolizing the era of hop picking by hand; Lievetje Piepauw (lit., "The Ladybird"), inaugurated in 1975, represents a useful insect for the hop plant. The same year, Wuppe Rupse (lit., "The Caterpillar"), representing the enemy of the hop plant, was inaugurated. The cultivation of the hop is the base of the twinning of Poperinge with two other European hop centres, Wolnzach in the Hallertau region, Bavaria (Germany) and Zatec, in the Saaz area, Czech Republic.
Starvation, the plague, plunderings and religious wars caused from the 15th century several economic and social crises. In the 18th century, the Austrian regime allowed trade, industry and agriculture to reflourish in Poperinge.

During the First World War, Poperinge, nicknamed "Pops" by the Brits, became the centre of the British war effort and the town was like an oasis of peace and quiet for the British soldiers. Poperinge and Veurne were the only unoccupied towns. Because Poperinge lay behind the Ieper Salient, behind the labyrinth of trenches around Ieper, it soon became the most popular recreational retreat for the British troops and everybody did business with the Tommies. In order to give spiritual help alongside the carefree entertainment, on 11 December 1915 chaplains Philip Clayton 'Tubby' (1885-1972) and Neville Talbot opened soldiers' club Talbot House, where everyone, no matter where they came from, was welcome: Every Man's Club. The club was called Talbot House, after Gilbert Talbot, Neville's younger brother, who was killed in July 1915 and who came to be seen as a symbol of a 'golden generation' of young men whose lives were being sacrificed in the Salient. After the war, Talbot House became the cradle of the Toc H-movement, a world-wide charity with the Lamp of Maintenance as its symbol. In a Christian spirit of friendship, service and close mutual understanding, Toc H aims, through a variety of different activities, to bring together a wide spectrum of people of all races and beliefs. Clayton was named honorary citizen of Poperinge in 1965.
Traumatised by the violence of the war, a number of British soldiers refused to return to the war or they deserted, the consequence of which was the death penalty by execution. Two death cells were restored and the execution pole was put back on the inner court of the town hall. Poperinge New Military Cemetery is the final resting place of 677 British soldiers who died of wounds at nearby Casualty Clearing Stations and of 17 men executed for desertion. A short rail ride south-west from Poperinge was a cluster of medical units at Remy Farm; the men who died here from June 1915 to the Armistice were buried in long trenches. More graves were added after the war, making Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery with 9,867 graves the second largest British military cemetery. Also lying a short distance from the town on the western side, the Nine Elms Cemetary is of 1,555 British soldiers graves. Very close to the border with France and near the former site of a Royal Flying Corps field, the small Abeele Aerodrome Cemetery, of 104 graves, lies among hop fields characteristic of the Poperinge region.

In May 1940 Poperinge became the assembly point for fugitives repelled by the German attack on their way to France who, when the border crossing closed, found a warm welcome with the local people. The town was liberated from the German occupation on 6 September 1944 by the First Polish Armoured Division, commanded by general Stanislaw Maczek (1892-1994), who was named honorary citizen of Poperinge in 1969. The meeting between the Polish division and members of the local resistance is commemorated by a simple memorial located on the Abeelseweg.

The most famous inhabitant of Poperinge is Dirk Frimout (b. 1941). After he graduated as a civil engineer, he studied and was awarded a doctorate in the faculty of Applied Sciences. Dirk Frimout is the first and till this day the only Belgian astronaut in space. As a scientist, he belonged to the crew of flight STS-Atlantis '45, which landed on 2 April 1992. He was named honorary citizen of Poperinge in 1999.

Ivan Sache, 11 July 2005

Flag of Poperinge

The flag of Poperinge is vertically divided red-yellow with five green hop cones placed 2 + 2 + 1.
The flag, adopted on 26 February 1981 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Royal Decree issued on 5 May 1981 and published on 23 June 1981 in the Belgian Official Gazette, and, again, on 4 January 1995.
[Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a]]

The colours of the flag are derived from the municipal coat of arms, a red shield with a yellow gloved right hand with a ring on the forefinger, holding a yellow crozier. These arms were granted by a Royal Decree issued on 14 October 1875. The oldest known arms for Poperinge, dating from the 16th century, show a silver glove holding a golden crozier. All seals from the 17th to the 19th centuries are of the same design.
The first official arms of Poperinge, granted by a Royal Decree issued on 31 December 1838, show a yellow right hand and arm, coming from the side of a red shield and holding a yellow crozier. The arms were slightly changed in 1875, when the arm was removed and a ring was added to the hand.<
[Wapenboek van de Provinciën en Gemeenten van België [svm55a]]

The arms are officially described as "In red a gloved, stretched hand of gold with the palm pointing forwards, the pointer finger is decorated with a ring, coming from the left and holding the staff of a mitered abbot of the same. At the top of the arms there is a town crown with five towers".
The arms refer to the abbot of the St. Bertinus abbey in Saint-Omer. Before the municipal reform of 1976, the arms of the municipality of Poperinge had a marquess crown at the top. Afterwards the town crown was inserted above all arms of the towns that bear the honorific title of City. [Municipal website]

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Jan Mertens, & Ivan Sache, 11 July 2005