Sweat Land of Caux
In 19th Century…
Located in a green valley amid water mills, the small village of Saint-Aubin-sur-Scie is known for its spring waters, which have been supplying water to Dieppe since the Middle Ages. The excellent fertility of the countryside favored the establishment of the first village communities long before the Romans arrived, evidenced by the River Seda, the Gallic name of La Scie.
Life in Caux is quiet, and like our climate doesn’t have the extremes of the south of France. The geology of the region does hold a few surprises though and the acidic soil of Varengeville-sur-mer has contributed to the creation of exceptional gardens since the English first settled here in the late nineteenth century. The most striking contrast in the landscape is when it abruptly meets with the sea, the cliffs delivering their secrets in their chalky base, from which the area gets its name – Caux = kalk = chalk. Within this green landscape Villa Mon Repos is discreetly placed at the edge of the River Scie. The house is the work of Joseph Boullard, who used his multiple talents to build the house and a mill. Within the practical constraints he did not neglect the aesthetics and he produced two buildings that were plush, modern and elegant as well as practical.
On one side of the river a mill to make wheatflour and on the other a house with all the modern comforts of the day with large windows and three meters high ceilings. The original “cauchoise” (the name given to the stylish regional houses) had four big rooms for the family of three. There was obviously a fire place in each room at a time that these rural communities had to put up with a global freezing!
A few decades later when the family had grown the house was extended at the back with a second house and in 1895 a wall, separating the property from a nearby farm was built. Three generations of Boullards have lived in this house. Some were millers, others builders and one exception became mayor of the village in 1870. We don’t know why his “success story” ended but it led to the sale of the house and in 1912 when the house became the property of Mr Cavelier, a ship-owner from the port of Fécamp.
We have no paintings or engravings from the nineteenth century and no evidence that such items existed but we guess that the family, with good means, would have afforded the work of a painter or a photographer. The oldest photos, showing the house without its front balcony, were taken in 1900. It was at this time that the house was given the name of Villa “Mon Repos”. “My Rest”…
It was requisitioned during the war, and converted to a kommandantur (Nazi HQ) and taken over by the Allies in September 1944. A family of butchers acquired the house in January 1946 and the whole valley enjoyed their white pudding for sixty years.
Mel Brooks falls for Villa
Private James Melvin Kaminsky from Brooklyn (born 1926), better known as ” Mel Brooks “, retained a vivid memory of the house and village where he stopped over with his comrades.
He promised to come back after the war and in 1979 he returned to visit the then owners, the Levasseur family (photo).
In 2005, Laurent and I were looking for a workshop to start a local carpentry business. What we wanted was a small craftsman’s workshop but had not realized the difficulty of finding one in good condition at a reasonable price.
Le jardin ou ce qu’il en restait paraissait immense, la maison quoique bien entretenue laissait supposer des heures plus glorieuses quant à l’atelier, il dépassait toutes nos espérances car il était bien plus grand que tous ceux visités auparavant…
La signature de la vente de la maison fin 2007 aboutît enfin à l’ouverture de la maison en juin 2008 sous l’égide de Gîtes de France. Après des milliers d’heures de travail, quelques abandons d’amis trop peureux d’être embauchés, et l’arrivée de nouveaux amis trop heureux de s’embarquer dans cette aventure !
Coup de cœur
A chance conversation with a florist in the village led us to a house so discreet that we even did not know its existence, what was our surprise …! Our first visit of the property was a blessing, we had a coup de coeur! The garden or what was left of it seemed huge, the impressive home although run down implied a glorious past, and the workshop exceeded our expectations, larger than any previously visited.
It became our home in late 2007 and after six months of hard work, we opened Villa Mon Repos on 10th June 2008 under the aegis of Gîtes de France!