Paper Manufacturing in the Charente

Paper manufacturing has been a traditional activity of this area, dating back to the 16th Century. About 60 paper mills were built along the River Charente and its tributaries. At this time paper had been manufactured with textile fibres crushed in stamping mills. The mills worked with hydraulic energy and were equipped with paddle mills. In the 19th Century technical improvements turned this craftsmanship into an industry. Manufacturing was mechanised and paper manufacturing went through a revolution. New technical processes and new economic outlets resulted in the innovation and diversification of products. Around 1850, a new fashion appeared in France: rolling your own cigarette with a thin paper sheet. And along with correspondence articles, cigarette paper manufacturers set up in Angoulême. With the creation of corrugated paper, packaging increased the economic potential.  Paper manufacturing remained a major activity in the area until the 1970s, when as a result of computerisation it decreased and then three quarters of the production units closed down.

In the area around Saint Séverin, the canals and waterways of the Lizonne were naturally designated to host the first paper mills in the region. There were 5 mills: les Forsats, la Barde, la Fougere, les Dexmiers and the oldest that of Marchais (1482).  Marchais has retained its original purpose and continually modified and expanded since 1876, the first French factory parchment paper.

Cornet Watermarks

Moulin de la Barde

The Mill was built in 1688 on the site of a grain mill which was destroyed.  In the second half of the 19th century it was used as an annex to the paper mill at Lépine.  At that time, it consisted of a drying room above and workers’ housing below.

For the restoration of the building, we wanted to maintain its overall appearance. So we have kept the wooden-slats on the top half of the building, which would have allowed air-flow through the building to dry the paper. However, you'll be pleased to know that this is now just cosmetic and there won't be any draughts now! Unfortunately we had to replace a lot of the old beams in the roof, and so it wasn't possible to leave them exposed. However, we have re-used the old beams where possible. You will see them around the edge of the car-park and one has also been used for a sculpture in the garden. 

As the building had not been used for such a long time and the roof had been leaking over the years, there was very little that could be saved internally. So basically, this has all been completely ripped out and renewed. Where possible, some of the internal walls have been left 'pierre apparent' exposing the stonework, which is traditional.

The names of the gîtes, "Le Petit Raisin" and "Le Grand Cornet" come from the kinds of paper that were produced in the region in the 18th Century. Paper at this time was mainly intended for writing or editing, and these names correspond to a dimension which is represented by a visible watermark. These were regulated so that there were standard dimensions, "le petit raisin" had to measure 430mm x 320mm, and "le grand cornet" 506mm x 392mm.  The leaves were often folded in half and then in half again to give usable dimensions for correspondence, printed books etc.  "Petit Raisin" is a format still used today for drawing paper.