Saturday, 26 January 2013

A journey to the centre of the earth

As a follow-up to a previous blog we decided to phone up M. Piffaut of the “Association des amis du vieux Berzé (AVB)” to make an appointment to see the gypsum kilns in Berzé-la-Ville.
M. Piffaut was very enthusiastic about the whole idea, and we made an appointment to meet him on a Wednesday at 10 o’clock at the Chapelle des Moines in Berzé-la-Ville. When we arrived, there was a heavy delegation awaiting us. The mayor of Berzé was there (by accident, we learnt later), M. Piffaut and two more active members of the AVB. M. Piffaut and his friends gave us a very interesting tour along the two different types of kilns which had been in use there.
A very concise run-down on what we were told: gypsum, a soft sedimentary rock was mined in the nearby gypsum mine. Depending on the type of oven used, the gypsum was deposited in an oven and heated (with wood) to ca. 180 degrees, whilst in a slightly more modern type of oven the gypsum was deposited in layers, with in between layers of coal. The bottom fire burnt the above layer of gypsum, and when ready the bottom layer of gypsum was taken out.
When the gypsum was ready it was taken out of the kiln, the whole concoction above fell down one layer, the coal were lit and the kiln was refilled from the top. That way a continuous process was created. The gypsum was then transported to a nearby mill, where the gypsum was milled into powder with horse power. The final product was bagged and sold off as building material.
After the kilns we were invited to see one of the mine shafts which was still intact. The shafts are quite dangerous, and are normally closed to the public. The mine shafts had been used (even before the closure of the mines around 1900, but also after) for growing mushrooms. However the “mushroom” farms were closed down after a fatal accident due to one of the shafts caving in. These mineshafts were not very deep, and only slightly sloping, but still, it was a special experience to move around under the surface of the earth.
M. Piffaut and friends did everything within their power to explain as good as possible what had been the purpose of the various features of the site.
They obviously had done a lot of research, but also a lot of heavy manual labour. The kilns were all filled up with rubble and soil, partially underground, and a number of the members of the commune has spent every Friday during the summer since ca. 1995 to clear the site of rubble and to dig out and empty the kilns, all done with spades and wheelbarrows. One oven was still filled with coal and gypsum, as if a local volcano had disturbed the workflow.
We look back to a very pleasant morning with our new found friends. M. Piffaut warned us, when we said goodbye to them, that we could expect a delegation of about five AVB members for a counter visit who are interested in the workings of a brick factory.

Needless to say, that they are more than welcome!

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