The historic Site of Vesvre

The Site

The site of Vesvre is located some 15 kilometres west of the Loire, between Bourges and Sancerre, at the edge of two wine-producing areas, Sancerre and Menetou-Salon. It includes a 10th century earthen mound (La Motte de Vesvre), and a 12th century stronghouse (La Tour de Vesvre). Both were originally accompanied by dwelling houses and farm buildings on the adjacent land, and were probably separate properties since the early 13th century. The name “Vesvre” means untilled or marshy land.

La motte de Vesvre - The mound

It is a round, banked up hillock with a diameter of 30 metres at its top, and height of 12 metres. It was intended as an observation post and also to protect the people who lived there. A wooden tower erected on the mound, probably defending the site. The mound, as well as the banked up ground in front of it (basse cour) with a few houses (villa) and a small chapel, was protected by fences erected on an earthen rampart, and by a deep moat. Initially the site was a seigneurial residence and, from the 11th century, the centre of a medieval fief of the family of Godfridus de Vabra (maybe of Norman extraction) and who were vassals of the lords of Aix d‘Angillon.

La Tour de Vesvre - The stronghouse, Historical background

The building was not a fortress but only used as a residence by aristocratic owners. The Tour locates about 200 metres north of the Motte de Vesvre. It was built during the 12th century by the Vesvre family on marshy land, and for this reason stands on a foundation of banked up clay reinforced by meshed branches. On this site initially standed a much older residence. The Tour, as well as a late15th century manor built onto its west side (ruined in the middle of the 20th century) were protected by a wall with small towers at the four corners, as well as by a moat. A drawbridge led to the adjacent land on the east side. It was here, in the 16th century, that farm buildings were erected, together with a twin-towered entrance and a dovecot, all belonging to the Seigneurie de la Tour de Vesvre. Some of these buildings can still be seen today, and are undergoing renovation. The Tour de Vesvre has been considerably modified between the 12th and the 18th centuries by the succession of its aristocratic owners.

The Building

At its base the Stronghouse (Tour de Vesvre) is 21 metres long and 15.60 metres wide, and almost 30 metres high. The walls are 3 metres thick at the base, diminishing to 2 metres at the height of the watchway (15 metres). It is built of red sandstone (called “pierre noire”) from Vailly and limestone from the local area. Originally the tower had only three levels, later modified into four. Many questions remain, like the original access to the upper floors, considering the present wooden staircase was only fitted at the end of the 15th century.

The stronghouse and some of the remaining houses and farm buildings, together with the dovecot and more recently the Motte, were progressively acquired by the municipality of Neuvy deux Clochers and restored. The Tour de Vesvre was classified as a Monument Historique in 1993, and the other parts of the site in the late 2000s.

Cellars

The tower’s entrance was originally on the west side near the manor house. It opened into a large living room with a stone-flagged floor and a fireplace on the east wall, framed by two windows, the height of which was later reduced and then converted into doors late 19th century. This initial vast main room was converted into twin vaulted cellars during the 16th century, to support a massive fireplace and chimney stack in the upper level. The arched niches date from the 13th century.

Ground floor

This stone-slab floored room, dating from the 15th century when the level display was modified, bears a large fireplace, supported by the previously mentioned vaulted cellars. The ends of one of the two main ceiling beams were decorated with carved fantastic animal heads (les Vouivres). At the end of the 16th century a window niche was transformed into a small prayer room. Partitions were added, and two windows opened in the East wall in the 17th/18th centuries.

2nd floor

This tile floored imposing room has early 13th century gothic arched elegant windows. Considering this level was raised by over a metre probably in the 15th century, the windows sills now lie below the present floor level. In addition to the central chimney there is evidence of an earlier fireplace on the East wall.

3rd floor

At this level is the watchway, recognisable by its small window openings. The werstern windows offer a fine view onto the Motte de Vesvre and the surrounding countryside.

Here the roof framing rises up to form a dome, resembling an upturned ship‘s hull, 15 metres high. The beams in the corners show a herring-bone pattern. The roof timbering support a hip-roof. The wooden framework and the roof itself were renovated in 1999, reusing 30% of the original roof woodwork. The wood comes from oak trees which were proved to have been felled around 1482/83. At that time they were already 250-300 years old.

The renovation efforts

The Tour de Vesvre has been in the possession of Neuvy deux Clochers since 1974. The municipality has undertaken the renovation work with the financial support of the French State, the Région Centre and the Département du Cher. After the successful renovation of the roof (1996-98), the consolidating of the foundations (2003-4), and the outer walls (2005), the large barn was completed in 2012, and the dovecot in 2014.

During all phases, at the instigation of the Direction Régionale Archéologique Centre (DRAC) excavations were carried out by the Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP) on the period 2003/4, and since 2012. They produced highly significant discoveries, suggesting that the tower was built on the remains of a primitive seigneurial house dating from the late 9th century that could be part of the early development of the Vesvre fief.

Presently, the research is concentrating on the Motte, as well as on the 16th century farm where is the reception. A further phase will concern the ruined manor and its surroundings with, undoubtedly some major discoveries to expect. The results of the archaeological research are gradually released to the public through regular lectures and exhibitions held by the INRAP team.

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