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Welcome to the Manoir de Dur-Écu !

A listed building in a protected site

 

Opening Times :

July, August and September,

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays
11am to 1pm and 3pm to 7pm

and during Heritage Days (Journées Européennes du Patrimoine)

Sorry, otherwise no public access !

 

Your Circuit :

You are free to walk around the courtyards of the manor,
and go inside the dovecot

(the interior of the other buildings is private and only open on Heritage Days)
You will find below a small guide (Let’s visit the manor !) to help you in your visit.

 

Fee :

It is for you to decide what you want to give . The proceeds will be used for the upkeep of the manor.

The suggested visiting fee is 5€ per adult.
The 2 first children are free, then 5 € for 2 more kids.

Please remit your contribution in the slot on the right of the (French) info panel.

 

 

 

 

 

Why a manor ?

Most English-speaking visitors would call this place a castle.
We call it a manor because the farm buildings are not separated from the dwellings and reception areas. This will be clear during your visit of the main courtyard.

 

How old is Dur-Ecu ?

This site is inhabited since prehistorical times. The manor was first mentioned in 1300. Enlarged and modified around 1600.

 

Why is it so rare to have a manor in front of the sea ?

All kind of pirates and invaders would come from the sea (… as well as storms), so manors would be hidden.

However, this location has been chosen to control the road leading to La Hague.

 

« Dur Écu », what does it mean ?

Hastings,1066. An English warrior threatened William the (soon-to-be) Conqueror with his axe. But the duke’s pal Robert Le Fort protected William with his shield (l’écu). The axe went into the shield but didn’t break it.
The strong shield, « dur écu », became a legend !

Robert le Fort gave birth to the Fortescue family.

 

A manor typical of La Hague
Built in blocks of sandstone and granite and covered with shale extracted from nearby quarries.

 

1758 : The British Navy lands 

The British Navy landed opposite and Dur-Ecu was the first place to be occupied. The British went to occupy Cherbourg, before retreating a few days later.

 

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A model farm in 1805
In this region, traditionally a farm would produce a bit of everything. Dur-Ecu was pioneer in being specialised in dairy and having 3 watermills and 1 windmill.

Each watermill would grind a different cereal (wheat, buckwheat and barley)
 

 

Bombed in 1944!
A radio listening station was set up by the Germans in the field above. It’s destruction was necessary to prevent it from reporting the incoming fleet on D day.
The Allied bombed the station, and the manor was hit.

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3 generations of the same family have restored the manor, with the help of highly skilled local craftsmen.

 

Let’s visit the manor !

You are now standing in front of the first watermill

 

On your left, the Caudar stream gets its name from the Scandinavian and means 'cold water.

Drinking water, flat land, not far from the sea, all this explains why this site is inhabited since prehistoric times. 

 

The 3 watermills were built around 1820. Now 2 of them can be rented as holiday cottages (gîtes). Each one was specialised on a different cereal (wheat, buckwheat, barley).
On the right-hand site you can still see the stones that supported the arrival channel for the water. 

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During the XIXth c. Normandy chose dairy as its speciality . Before, farms were producing a bit of everything, for autarkic living. Milling was one of the rare activities where you would get money. A 4th mill, a windmill, stood on the hill.

The owner of Dur-Ecu was described as a miller, rather than a land owner, showing the importance of milling.

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Looking towards the sea, you can see the Ras-Bannes buoy where before was a forest, There are many legends about forests disappearing into the sea, but actually the forest predated the coming of humans.

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Now let's have a look at the keep

 

The keep - i.e. the highest tower of a castle - is called in France the 'donjon', So why is a dungeon an underground prison in English ? 

When a Saxon peasant was dragged in front of the Norman lord of the castle, he ended non infrequently in the prison located in the basement of the keep...

Most of what you see dates from the 16th c. but the origins of the building are older.

The keep is crowned with machicolation in order to send stones on the enemy below. The slight angle of the base of the tower was designed for these stones to bounce horizontally.

The keep was rebuilt after WWII.

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On one angle, a cute turret (called a pepper mill in French).

 

Another machicolation served a dual purpose, defending the door below... and being a toilet for the room on the first floor !

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Dur-Écu  means 'Strong Shield', but why ?

 

« Dur Écu », what does it mean ?

Hastings,1066. An English warrior threatened William the (soon-to-be) Conqueror with his axe. But the duke’s pal Robert Le Fort protected William with his shield (l’écu). The axe went into the shield but didn’t break it.
The strong shield, « dur écu »became a legend !

Robert le Fort gave birth to the Fortescue family.

.

Bad weather, Saxon pirates and English invaders, all come from the sea. So it is very rare to have a manor by the sea

However, in the old times, horsemen and people on foot would walk on the seaside to go from Cherbourg to La Hague. Inland, the roads were too bad, bandits could attack you; hence you would need a guide.

The cliffs start at the spot where you are, so travellers would leave the beach and the road would start from here.

This was the ideal place to set up a control point and exact toll fees. This must be how Dur-Ecu started.

In 1300 somebody didn't pay his taxes and Dur-Ecu became briefly part of the king's estate. The royal bureaucracy left the first mention of 'feodum de duro scuto'

A classic manor would consist of a hall, a reception area, and chambers, the well defended, private lodging of the lord.

Logically this lodging was in the keep.

During the English occupation of Cotentin (1418-1450), the pax anglicana produced a construction boom. The hall was likely the low(er) buiding parrallel to the hill. 

As you will see, the whole place was modernised at the Renaissance.

 

Now let's go towards the main courtyard.

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On  the western side of the keep, you will notice a bell. It was used up to the 60s to inform the farm hands about working and meal times.

The aisle on your right was the oldest in the manor, but significant changes occurred after the 1944 bombings.

On your left a stone basin, meant for supplying water for the kitchen and whatever washing the inhabitants would practice.

You will see later another stone basing dedicated to washing the clothes and sheets.

In the main courtyard

Let's look first at the main façade of the manor. This aisle, perpendicular to the hill, was added during the Renaissance.

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Around 1600, a Cherbourg judge, Thomas Lesdos, was knighted for his services to the king Henri IV of France. However, at that time, a condition to enter nobility,  even at the lesser ranks, was to own a 'noble land'. So the judge bought Dur-Ecu to fulfill this requirement and 'modernised' the building. He opened transom windows and built an impressive stone fireplace in the main hall. 

 

During the European Heritage days ( Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, in mid September) one can visit the main hall, as well as the underground cellar. Otherwise, inside access is limited to the dovecot.

This courtyard is a good place to understand the difference we make, in this region, between a manor and a castle.

They are both prestigious buildings, with defensive elements :

  • They are 2-levels buildings, with a staircase. Ordinary houses would use ladders or be built with 1 level only. 

  • Large windows are prestigious.

  • Arrowslit, loopholes (shaped as keyholes for the arquebus) and machicolations are typical of troubled times.

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The main difference between a manor and a castle is that the manor is mainly a farm, directly overseen by the lord of the manor and integrating all the farm buildings.

In a castle, the farming activity would be delegated by the châtelain and the farm buildings would be separate.

 

On the Northern and Western sides of the courtyard you can see the farm buildings.

On the Northern side, the middle building is the bakery, the smaller one its oven

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Then come the stables

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Further right, to the West  a dwelling for the farm staff. You will notice  the 2 rows of pigeonholes.

The dairy workshop is followed by the cow shed.

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Left of the gates is the pigsty.

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Under the 500 years old oak tree, a well.

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Let's stand by the well.

 

If you look at the square tower, you see a machicolation.

But what can be its use ?

It doesn't protect any window or door.
Humans were not living up in he attic, so it wouldn't be a toilet.

Can you guess ?

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In fact the attic is another dovecot. If the manor was attacked, the pigeons would be smoked out from the round tower with the main dovecot. The pigeons would take refuge in this attic, providing eggs and meat to the defenders of the manor. 

Further away you see a cart-houses. Note the beautiful dormer window with a gable incorporating a central design of a round ball. The dormer windows of the dovecot are crested with a round ball too. Why ?

Round balls were reserved for the houses of the nobility. It advertised that the house was not subject to the various taxes hitting the commoners.

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Let's enter the dovecot

 

2000 pigeon holes show the importance of the pigeons in the economic life of the manor. Pigeons feed by themselves, they provide eggs and meat, their droppings are used as fertiliser.

At the time of the French revolution, the legal monopoly of the nobles to hold dovecots was bitterly attacked.

The roof structure was rebuilt in 1992 according to its original design.

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Let's go out and turn left towards the second stone basin

 

This one was used for washing clothes and sheets.

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The garden on your left is only open on Heritage days.

 

You can compare what you see with these images of 1944 :

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A German radio listening station was located on the hill above the manor. It could have forewarned of the incoming Allied fleet. So it needed to be bombed just a few days before D Day, june 6th, 1944, The RAF bomber squadrons came from the sea and dropped a few bombs on the manor before destroying their target.

 

The damages were such that the commission on war damages advised the grandmother of the present owner to pull down the rest and build a villa instead. She kicked the commission out.

Marie-Hélène René-Bazin started the rebuilding of Dur-Ecu with her own means, a task continued by 3 generations, supported by skilful artisans.

We thank you for your visit and hope you have enjoyed it.

We would appreciate your contribution to the upkeep of Dur-Ecu

(suggestion : 5 € per adult, but feel free to give what you want).

The donation slot is located next to the info panel on the door of the first watermill.

 

Walk back out, leisurely, retracing your steps.

 

Enjoy your holidays in La Hague!

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