The village lavoir sits practically in Laury's backyard. I walk past it and on up the hill every day when I take Dali and Lucie for their morning walk. As you can see from this photo, it sits in the shadow of the Chateau and is well outside its protective walls. Lavoirs are a product of the emerging interest people began to take in their health during the 17th century. Urban, even village, watersheds were becoming more and more polluted. The plagues that swept through Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries were thought to be caused by warm water opening the pores for disease to enter. Clothing, however, was thought to absorb all the body's impurities, so paradoxically while people shunned bathing, they felt that having clean clothes was a mark of status and health. Whiter whites were especially valued...sounds like a commercial for laundry detergent, doesn't it? Because of these concerns, villages across France began to build lavoirs, places that caught fresh water run-off and provided shelter for women to launder their clothing in relatively clean water. In this photo you can see rushing water from underground run-off on the left. Some of this water is channeled into the lavoir, while the rest runs into a stone-lined trough that eventually travels under the road and out into the river. Overflow from the filled lavoir flows out its front and into this canal as well. Lavoirs could be built outside of the protection of the village chateau since this was a century of relative peace throughout France. More prosperous towns and villages boasted very fancy and architecturally diverse lavoirs; Cadrieu's lavoir is very simple and plain. Culturally the village lavoir became the place where women exchanged news and gossip. Originally only servants of the wealthy could use the facility Eventually, though, it opened to all the village women. In some villages, however, women who frequented the lavoir were thought to be of low reputation. With the advent of more modern laundry technology and better water systems, the lavoirs fell into disuse. Now they are just a quaint reminder that life before our modern conveniences was much, much harder.
The information for this post came from a lovely book called "Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France" by Mireille Roddier. It's full of black and white photographs of some incredibly beautiful lavoirs across France.