Bellencombre and la Varenne River 2006-2007
By James R. Warren
“At the distance of a league and
a half from S. Victor, at a place little known to the antiquary and rarely
visited by the tourist, stand the remains of the habitation of the once potent
De Warennes. A picturesque village of
one broad street, consisting of irregular antique houses, chiefly constructed
with wood, and flanking the mairie,
constitutes the bourg of Bellencombre, which occupies a very agreeable and
picturesque situation on the western side of the river Varenne. This river which
rises in, and gives name to, the neighboring commune of Omonville-sur-Varenne,
is now more generally known as the riviere d’ Arques, because it passes the
castle and town of Arques on its way to join the Bethune, which debouches a few
miles northward at the haven of Dieppe.
The town itself, in early times, bore the same name as the river, and
from it the De Warennes took their surname.
It was not until the graceful mound upon which the castle stands had
been cast up, that the spot assumed another name, and was called Bellencombre, which, as Mr. Stapleton
observes, may be literally translated Bellus Cumulus, “the fair mound or pile. At the present day, Bellencombre is the
chef-lieu of a canton in the arrondissement of
It occupies the artificial mound alluded to, and is apparently about 100 feet above the river Varenne. A few massive walls of stone and brick, once a portion of the keep or donjon constituted the whole of the existing remains. Nor will this excite surprise, when I state that the property was purchased by the present possessor for the sum of 10,000 franks, in the year 1835, for the express purpose of selling the materials; and so little ashamed is the old man of his sordid spoliation, that he told us, with an air of the utmost satisfaction, that he had, within the last ten years sold 18,000 feet of freestone, procured by the demolition of the two entrance towers only. The height of these towers was above 50 feet. Unless some friendly influence should arrest the progress of destruction, in a few years more it will have to be said of Bellencombre—.
In the middle of the donjon,
according to Mr. Dillard’s statement, stood a Chapel, no remains of which are
now visible. The area, enclosed by the valium
and fosse, measures between two and three acres, and includes the parish
The accompanying etchings have been made from drawings taken on the spot in 1832, before the building was delivered over to the spoiling cupidity of Mr. Dillard. At that date it consisted chiefly of two lofty round towers, with machicolations, but the battlements had disappeared. Between the towers were a principal and a side gateway; and over these were two longitudinal openings, by means of which the drawbridge was raised. Internally the towers were square; but the interior walls of the left-hand tower had been removed previously to1832.
I need hardly state, that the
present owner of
little appears to be known of the history of the descent of this castle. That it was the caput baroniae of the Earls
of Warenne is beyond question, although the Norman antiquaries and historians scarcely
recognize the fact. Indeed, I was
assured, by a very erudite archaeologist, that the earliest record respecting
it to be met with in
fourth Earl of Warenne, by accord between King Stephen and Henry Duke of
On the separation of
“Beneath lie the viscera and intestines of the late noble and puissant Lord, Monsieur James de Moy, in his lifetime Chevalier, Baron of Moy, and hereditary Castellan of this land, lordship, and castelry of Bellencombre. His heart and body are buried in the collegiate church of Moy. He died on Sunday, the 12th of February, in the year of grace 1519.”
I inquired of Mr. Dillard if any other articles had been found, and he stated that about two years since his wife had picked up silver ring and an antique spur, both of which she had sold. Many tiles of medieval date had also been found. The grater part of them were taken from a corridor in the castle, and now laid down in the kitchen of the old man’s cottage.
I was fortunate enough to procure one relic of extremely interesting character, for which this modern Baron of Bellencombre demanded the moderate sum of two francs, and the sale of which seemed to him a very satisfactory transaction. It is a bronze wyvern – in the opinion of M. I’Abbe¢ Cochet, of the 13th century. The wyvern or two-legged dragon was the crest or rather badge of the De Warenne family; and the article in question bears a striking general resemblance to some drawings of it made in the time of Henry VII, and engraved at page 13, vil.1, of Watson. The only material difference between them is, that the latter have expanded checquy wings, while in my bronze figure the wings are close, and very slightly relieved from the back. I may mention that Alice, Countess of Warenne, and consort of John, the seventh earl, was buried in Lewes Priory, in 1296, before the high alter, under a marble tomb, whereon was sculptured a wyvern, or heraldic dragon, with a branch in its mouth. The coincidence may be accidental, but it is certainly highly curious, and deserving of further consideration.
These few facts, however meager they may appear, are all that I was enabled to glean regarding this once important and interesting spot. I trust, however, that their relation to Sussex history, and their connection with a distinguished race, represented at this time by the noble proprietor of Arundel, will render them acceptable to the members of a Society which may truly be said have been called into existence by the discovery of the bones of William de Warenne and Gundrada. ”
If Mr. Lower could return today he would find much unchanged as we did in September 2006 and 2007. A more recent timeline description can be found on the Internet as follows:
Name of the commune
Historical general information
· Find the name “Bellencumbre” quoted in the 11th. century
· Formed community beginning 19th by the fusion of the old parishes of Bellencombre, Saint-Martin-under-Bellencombre (“Sancto Martino” in 1154), Heuze (“Hosa” in 1120) and Them Authieux-on-Bellencombre (“of Altaribus” in 1240).
· Neolithic presence.
· Exploitation of mines of iron and forging mills of the Gallo-Roman time with 17 th.
châtellenie (castle Bellencombre), initially belonged to the Norman family of
Warenne, passed to the royal field at the time of the annexation of
· The castle Bellencombre was built in 11th century, altered with 16th century, was dismantled only in 1833/35.
· The priory of All-the-Saint and his leper-house, founded in 1130, were removed with the Revolution.
Prehistoric and ancient vestiges
· 2 frank cemeteries: bones, vases and armours.
· Gallo-Roman stone furnace bridge Christianized, in re-employment in the vault of Heuze.
· Ruins of the château (castle Bellencombre) 11th/16th, dismantled then restored 19th: large trenched enclosure with round towers surrounding the mound which carried a square keep until 1833/35 (cut up by a realtor).
Castles of the
· Vestiges of the Arundel camp former to the English invasions.
· Church of Saint-Martin-sous-Bellencombre 12th/18th: drink carved Renaissance.
· Old chapelle* of the priory of All-the-Saint 13th Gothic (MH) (firm).
· Vault Saint-Christophe of Heuze 1531, in the enclosure of the castle: stone Rebirth retable, Gallo-Roman furnace bridge; stone and wood statues.
· Church Saint-Pierre-and-Saint-Paul de Bellencombre rebuilt with 19th in néo-novel, in the enclosure of the castle: statues Rebirth.
Cross of way 16th with the
· Banks of the Game preserve.
Resources and productions
· Forestry development Pastures, cereals, mixed-farming.
· Bovines, sheep, porcine.
- “the Valley of Bore-holes”: goat's milk cheeses
· Technical visits - the Attic of Heuze: production of dried flowers.
Fair: 3/4, 9/10. Market: Tuesday. Employers' festival: 29/6, Saint-Christophe with Heuze: 26/7. Pilgrimage of the motorists: 26/7. Pedestrian and equestrian paths marked out, passage of the GR225. Camp-site with the farm. Culture and compositions of dried flowers, visit.
In September 2007 I returned to
The top of the castle mound is 50 yards
deep, 35 yards wide and rises some 30 to 40 feet above the drive and parking
area of the Presbytery. A gravel road
extends around the northwest side ascending up and around to the front entrance
on the southwest where the ground appears to level out into a grassy court yard
in the shape of the oval mound. The land
southwest and behind the entrance is level and covered by trees and vegetation
for several yards before rising up a gradual hillside into farmland. There are two pillars or columned ruins on
the right and left of the entrance both some 20 feet high and appear as what
one could imagine would stand before a drawbridge. The left column has three more attached like
jagged teeth then a space of 10 yards before the fifth rises as a heap six feet
high another space of five yards and the sixth and last column about 15 feet. Out of its side a small wood roof covers the
ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary and a kneeling Mary Magdalene holding a
candle. Some ten feet out from this is a
crucifix that stands on a platform of cut stone all being approximately 14 feet
in height and facing the main street of the village to the east. The right side has a wood bench of two by ten
planking held up by cut logs that starts at the center of the back of the mound
and circles about half the length on the right opposite the memorial. It can easily seat more than 50 people and in
all probability the place is used for religious purposes by the church. As stated before a small ruined column on the
right front behind this bench accounts for the two columns on the right side of
the mount. A four foot chain link fence
stretches across the back of the mount which overlooks the town. There are many hemlock and beech trees on and
around the ruins. They tend to fill in
the spaces of the missing pillars forming a green wall where stone and mortar
once stood. This is especially true on
the right side where six hemlocks grow behind the bench. Much of the stone is covered with ivy which
has to be continually trimmed. The
supporting or Curtain wall discovered this September 2007 embraces the right
front of the mound and can be seen by following a trail that follows the
rounded contour of that side descending down to the back before reversing
direction leading into the Presbytery yard facing the wall. It is an impressive site to see and a mystery
as to why we did not notice it on our first visit. The whole mound, walls and
ruins seem to be hidden by a green camouflage of ivy, hemlock and beech trees
tucked behind the Church, Presbytery, outbuildings and two homes now all upon
what was once the
Entrance Towers of Bellencombre from Mr. Lower’s Book
Interior of Bellencombre 1832
Driving north into Bellencombre 2006
Hotel de Deippe on main street Bellencombre
Sandy on their way to a new discovery
this driveway on
Sandy enquiring from the mailman about Castle Ruins (Nothing but Devine timing
Castle Mount from
Road up to Castle ruins from Presbytery Driveway
Up we go
Front entrance of Castle Bellencombre
Left and right entrance columns to castle ruins inspected by Sandy Warren
Castle Remains from Interior
Alan Inspecting Shrine 2006
View of Presbytery from Castle Mount
Benches on Right Side of Castle mount where there is only two wall sections
column covered with foliage 2007
Interior View of first four left remaining wall fragments 2006
Interior View of first four left remaining wall fragments 2007
Fifth and sixth columns left side 2007
Fifth and sixth columns left side 2007
Right side of castle mound 2007
Curtain Wall as it meets right front of castle mound 2007
Curtin Wall as it meets right front of castle mound 2007
Further down Curtain Wall 2007
Further down Curtain Wall 2007
Curtain Wall as it runs down into the Presbytery Garden 2007 Curtain
Wall in the
Ronnie and Alan Warren standing on the very ground from where their name was first used.
Alan Warren had been to Bellencombre on two other occasions.
French custom maintains strict privacy and not wanting to disturb the people
living around what he thought was the remains of the castle mount he was
reluctant to explore their drives and property.
But this time our timing was right. As if it was meant to be, a mailman
drove out of what turned out to be the driveway to the Priest’s House just when
we were walking down the hill. See
photo. He directed us to the Presbytery
where we were welcomed to visit the mount and take all the photos we wanted by
the lady of the house. She brought out
photocopies of the old castle before being torn down and one of
Cathy and Ronnie on Castle Bellencombre Mount 2007
Ronnie and Alan on Castle Bellencombre Mount 2007
down from castle mount
Alan leads us out ruins to the Presbytery grounds and back to the village 2006
View of Presbytery from Street on the way out 2006
Looking down right side of
Bridge over La
Bellencombre form the East Overlook by Grammar School. The shape of the Castle Mound can be seen by the rise and
fall of the trees behind and right of the Church. 2007
Following the La Varenne back to
Described in 1849 by Mr. M. A. Lower
This river which rises in, and gives name to, the neighboring commune of Omonville-sur-Varenne, is now more generally known as the riviere d’Arques, because it passes the castle and town of Arques on its way to join the Bethune, which debouches a few miles northward at the haven of Dieppe. The town itself, in early times, bore the same name as the river, and from it the De Warennes took their surname.
While viewing the satellite maps found on my PC I was
able to follow the la
Le Bois Robert Village by la Varenne Lakes
Close-up of la Varenne Lakes
La Varenne River at Martigny flowing toward Dieppe and the Sea
Church and barn from farm lane to river at Martigny
Farm Lane to
Liberte Egaute Frateanite Martigny
water of the
Bethune above Arques-la-Bataille where they empty into the sea at
The Church and Castle Mount are marked below the road at the “Gie”
This is where we drove behind the church and farm where the Varenne flows around an island
The Varenne and the