On Sunday, October 9th, I went with a group of 40 people from the AVF Cherbourg Association on a tour of several private and public manors, châteaux, churches, windmills and gardens that make up a large part of this region’s cultural heritage. The first stop of the day was the Manoir de Gonneville near the small village of Saint-Jacques-de-Néhou. It is a fortified farm with a large courtyard and is representative of the civil architecture of this region that has its roots in the 13th century. The lord of the manor and his tenant lived in buildings with openings mainly on the inner courtyard. The exterior walls had few if any windows in order to protect the residents from unfriendly neighbors. The main entrance to the manor was enclosed by a large imposing porch, which has long since disappeared. The main residence, which has been restored, is in the Renaissance style of the 16th century. The ceiling of the roof reaches to great heights, it has mullioned windows and the chimneys are decorated with small stone balls (a sign that the manor belonged to a lord or someone of royalty). Above the dormer window to the right is a sundial facing south. The house of a lower height on the right has its origins in the 13th century and served as the residence for the lord’s tenant. Further to the right are the cellar and the stables. They were built here for practical reasons so that one could quickly and easily look after the horses. Naturally the carriage house was placed next to the stables. The ceilings and roofs have all been restored with original materials. The beams and joists are made of oak with cracks and chinks filled in with strips of chestnut. On the other side of the courtyard are buildings strictly regulated for agricultural and storage use. The stone walls against the hillside are close to a meter in thickness. There is a small barn for storing wood, a small stable, a large barn and a special room with a cider press. The cider press, called a pressoir, is an exact replica of the one that used to be here. It was able to produce one metric tonne of cider from the apples that grew in the orchards. The time-honored tradition of making apple cider on the premises may have diminished over the centuries in Normandy but there is still a large number of people who embrace the art of cider making in our region. (Here is a link that allows you to see the entire process of cider making as it was practiced using such a press.) In the corner of the courtyard is a cylindrical pigeonnier (dovecote). This is evidence that the lord of the manor had certain rights and powers. For centuries, only important people could own pigeons due to the fact that they were used for communication purposes and their droppings used as fertilizer. Inside there are about 400 niches for the birds corresponding to the number of hectares of land on which a lord’s power extended. The central pillar allowed for a rotating ladder, or "potence", providing an easy way to collect eggs and to provide maintenance to the tower. On the grounds outside of the courtyard are three different buildings which served very different purposes. In front of the courtyard entrance is a garage. Cited in nearly all regional records, this was once a chapel dedicated to Saint-Clair. The garage was built long ago using the stones from the ruins. In the meadow behind the lord’s residence is a bakery with a bread oven maintained in perfect condition. The entire roof is made of lauze stone. Originally, the rooftops of the manor house were also made of such stone. Over time however, when the roofs collapsed, various owners put up thin slates instead. The difficulties of having a roof of lauze stone is the fact that the stones are quite rare, they are extremely expensive and it is necessary for the walls and internal skeleton to have a immense structural strength to support the weight of the stones. Only the dovecote and the bakery are covered with lauze stones today. It should be noted that the roof of the bakery has been restored using old methods, which means that no metal at all was used in its reconstruction. The anchor of the roof frames are made of wood while stones are held to the slats by small pegs made from chestnut (prevents wood rot). The pegs pass through an eye carved into each stone. The stones are larger toward the bottom and smaller toward the top. Also in the meadow behind the pigeonnier is the lime oven. It is the oldest part of the manor since it was first necessary to build the oven in order to then build the house. The lime mortar was used for building walls. In fact, only the tops of doors and windows are framed in local stone. The remaining “stones” throughout the manor were created here in the lime oven. The manor has always been occupied and used as a working farm since its inception up until 1976. The requirements of modern agriculture and the development of a restoration program of old homes in the region made it so that the manor is now only a place to live. It also serves as a reminder of times gone by in this part of Normandy. The manor has the distinct honor of once being owned by the maternal grandfather of French writer, Guy de Maupassant, Paul Lepoittevin. He was born in 1778 at the mill of Gonneville (on the road near the bridge) because his father was the miller. Having been well educated by the parish priest of Perques, he moved to Rouen, where he made his fortune in the textile industry. His family was then located in the Caux region where he befriended the family of Gustave Flaubert. In his old age, Paul Lepoittevin returned to his home in the country, buying the Gonneville mill, the Manoir de Gonneville and the Manoir Derécu on the other side of the river.