BOULOGNE SUR MER
MY HOME TOWN
“If it were but 300 miles further off… how the English would rave about it”
who said this was referring to Boulogne, on the Opal Coast and home of the biggest fresh fish port in France.
It is well known that Dickens was a fan of France, he once signed a letter “Charles Dickens, Français naturalisé, et Citoyen de Paris” and spent much time in France – traveling all over but he said that Boulogne was his “favourite watering hole” in France.
He lived in Boulogne for three years (1847-1850) with his family and his time here is commemorated with a street that bears the name “Rue Charles Dickens” as well as an active branch of the Dickens Fellowship Organisation. Dickens went on to remark:
“It is the most elegant, the most colourful and the best I know… its promenade on ramparts which surround the upper town is charming. Walks outside are delicious.
This is the best mix of city and countryside, with the sea air moreover, I know!”
Of course things have changed since Dickens day and there is now a thriving metropolis at this coastal town and yet there are parts that Dickens would surely still recognise. People continue to promenade on the ramparts and enjoy the views over the town, entering and departing via the magnificent old Porte des Dunes arched entrance to the old town. The dome of the beautiful Basilica de Notre Dame still dominates the skyline and inside this magnificent cathedral you will still find the miraculous hand of Notre Dame which has drawn pilgrims for centuries. The old town retains an air of faded elegance, many of the houses there would have been the houses that Dickens passed on his walks and but for a lick of paint to the doors and shutters are largely unchanged from the outside.
The Rue de Lille which leads from the old town square is lined with restaurants, cafes and beautiful shops like the old Pharmacie de Notre Dame whose sign reads Homoeopathie, Phytotherapie, Fondee en 1847. The shop is front unchanged since then – perhaps Dickens himself shopped there. There are lots of artist’s supply shops, galleries, interior design and other specialist shops in the town old town including a shop that sells violet scented ink – just the sort of thing that may have appealed to a man of the senses such as Charles Dickens or Beau Brummel, the famous British dandy who lived in nearby Calais.
At 52 Rue de Lille (to the left of the Cathedral) you will find the Vole Hole, a tiny pub in the town’s oldest building – no one seems to be able to date it exactly- but most agree it goes back to the 12th Century.
The Chateau musée is tucked away off the ramparts and houses an eclectic collection of artefacts from around the world. Surrounded by a moat and walk way, there is a beautiful cobbled terrace where visitors sit and enjoy the wonderful architecture and where in the summer months free concerts are laid on.
In Dickens’ day the cross channel trade route to Boulogne rivalled that of Dover to Calais for the town with its beaches and walled city was hugely popular with British visitors. Still is today, although the closure of the ferry route has made it harder to visit despite being only 30 minutes from Calais port and the tunnel terminus.
There is a very active Dickens appreciation group in Boulogne and I really recommend you read the English page about Dickens and his extended family's time in Boulogne - I loved it https://lasocietedesamisdedickens.wordpress.com/nos-auteurs/
FOR VISITING FOLKS WITH BOATS
Having found the outer breakwater do not be tempted to cross the broken 'vanished' northern part, even though some local boats do, as there are still underwater obstructions.
You should not aim straight for inner port as that will take you across the shallows rather as indicated left follow the breakwater until the entrance to the inner port appears 'open'
Then keep to the port side ignoring the locks etc to starboard past the new modern control tower towards the inner fishing port and marina.
You should obey the Traffic Lights and call
Boulogne Port control on VHF 12 for permission to enter / depart and the Marina on VHF 9 for help with berthing
The first two pontoons are really best for visitors as they can accommodate larger boats whilst C & D are for small boats and the area is shallow - the fuel dock - Diesel pump, in bottom right hand corner of Pontoon D is accessible with boat 3h before up to 3h after high tide during marina office opening hours. Also possible with cans at any time.
All the pontoons and walkways are new this year 2020 with water and electricity at every berth together with WIFI and excellent modern showers.. The local shops and businesses have a discount for people using the marina - The Capitainery staff all speak English.
Its only 30 minutes by train or car to the ferry at Calais and the berths are very secure in bad weather - a thoroughly well run and organised modern marina.
I keep my boat in the Basin Napoleon next door - its a locked in basin next to the main commercial fish hall where there are travel lifts, chandlers and marine engineers..
The prices are amazing compared to the UK - for a 9.50 to 11m boat the nightly rate in August 2020 is 25.50 euro! And the town is your oyster.....
WW2 Attack on Boulogne and the German HQ and main base in the old fortified town.
Great story, little known about.. Even with modern warfare the fortified town in the middle of Boulogne was pretty impregnable and as the German HQ for the area, it was heavily fortified and occupied by elite German marine troops. Hitler declared Boulogne a Fortress City!
A British SOE radio operator, who had been parachuted in to the area moved into the townand heard from the Marquis resistance unit, information about the existence of a secret tunnel into the citidal. She made a reconnaissance of it and reported back to London. She was ordered to arranged that the Allied troops could meet up with a (lady) civilian who worked for the town planning department to lead them into the fortress by way of a secret tunnel thus saving hundreds of lives... The dangers of getting this information back to the UK and the rendezvous in a war zone are not to be underestimated.
At 0855 hours, 17 September 1944, the first wave of Lancaster bombers appeared over the BOULOGNE area and the air programme began. They devastated the dock area of Boulogne killing hundreds of civilians and taking out some major seaward facing guns.
At 0955 hours, just as the last bombs fell on the port, the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders moved forward from their assembly area near LA CAPELLE and crossed the 'startline'.
The morning of 18 September 1944, The Canadian division of the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders started out on its part of Phase II, which was the capture of the citadel, the ancient fortified town at the heart of Boulogne with its almost impregnable walls and ramparts.
Arriving at the citadel, which was entirely surrounded, castle-fashion, by a high wall, "D" Company got into position before the bastion gate under cover of smoke.
Then commenced a strange drama of medieval siege mingled with modern warfare. With them was a French civilian lady who had with the British radio operator working in Boulogne agreed to guide them into a secret tunnel leading into the heart of the citadel.
Major Stothard, the company commander, taking with him only one platoon, entered the tunnel and appeared in the midst of the besieged fort, utterly astonishing its "defenders." The allied CO was sent for to take over the citadel. About 200 POW, including sixteen officers, were rounded up, most of whom were drunk and happy to be out of the war.!
The garrison was commanded by a major, who was as pleased as the rest. Also present was a German Oberstleutnant, formerly head of the military tribunal. A fairly large proportion were marines. More POW were taken during the day. Meanwhile Columns A and B had reached the river bank where they found the bridges blown. "B" and "C" Companies established themselves............
Amongst the most famous sights of attraction in Boulogne-sur-Mer is the Notre Dame de Boulogne Cathedral. The construction of the cathedral was initiated and completed during the 19th century. The architectural influences of this structure are essentially Classical, but certain influences of the Renaissance period can also be found.
Boulogne was the Roman harbour of Gesoriacum, later called Bononia. Destroyed by the Normans in 882, it was rebuilt about 912. It was the prize in disputes between Flanders and Ponthieu, and it was a Burgundian possession when Louis XI united it to the French crown in 1477. England held it from 1544 to 1550. When it served as Napoleon’s port of embarkation for his projected invasion of England, its harbour was subjected to naval bombardment. The British Expeditionary Force administered Boulogne during World War I. The Germans made it a submarine base and part of their anti-invasion “West Wall” during World War II; damage to the harbour (now rebuilt) was severe.
Atop a hill, behind 13th-century ramparts on the east bank of the Liane, stands Haute Ville, the older part of town. The law courts, château, town hall, and bell tower (13th and 17th centuries) are behind the old walls. Basse Ville, the modern town at the foot of the hill, was rebuilt after World War II. The industrial zone, Capécure, is on the west bank. The port has an outer, deepwater harbour and an inner harbour for small vessels.
n the Middle Ages Boulogne was the capital of an eponymous county, founded in the mid-9th century. An important Count, Eustace II, assisted William the Conqueror in his conquest of England. His wife founded the city's Notre Dame cathedral, which became a site of pilgrimage from the 12th century onwards,
attended by fourteen French kings and five of England. It was an important whaling center prior to 1121. The city survived on herring fishing and
received its municipal charter from Count Renaud of Dammartin in 1203.
The area was fought over by the French and the English, including several English occupations during the course of the Hundred Years War. In 1492 Henry VII laid siege to Boulogne before the conflict was ended by the Peace of Étaples. Boulogne was again occupied by the English from 1544 to 1550. In 1550, The Peace of Boulogne ended the war of England with Scotland and France. France bought back Boulogne for 400,000 crowns. A culture of smuggling was present in the city until 1659, when French gains in Flanders from the Treaty of the Pyrenees moved the border northwards.
In 1914 Boulogne was the entrepôt for the first unit of the British Expeditionary Force to land in France and for many others thereafter. Boulogne was one of the three base ports most extensively used by the Commonwealth armies on the Western Front throughout the First World War. It was closed and cleared on 27 August 1914 when the Allies were forced to fall back ahead of the German advance, but was opened again in October and from that month to the end of the war, Boulogne and Wimereux formed one of the chief hospital areas.
Until June 1918, the dead from the hospitals at Boulogne were buried in the Cimetiere de L'Est, one of the town's cemeteries, the Commonwealth graves forming a long, narrow strip along the right hand edge of the cemetery. In the spring of 1918, it was found that space was running short in the Eastern Cemetery in spite of repeated extensions to the south and the site of the new cemetery at Terlincthun was chosen. It also was the site of an Allied (French and British) armaments production conference.
On 22 May 1940 during the Battle of France, two British Guards battalions and some pioneers attempted to defend Boulogne against an attack by the German 2nd Panzer Division. Despite fierce fighting, the British were overwhelmed and the survivors were evacuated by Royal Navy destroyers while under direct German gunfire.
On 15 June 1944, 297 aircraft (155 Avro Lancasters, 130 Handley Page Halifaxes, and 12 De Havilland Mosquitos) of the Royal Air Force bombed Boulogne harbour to suppress German naval activity following D-Day. Some of the Lancasters carried Tallboy bombs and the harbour and the surrounding area were completely destroyed.
In August 1944 the town was declared a "fortress" by Adolf Hitler but it succumbed to Operation Wellhit, the assault and liberation by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in September.
Dickens secret hideaway
Charles Dickens stayed several times in Boulogne-sur-Mer and, two years after his separation from his wife Catherine Hogarth, he settled not far away, in the small town of Condette. You can still see the house he lived in secret from 1860 to 1864 with the actress Ellen Ternan. An affair revealing the contradictions of the writer, who passed in Victorian society for the champion of family values, but who behaved very badly with his wife, as evidenced by the biography recently devoted to him by the historian of literature Lilian Nayder. According to her, Catherine patiently endured her husband's tyrannical ways for twenty-two years. She bore him ten children, became overweight, and her health deteriorated. When Dickens met Ellen Ternan, twenty-seven years younger - and only slightly older than his eldest child.
was 45 when he met Ellen Ternan and she was 18, slightly older than his daughter
Katey. Dickens began an affair with Ternan, but the relationship was kept secret
from the general public. Ternan was clever and charming, forceful of character,
and interested in literature and the theatre. Dickens referred to Ternan as his
"magic circle of one". Matters came to a head in 1858 when Catherine Dickens
opened a packet delivered by a London jeweller which contained a gold bracelet
meant for Ternan with a note written by her husband. The Dickenses separated
that May, after 22 years of marriage.
Ternan left the stage in 1860, and was supported by Dickens from then on. She sometimes travelled with him, and Dickens was travelling with Ternan and her mother back from a visit to France when they were both involved in the Staplehurst rail crash on 9 June 1865. He abandoned a plan to take her on his visit to America in 1867 for fear that their relationship would be publicised by the American press. She lived in houses he took under false names at Slough and later at Nunhead, and, two years after his separation from his wife Catherine Hogarth, he settled not far away, in the small town of Condette near Boulogne.. Ellen may have had a son by Dickens who died in infancy (neither Dickens, Ternan, nor Ternan's sisters left any account of the relationship, and most correspondence relevant to the relationship was destroyed).
Dickens is thought by many scholars and commentators to have based several of his female characters on Ternan, including Estella in Great Expectations, Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend and Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and others may have been inspired by her, particularly Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens left a legacy of £1,000 to Ternan in his will on his death in 1870 and sufficient income from a trust fund to ensure that she would never have to work again. Partner(s) Charles Dickens(1857–1870, his death) In 1876, six years after Dickens's death, Ternan married George Wharton Robinson, an Oxford graduate, who was 12 years her junior and who knew nothing of her close association with Dickens. She presented herself as 14 years younger (23 years old rather than 37). The couple had a son, Geoffrey, and a daughter, Gladys, and ran a boys' school in Margate. Ternan's husband died in 1910, and she spent her last years in Southsea with her sister Frances. She died of cancer in Fulham, London, and is buried in Highland Road Cemetery in Portsmouth.