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Colfontaine (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2005-12-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: colfontaine | eagle: half (black) | posthorn (yellow) | shovels: 3 (white) |
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[Flag of Colfontaine]

Municipal flag of Colfontaine - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 25 May 2005

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Presentation of Colfontaine and its villages

The municipality of Colfontaine (20,149 inhabitants on 1 January 2004; 1,364 ha) is located in Borinage, aka Pays Noir (Black Country), the former coal mining basin, 10 km south-west of Mons and 10 km north-east of the border with France. It is made since 1977 of the former municipalities of Pâturages, Warquignies and Wasmes and a part of the former municipality of Eugies. The new municipality was named after the forest of Colfontaine, located on its territory.

Between 1828 and 1842, Henri Degorge, the owner of the coal mining complex of Grand Hornu, bought 645 ha of the forest of Colfontaine; the domain was laid out by the French architect Séquenard for wood exploitation. In the beginning of the XXth century, the forest had to be suppressed and replaced by a colliery; on 20 May 1907, a huge crowd rallied against the suppression of the only natural park in Borinage and the forest was purchased the same year by the Belgian state. The forest has today 750 ha and is a main ornithological reserve.

Coal extraction started in Borinage in the XIIIth century. In the XVIIth centuries, the fifty active shafts were destroyed by Louis XIV's troops. Coal industry flourished in the XVIIIth century, with the set up of the big collieries of Hornu, Wasmes, Grand Buisson and Vanneaux. In the XIXth century, the Agraffe-Escouffiaux colliery exploited 3,328 ha located on seven municipalities; the territory of Wasmes was also exploited by the Rieu-du-Coeur colliery. in Wasmes, there were also two quarries of chalk (used to produce lime), one tannery, three breweries, three grain mills (one wind mill and one water mill powered by the brook Ribeaupont).
A disaster killed 91 miners in Wasmes in 1819; until 1953, another 88 were killed in five accidents. The last shaft was closed in 1957. In Warquigines, 23 miners were killed on 4 March 1894. In Pâturages, an accident killed 57 miners on 15-17 May 1934 in the Fief of Lambrechies; 33 bodies were never recovered. The disaster is commemorated by a monument inaugurated in the municipal parc of Pâturages on 26 August 1945. The last shaft was closed in 1961.

Wasmes (688 ha) is considered as the geographical center of the region of Borinage. King of the Franks Dagobert I is said to have given the land of Wasmes around 635 to St. Ghislain in order to found a monastery. In 1095, Bishop of Cambrai Gaucher ceded the church of Wasmes to the abbey of Saint-Ghislain; Gontier and Gilles de Chin gave in 1133 their possessions at Wasmes to the abbey. The monks progressively purchased the whole village.
In the XVIth century, Protestants settled in Borinage, in spite of a violent repression by the abbey of Saint-Ghislain. On 26 December 1878, the Synodal Committee of the Evangelical Protestant Church of Belgium sent to Peit-Wasmes a young intern pastor named Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). He lived in Wasmes and helped the poor. Vincent was 25 and was deeply impressed by the extreme poverty of the coal miners, as can be read in the letters he sent to his brother Theo. After six months, in July 1879, Van Gogh was rejected by the population and fired by his employer. On the St. Peter's square in Wasmes, a bust of Van Gogh by Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) recalls this episode.
Wasmes is the birth city of Marcel Busieau (1914-1994), member of the Socialist anti-German resistance during the Second World War and publisher of the clandestine newspaper La Pensée Socialiste. Busieau was Mayor of Wasmes (1953-1976) and the first Mayor of Colfontaine (1976-1983). He was deputy of Mons (1954), Senator (1956-1982) and Minister of the Post (1961-1963). In 1960, Busieau was appointed Delegate for Belgium at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Pâturages (332 ha, lit., Pastures) was in the past a wide non-cropped area used by the inhabitants of Quaregnon, Eugies, Frameries and Jemappes for their cattle. After a long dispute between the Chapter of St. Waudru' church in Mons and the Count of Hainaut, the land was split among the Chapter, the Bishop of Cambrai and the inhabitants of the villages. The "common pastures" could neither be sold nor ceded to foreigners, and the dispute resumed when coal extraction began in the XVth and XVIth century. The first permanent settlement was made in the forest of Colfontaine in the XVIIth century and a chapel was built in 1680. Bishop of Cambrai Fénelon, then fallen into disgrace, stayed in the Belle Maison (Beautiful House) at the edge of the forest, from 1695 to 1715. Around 1735, the first machine à feu (steam engine?) of Borinage was set up in Pâturages, which became an independent municipality in 1792.
Pâturages is the birth city of Achille Delattre (1879-1964), a miner and newspaper seller who became redactor at the newspaper L'Avenir du Borinage and secretary of the President of the Miners' Union. Delattre was Socialist Deputy of Mons (1921-1954), Minister of Work (1935-1939), Minister of Fuel (1947-1948) and State Minister (1945), and Mayor of Pâturages (1939-1940 and 1944-1952).

Warquignies (56 ha) was given in 1262 by Pope Urban IV to the abbey of Saint-Ghislain. The village was later owned by the lords of Montignies-sur-Roc and then the Grouff d'Erkelem. Wasmes and Warquiginies were separated in the XVIIIth century. Coal was already extracted in Warquignies in 1470 but the production always remained low.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 25 May 2005

Municipal flag of Colfontaine

The municipal flag of Colfontaine is vertically divided green-yellow with the municipal arms in the middle.

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag and arms were adopted by the Municipal Council on 25 October 1999 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 20 December 1999, with the following description:

Flag: Parti vert et jaune, chargé au centre de l'écu communal occupant le tiers du battant.
The width of the shield is one third of the flag width.

Arms: Parti, au premier d'or à la demi-aigle de sable, armée et lampassée de gueules, mouvante de la partition, au deuxième de sinople à trois pelles d'argent, accompagnées en chef d'un huchet d'or.

That is:
Per pale or an half-eagle sable armed and langued gules moving from the partition vert three shovels argent in chief a posthorn or.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 25 May 2005