Like every commune in France – apart from those who’ve lost everything in flood, fire or time of war – Laroque has shelves, yards and yards of them, of municipal archives. In the main these are bound volumes of directives from central government relating to the Ariège. There are also endless files of copies of forms relating to hatches, matches and despatches, licenses for liquor, permission to drive carriages, horseless or otherwise, toll roads, road improvements, land sales, local disasters such as landslip and flooding, records of meetings, residency requests, paperwork relating to shops, artisans, workmen an apprentices, immigrants…. all human life is here. That’s before you realise there are bundles of engravings, daguerreotypes, photographs…..
They aren’t indexed.
Laroque’s Commission du Patrimoine, of which I am an enthusiastic but fairly useless member (I have no Tales of the Oldest Inhabitant, no competence to research French documents, no skills in artefact restoration or in industrial archaeology) has realised this situation must change.
An early job is to trawl through the central government volumes, which date from the early 18th century, and extract any information relating to Laroque. I can help here. It’s a question of skimming these volumes for relevant entries.
Three of us sat down on Friday morning in the old Council Chamber of the Mairie, with its wall decorations showing noted politicians and industrialists, as well as allusions to the all-important textile industry. We had dusty piles of leather-bound volumes on the table in front of us. We turned to. It was fairly dry repetitive work, so we kept each other amused by reading out things that caught our eye. There were tales of Mayors drummed out of office (not from Laroque, no of course not) for inappropriate drunkenness. There were the lists of clothes to be supplied to those children raised in institutions, and the money made available for the care of each child.
I was intrigued to learn that there was in the 19th century, a single training school in the Pas-de-Calais in the north of France for would-be shepherds. Why would you spare your 16-year-old son to go to the other end of France, at some expense, to acquire his training (though there were no fees), when he could be back at home learning on the job? There was a similar mining school in the east of France.
We were good though. We completed our self-appointed tasks. We found Laroque mentioned throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, as all other communes, in connection with, for example:
- understanding its precise obligations to maintain communal roads and paths.
- submitting to standardised checks to ensure fair weights and measures were being applied locally.
- submitting returns showing who had joined the army, and in what capacity.
- We learned where the nearest doctors, midwives (‘sage-femmes‘) and pharmacists to Laroque were.
Despite moments of tedium, this was a fascinating morning. I was privileged to inspect these old records, and to gain a little more understanding of life during this period, and an appreciation of just how far the long arm of the state, whether imperial or republican, extended.