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  • Writer's pictureMme Vanessa Williamson

Our French maison has a Tower on top!

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

Our French maison has a tower /cupola on top, built we were told, so the 18thc the Baron could look at the stars, how delightful. A neighbour who’s extended family owned our house in the late 19thc, has a story of the men watching an invading 1870s Prussian army crossing the Mayenne countryside in the distance. After seeing the view, from one of the highest lookouts in Mayenne, yes, I believe that story could be true.

So a little excitement today as we visited our tower to check out a widow that had lost its glass. Standing in our inner courtyard, gazing up at the blue skies, while I waiting to leave on our vacation, I spied, way up high, a problem! Our cupola/tower was missing a windowpane. I was relieved, in a small way, that I could see it. If it had been one of the other windows it may have been out of view. We are not, I must confess, frequent visitors. A week later after our return & worried about the rain, we start our journey up. I will take you with me, as we begin our accent. From the front door foyer, we head up the main monumental staircase of the house, to the first floor where the guest rooms & a grand salon are located. Then up again to the second level we are not occupying yet, the whole floor will one day be our private quarters. I unlock the door to the hallway & head down then round the corner, crossing where the back wing of the house & the huge front main building join. We pass the hallway doors on one side & sets of windows with majestic views over the courtyard & garden on the other. At the end of the hall we open another set of doors installed in the 1920s, hiding a smaller timber older style staircase, curving up & way to the attic door. The house has so many doors, all with their huge individual keys. The chatelaine must have needed assistance to carry them, the attic door key is now rusted forever in place, and I push the door open.

The L'Hotel de Hercé attics span the same floor size as the main front building of the house, so huge. The vast roof is built like a historic sailing ship, with massive ancient oak beams, fixed in place with huge wooden dowels, not a nail in sight. The first half of the attic has a hallway of sorts, open timber framework creates spaces each with wooden doors & yes once keys. It’s easy to image the spaces a different winter dry stores, & laundry drying on the fraying hemp string still spanning the beams. At the centre point of the attic a tight spiral staircase rises to the tower. I really think this has never been renovated or touched since it was built. It has a dusty, cobweb antiquity about it, that spaces rarely used gather. So up again we go.

The Cupola is accessed via a floor hatch, that opens, folding open in triangular segments, following the shape of the circular floor. As it folds back the last steps of the staircase are revealed allowing you to walk you right up to the Cupola floor. We could only just both fit before Matt folded the floor back again closed. What a view from the missing windowpane, over the back of our property, our roofs garden & neighbours gardens. The rest of the Cupolas window glass is frosted with years of grime on both sides. Well we thing thats what it is, perhaps with cleaning the glass may in fact be frosted to stop birds flying into them. This was my first time up there; god know why it took so long. Fear or just too much house to explore during our first 6 months clearing it out & getting used to what we now called home.

Our visit to inspect had good news with not roof leaks, the window pane glass had slipped intact from its frame. The windows actually are removable, sliding up out of their frame, so you could open the whole Cupola to a clear 360deg view. A repair to part of the timber of window frame is needed, & they all need lots of putty. Amazing really to be up there all original 18thc, with sweet wall panelling for each segment of the tower & there are slide up louver shades for each window. Perhaps so you open the windows in summer & let cool air into the roof. But just for now, we are not opening or moving, anything. Its rather wonderful.

Thank you for reading

Life at L'Hotel de Hercé

15 September 2019

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