Last modified: 2021-06-19 by ivan sache
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Flag of Houlle - Image by Ivan Sache, 3 January 2013
The municipality of Houlle (950 inhabitants in 2009; 652 ha) is located 10 km northwest of Saint-Omer.
Houlle is listed in the book of charters of the St. Bertinus abbey,
located in Saint-Omer, as Huneles (1075), Hunela (1093), Honela
(1178), Honule (1186), and, eventually, Houlle (1296). Like most
villages in the region, Houlle mostly belonged to the abbey. In 850,
Hunroc, self-styled "count of Houlle" and the father of Adélard, the
13th abbey of St. Bertinus, took the coat and offered his domain to
the abbey. The donation was confirmed in a charter granted by Baldwin
VII, count of Flanders, in 1117. The neighbouring was a matter of dispute between the abbey and the lord of Saint-Omer; in 1172, Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, confirmed the rights of the abbey but required the payment of 25 marks to the lord. In 1180, another local lord, Walter de Formiselles, was paid 70 pounds to withdraw his claims on the marsh. The abbey also owned the mill of Houlle, another source of local dispute. The villagers often obstructed the course of water, which caused the abbot to sue them; a band led by Jean de Nièles eventually destroyed the mill, the perpetrators being sentenced on 10 September 1386 by the Chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy to rebuild the mill at their own expense. In 1524, a dam protecting the marsh was broken, the perpetrator being sentenced by the bailiff of St. Bertinus to repair it; no longer
maintained, the dam broke again in 1768, causing a major flood.
In the next centuries, the civil rule over Houlle was shared among several lords owning small, patchy domains, which caused again several disputes. In 1637, Hector de Créquy was listed as the viscount of Houlle and the sole lord of the village, which seems to have been sold by the abbey in 1633.
[Houlle by Louis Deschamps de Pas (1816-1890), pp. 17-21 in Dictionnaire historique et archéologique du Pas-de-Calais - Arrondissement de Saint-Omer - Tome III, published in 1883 in Arras by the Department's Commission of Historical Monuments]
The famous Houlle gin is currently produced by the Persyn distillery (website).
Gin distilleries were established in the north of France around 1810. Around 1850, some 70 distilleries were registered, of which only three are still active, in Houlle, Loos and Wambrechies.
The Houlle distillery was founded in 1812 in the Walle Manor by Louis Decocq. He was succeeded in 1880 by one of his remote relatives, Paul Lafoscade. After the Second World War, Paul Lafoscade Jr. sold the distillery to the Persyn family, still owner of the factory.
Ivan Sache, 3 January 2013
The flag of Houlle is red with the municipal arms, "Gules a cross moline or a bordure compony of 12 pieces sable and argent a bunch of juniper proper", in the center. A copy of the flag, in proportions 4:5, was officially offered on 21 October 1912 by the municipal administration to Daniel Briot, owner of Le Petit Baigneur* (photos), "the smallest steamboat in the world" (length, 7 m; width, 2 m; weight, 5 tonnes). In 1985, Daniel Briot brought the boat, once used as a tugboat in the Saint-Omer marsh, in his shipyard for restoration. Totally revamped after original plans dated 1857 (Napoléon III style), the boat became "the most photographed boat on the Saint-Omer marsh", appearing in the TV program L'homme du Picardie.
*Daniel Briot named the boat Le Petit Baigneur as a tribute to the film of the same name shot in 1968 by Robert Dhéry (1921-2004). In the film, the famous actor Louis de Funès (1914-1983), playing a whimsical shipyard owner, performs one of the most stunning of his numerous wrath scenes.
The arms of Houlle combine elements of the arms of the former lords of the town:
- the cross moline, from the arms of the De Vrolant, lords of Houlle. In 1550, Jeanne de Vrolant, widow of Claude de Fontaines and daughter and heiress of Philippe de Vrolant, lord of Vrolant, Érain and Houlle, married Charles de CrÃ©quy.
- the bordure compony sable and argent, from the arms of the St. Bertinus abbey in St. Omer.
To represent the gin distillery, the Pas-de-Calais Archives recommended to use juniper berries sable, to no avail.
The arms eventually "reconcile" the two lords of Houlle.
Around 854, Hunroc, self-styled count of Houlle, took the coat at the St. Bertinus abbey, to which he offered the domain of Houlle. The donation was confirmed in a charter issued in 1117 by Baldwin, count of Flanders. In 1075-1076, abbot Heribertus donated the mill and part of the marsh of Houlle to the abbey.
The quarrel between the lords of Houlle and the St. Bertinus abbey culminated in the 14th century. In May 1386, the abbot ordered the destruction of a waer (fishing barrage) established on river Hukeleet by Jean de Nielles. Probably as a retaliation, Jean de Nielles ordered the destruction of the abbey's mill by armed men, "who insulted the clergymen and their church". In the lawsuit that resulted from the assault, the duke of Burgundy sentenced in 10 September 1386 the lord to rebuild the mill and to pay a fee to the abbey. On 1 January 1388, the duke of Burgundy commissioned the bailiff of Saint-Omer to order the lord to rebuild the mill. The dispute was solved for a while on 12 January 1393, but soon resumed until the death of Jean de Nielles in 1423.
[Houlle, entre abbaye et seigneurs (1ère partie)]
Jean de Nielles became lord of Houlle after his marriage with Jeanne d'Olhain, the daughter of Jean d'Olhain, lord of Houlle. Olhain was among the most powerful lineages in Artois.
Jean de Nielles was among the closest ministers of John Fearless, duke of Burgundy, count of Flanders and Artois. He also served Duke Philip II and entered in 1209 the Royal Council of Charles VI, king of France. Jean de Nielles was subsequently appointed governor of Arras and chancellor of Aquitaine.
Houlle was subsequently transferred to the Berghes family; in 1517, Philippe de Vrolant inherited Houlle from his mother, Jeanne de Berghes.
[Les seigneurs de Houlle, de conseiller bourguignon à mousquetaire du roi de France]
Ivan Sache, 1 May 2021