Countdown to Oignies - 2022

 Images: description and information

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Le Marché de Noël 

 

Every year, on the last weekend of November, the town of Oignies holds its Traditional Christmas Market at the Robespierre Hall, and in the wooden huts set up for the occasion in the surrounding grounds. Now in its 29th year, this charming and mouth-watering event marks beginning of the preparations for Christmas.

 

The towns various associations, along with individual townsfolk, and several professional manufacturers of sweet and savoury delicacies welcome customers to the market, in order to make a start on their Christmas shopping, and of course to sample the multitude of delicious wares on sale.

 

Naturally les Amis de Buxton have a stall, offering a selection of typically British products such as tea, cakes and marmalade, all imported directly from the Derbyshire town. These items always sell very well, in addition to promoting, and encouraging people’s curiosity about the Town Twinning.

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The Memorial to André Pantigny 

 

André Pantigny was born in Oignies in 1900. Primary teacher and committed socialist, in 1929 he became the Secretary General of the Pas-de-Calais Socialist Federation. October 1937, saw him elected as a Regional Councillor for the Canton of Carvin, and the following year, in 1938, he led a convoy of six lorries carrying supplies of food and medicines to Barcelona, in aid of the Spanish Republican cause.

 

From July 1940, he was active in the French Resistance. Whilst living a semi-clandestine existence, he took part in intelligence operations, distributed leaflets, helped with the underground press, and organised acts of sabotage. At the beginning of 1943 he became the area chief of the Libération-Nord Resistance Movement.

 

He was arrested on the 12 July 1943 at Tourcoing Railway Station by two French Police Officers. After being tortured by the Gestapo, he was sent to the Loos-lez-Lille Prison, and then deported to the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp on the 30 October 1944, where he died on the 4 December later that year.

 

André Pantigny was posthumously awarded the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honour by the French Nation, whilst in Oignies there is a Primary School dedicated to his memory.

 

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Saint Barbe 

Even though Barbe was particularly common as a girls’ name in the 17th century, it has all but disappeared today, and whilst there are still a few Barbaras around, even they are pretty few and far between.

 

Nevertheless, every 4th of December the feast of Saint Barbe is faithfully celebrated in Oignies by much of the town’s population, being as she is the patron saint of firemen, miners and powdermen; in short all those who’s work involves fire and explosives. Even though the mines were closed years ago, Saint Barbe’s presence lives on throughout the region, her name being remembered in the names of many local associations, clubs and businesses, and also in the names of certain districts and streets; a guardian angel representing a past era of working life which is still very much alive in spirit today.

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Saint Cécile’s Day

Continuing with our series of seasonal festivals, we mustn’t forget Saint Cécile’s Day which takes place at the end of November; a feast celebrating, and celebrated by musicians.

 

Saint Cécile’s is an occasion for Oignies’ Harmonie Municipale Orchestra and the town's other musical groups, such as the Atout Vent Brass Band, and the Arpège Choir to meet up and make music together, frequently outside through the local streets; and also to gather for a traditional banquet bringing together the young and the not so young.

 

Though Saint Cécile's Day exists alongside the National Fête de la Musique on the 21st of June, Saint Cécile's remains, above all, the main event for bringing together amateur musicians.

 

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Christmas Decorations and Installations

Every year, during the month of December, the Oignies town Council presents various public decorations and installations, to be found in la Place de la 4éme République.

 

To begin with, a giant fir tree is put up and decorated with lights; then later in the month, the town’s residents are invited to attend live performances, concerts and games.

 

Whilst the unprecedented health crisis of 2020 and 2021 has certainly impacted on the organisation of these festivities, it has not prevented them from going ahead in spite of the pandemic. Even if there wasn’t the usual ice rink this year, the Town Hall was once again lit up by the traditional firework display.

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Bonne Année!

We wish you all a Happy New Year, hoping to meet you in May to share some good times.

- From Alain CIESLAK and les Amis de Buxton.

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Marianne - Symbol of the French Republic

You will have doubtless seen her on multiple occasions, on stamps, on coins and public monuments; "Liberty guiding the people" by the painter Eugène Delacroix. Marianne represents both Liberty (symbolised in antiquity by the wearing of the Phrygian cap) and the Republic.


In Oignies, as in all the towns of France, Marianne features prominently in the municipal wedding hall.


As for her facial features, they are often, as in Oignies, those of an anonymous model. However, various stars of stage and screen have also, on occasion, lent her their looks, such as Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Laetitia Casta and Mireille Mathieu.

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Central picture: - Cockfighting in Flanders by Rémy Cogghe (1854-1935). Musée de la Piscine, Roubaix.

Symbols of the French Republic - The Gallic Cockerel

Another symbol of the Republic, and one whose origin is much older, is the Gallic Cockerel. It represents vigilance, fighting prowess and hope, in the heralding of the new day.


The Cockerel is referred to in the writings of Julius Caesar (indeed it is his wings that adorn the helmet of Asterix the Gaul). It is also to be found on many of the monuments to the dead of the two World Wars (including the memorial in Oignies), and also on many church steeples where it surmounts the cross, a subtle symbol of the power of a secular republic. Last but not least - as people say in Great Britain - the Gallic Cockerel adorns the jerseys of many of the country's sportsmen and women, including those of the French Rugby team.

 

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Bricks and Tiles

Buxton, like many towns in England, offers visitors the sight of stone houses and slate roofs. Oignies on the other hand presents an entirely different aspect. With no stones in the surrounding plains of clay, it is brick walled buildings and tiled roofs that colour the landscape, from the liveliest of oranges to the most sombre of reds.

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Les Cités Jardin (Garden Villages)

Back in the era of coal extraction the collieries operating in the Pas de Calais needed ever increasing numbers of miners, and consequently houses had to be built to accommodate them and their families. These dwellings were owned by the mining companies, who developed two styles of communal housing in the region: the 'coron', with rows of houses arranged side by side in terraces; and the 'cité jardin' or garden village, made up of semi-detached homes, with each pair surrounded by a small garden. The second, cité jardin style was used in Oignies, and still accounts for a large proportion of the housing in the town.

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The Great Church Organ

Some learn to play the flute or the ukulele, keeping their instrument in a small case which they are able to take anywhere with them. Others have an altogether different approach to playing their music.


The Great Organ of St Barthelemy's Church in Oignies dates from 1863, and was completely renovated in 1995; since which date, the School of Music has run organ classes, led by Sylvain Heili, which have catered for dozens of amateur and professional musicians.

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Pictured: Almarus at the Mutterstadt Carnival in Germany.

The Giants

We may not know when Hobbits settled in the Shire, but we do know that the Giants first appeared in our region in the 16th century, and that they came from Spain.


Oldest among them is Mr. Gayant who lives with his family in nearby Douai, only a little younger are Papa and Mama Reuze who live in Cassel, Flanders. Our region must suit them very well, because there are now close to 600 living this side of the border, in France, and 1,700 living amongst our Belgian friends over on the other side.


Since the mid 1990s, Oignies have hosted their very own giant, Almarus, an effigy of the first recorded knight of the town, who is known for his part in the Crusades.


An enthusiastic participant in many local festivities, Almarus will also not miss an opportunity to travel far and wide to meet with his fellow giants at carnivals - no matter where.

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Back to the Music

Music thrives in Oignies, and so naturally one of the first events to be organised after the lifting of covid restrictions was a music concert.

Last Sunday, local brass band Atout Vent (At Full Blast) invited a brass quintet of young musicians - Les Tannées Cupriques (Thrashing Brass) to join them in the performance of a charming pre-dinner concert.

 

In solidarity with the people of Ukraine, the musicians began the concert with the national anthem of this embattled country.
 

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The Tour of the Terrils

Oignies is located on a vast plain, with the only 'uplands' visible in the landscape being the enormous terrils or slag heaps. Bearing witness to the region's industrial past, the majority have now been redeveloped as nature reserves and parks for walking or rambling.

 

Last Sunday the 22nd annual 'Tour of the Terrils' took place, with numerous hikers, runners and cyclists participating, all pitting themselves against the steep slopes of our stone giants.

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The Firedamp Explosion of March 28, 1946

"I was in an underground gallery, and suddenly I was thrown violently into the air. When I regained consciousness, I found myself more than twenty metres from where I had been working, my clothes completely torn away, and I was covered in debris and dust..."

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As a child I would listen in terror to my grandfather; this old man, his broken body covered with scars, telling me about his memories of being a miner, and of the firedamp explosion of Pit No. 1 in Oignies, where, miraculously, he had only been slightly injured, while 13 of his comrades had lost their lives.

On the former site of N°1 Pithead this monument commemorates the sacrifice of all those miners.

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The oldest Oigninois of all

Though he's certainly not as old as Treebeard - for sure - he's certainly the oldest living witness to the town's history. According to the experts he was around during French Revolution 233 years ago, and he could now be as old as 300 years...

Older than any of the town's buildings, the tree has survived two World Wars as well as the bolt of lightning that struck it half a century ago. If you want to visit this august character, known as a robinier (or black locust tree), head into the Hautois Wood via the main entrance; after 200 meters, cross the two small bridges on the left and there, immediately to the left, you will find him.

- For French readers: Treebeard (or Fangorn) is a character from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by JRR Tolkien. Half tree, half man he is the oldest being who walks on the earth, already present long before the appearance of the first men.

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The Easter Ducasse

The proper word in French for a funfair is 'fête foraine', but throughout the North of France, as well as in Belgium, we prefer to go to the Ducasse.


To the great delight of both young and old in Oignies, the local spring Ducasse took place over the entire weekend of Easter in the town's Grand Place, which became filled with lights, music and cries of joy.

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The Race passing through the village of Mons en Pévèle

The Hell of the North

This event did not actually pass through Oignies, though it came very close. For the 119th edition of Paris-Roubaix, the queen of cycle races, AKA ‘the Hell of the North’, 250 cyclists set out from Compiègne - to the northwest of Paris - heading for the Velodrome in the city of Roubaix; a distance of 160 miles at a speed averaging close to 30mph – on pedal power alone!


As usual every year, many of the riders were forced to abandon along the way. The last 60 miles are particularly arduous, with half of this distance consisting of cobbled roads, entailing a much increased risk of falls, collisions and mechanical breakdowns.


There are three renowned stretches in particular which symbolise this cycling Hell: the Arenberg Gap, then through the village of Mons en Pévèle and finally the 2.1km stretch of Cobbles known as the Carrefour de l’Arbre (the Crossroads of the Tree).

 

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The First of May

In France, as in many countries around the world, the first of May marks Labour Day. This paid holiday has been celebrated over many years, particularly since the Massacre of Fourmies (Département du Nord) in 1891, when the army fired on demonstrators who were marching for an 8 hour working day; nine were killed and many more wounded.

This day has long been symbolised with a red eglantine flower, recalling the bloodshed. However, since the beginning of the 20th century it has been represented by lily of the valley, and on this day, anyone is free to set up shop selling sprigs of these flowers, gathered in the woods or in their garden.

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The Local Flea Markets

With the return of the fine weather, the Oigninois love nothing more than a stroll through one of the local flea markets; on the lookout for everything and nothing in particular: collectables, antiques, knick-knacks or simply for the pleasure of bumping into someone for a chat.

The town's districts take it in turns to organise their market; but there’s no contest as to the biggest and best, which has taken place in the town centre, on the last Sunday of September, for nearly fifty years.

 

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The Old Canal

During May 1940, Allied troops mounted a rear guard action, which became known as the Battle of the Canals, to slow down the advance of the German Army and allow the retreat from Dunkirk.

Pictured is the old canal, which runs between Oignies and Courrière. It is no longer in use, having been replaced by a wider canal which is located a few hundred meters away. This former canal has subsequently been redeveloped into an area for walking and fishing.

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Nature's Sentinels

Following on from a 20th century during which industrial development profoundly transformed Oignies and the surrounding countryside, there has been a rekindling of interest in nature and the quality of life amongst the town’s residents.

The flourishing local beekeepers association, which has expanded from Libercourt and Oignies into the surrounding area, now numbers 150 members. The Agglomération (District Council) has supported the creation of a community based school of apiary to further develop beekeeping, an activity which has been maintained over very many years by a few dedicated enthusiasts.

 
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The Last Farm in Oignies

Before the industrial age Oignies was a small rural village, and many of its farms carried on in the increasingly urban surroundings for many years. Today however, only one of these remains. The Lebrun farm is a busy enterprise specialising principally in raising livestock and dairy production.

Primary school children always have a marvellous time visiting the cows and the lambs, and exploring the farmyard.

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A Different Life

We often tend to think that the world is exactly as we see it at first glance, but just take a closer look and new discoveries await.

We may have the impression that we live in the city far away from nature, and yet this herd of roe deer, although quite shy, can be glimpsed every day roaming less than a kilometer from the city center, as the crow flies.

 

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It's Great to be Back

Finally, we made it! After a 2 year delay and several lockdowns due to Covid, the coach from Buxton arrived in front of the Town Hall in Oignies on Friday 27th May 2022.

Friends and Amis once again reunited in the longstanding friendship between our twin towns. Thank you, as always, les Amis de Buxton for such a warm and generous welcome.

Long live the Twinning!

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Remembrance

As with every Twinning Visit to Oignies, on Saturday morning we joined the Oigninois for the parade from the Town Hall to the Cemetery, in commemoration of all those who died during the Second World War; in particular the eighty innocent inhabitants of Oignies murdered by the German Army in May 1940, and the eighteen English soldiers who are also buried there, including six from Buxton, five of whom gave their lives defending the allied retreat from Dunkirk - the sixth wishing to be buried alongside his comrades following his death in England after the war.

It was these tragic events that ultimately gave rise to the Buxton - Oignies Town Twinning. We sincerely hope that it will long continue in the same spirit of friendship and optimisme that has always characterised the special bond between us.

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