|Ceramic name plaque...
|Cliff top view over to Mers-les-Bains
|View of the port of Le Tréport
|La Bresle river - Le Tréport
|Cliffs beyond the esplanade at Le Tréport
|Quartier des Cordiers - Le Tréport
|Funicular - Le Tréport
|Harbour area of Le Tréport
The majestic Château d’Eu was built at the end of the 16th century under the orders of Henri de Guise and Catherine de Clève and would go on to receive nobility and royalty alike up to the end of the reign of Louis-Philippe (1830-1848), King of the French.
|View over the jetties at Le Tréport
|Quartier des Cordiers
|Typical wrought iron balconies at Le Tréport
|Ornate brickwork of fishermen's homes
It was under Louis-Philippe that commercial activity developed significantly. This was facilitated by further work on the existing port, in addition to the improvement of the canal that linked Eu to Le Tréport.
Alongside this commercial maritime success was the emergence of the new social phenomenon of the seaside resort which was set to become an institution in its own right. Indeed, during their summer residence at Eu, the royals led and encouraged the enthusiasm for the benefits of sea water and the appreciation of bathing.
|Example of an original balcony (right) and a modern-day replacement (left)
Le Tréport sought to meet the requirements of this new type of visitors – les baigneurs. For the large part from wealthy backgrounds, the latter had the means to benefit from the town’s new amenities– the vast casino being just one example of what was proposed. However, the town soon found itself submerged by visitors and had to expand in order to follow demand.
|Oriel windows at Le Tréport
This 'cordier' accommodation would be rented out to the less affluent baigneurs. Such guests would inhabit the upper floors of these tall, rather thin buildings, whilst the cordier family would live in the basement rooms throughout the summer months.
|Typical name plaque at Le Tréport
The open accessibility of these fishermen’s homes was key to their function and was typically reflected in their décor too. To enable inhabitants to communicate with each other along and across these streets, balconies were built as the main feature on the façades.
The houses in the modest fishermen’s quartier and the lavish villas that once stood along the esplanade of the beach did indeed share some of the same features. Both groups had the characteristic wood work on the façade balconies and eaves of the roofs, generally painted then, as now, in bright colours.
These same shades would be brought out again or complemented by the rich ceramic plaques and cabochon features that decorated the façade and served to distinguish the different buildings.
The vibrant name plaques of every house emphasize the singularity of each while conforming to a tendency to give names of flowers, birds, or simply the first name of the inhabitant.
|An example of a villa similar to the type originally to be found on the esplanade at Le Tréport
|Art nouveau building near the station at Le Tréport
|Villas along the esplanade at Mers-les-Bains
From the cliff at the far end of the beach at Mers-les-Bains, new houses sprang up next to the scattering of original dwellings. Large plots of land were sold off to promoters with speculators quick to spot the lucrative potential such development offered.
The elegance of the rows of villas that we see at Mers-les-Bains today belies their less sophisticated origins. Indeed, some of the land had initially been rather marshy, whilst others plots were the subject of heated arguments between the two towns concerning, amongst other things, the grazing rights of cattle.
Terrains were built to respect the public’s need for perpendicular access to the seafront, whilst satisfying the desire of each proprietor for a sea view. Within these plots, further sales were made, leading to the construction of houses that were fully characteristic of this mersois architecture and yet that were each of a wholly unique character. Double or triple villas were common. These were considerably cheaper to build as the same architect would follow the same plans and yet the final impression was far from commonplace.
These were quickly labelled ‘villas’ in order to distinguish them from the other categories of property. Indeed, a large proportion of the latter group were immeubles de rapport, that is to say ‘revenue properties’ intended to be rented out to accommodate numerous tenants– on a short or longer-term basis.
Needless to say, hotels and guest houses also flourished during this extended Belle Epoque period – one of the most famous being the Hôtel des Bains.
In 1902, the inauguration of the tramway service Eu-Le Tréport- Mers linked the ‘three sisters’ and facilitated the democratic movement of visitors yet class distinction certainly remained as important as it ever had. Mers-les-Bain was the place to be, and the place to be seen in all one’s glory.
The hierarchy of property – from private use by the owner in question or to that of money-making rental schemes – is matched by a sense of hierarchy within the buildings themselves.
The floors that afforded the best views were naturally the most prized, and were reserved for the ostentatious reception rooms that served to reflect the social standing of their occupants.
The ‘ground’ floors of the villas were generally elevated to heighten the building to aid visibility and to ‘make a statement’.
Steps led up to the main entrance and thus separated the villas from the street level and protected them from eventual storm flooding.
This is reflected in perceptible changes in architectural detail, with the differing emphasis on the Napoleon III style, the neo-regional and anglo-norman styles. Despite this, the overall impression remains one of unity amid a mass of individuality.
More striking, is the fact that anything of Mers-les-Bain’s glorious architectural heritage should have survived to the present day.
The Great War of 1914-1918 led to the conversion of suitable sites to meet the requirements of the military – with tank training camps and hospitals - however the twin sisters of Le Tréport and Mers-les-Bains were able to resume their seaside resort status once the hostilities had finally subsided. Indeed, with the introduction of the ‘train service for the paid holiday leave’ in 1936, a new flood of visitors emerged. From that moment on, working-class holiday-makers were able and eager to experience the seaside pleasures that had been the privilege of the former generations of baigneurs.
Sadly, the Second World War was far less kind to the two sisters. Le Tréport was so severely maimed by the war years that the town lost most of its beautiful land-mark villas and hotels. It is only when we look at Mers-les- Bains today that we can really have an idea of what the architecture of Le Tréport had once been.
One of the most dramatic single losses of the wartime years was that of the incredibly imposing
cliff-top Hôtel Trianon-les Terrasses. This vast edifice of over 300 rooms dominated the port below on its construction at the end of the 19th century and was used as a British military hospital in the Great War.
The Trianon was obliterated in 1942 during the German occupation of Le Tréport that lasted almost all of the war years. Its destruction must have left a huge void on the site at the time. All that remains today of this wartime loss is a tiny part of a terrace, which I initially thought was part of a concrete wartime bunker.
During this period, seven bomb attacks destroyed around 30% of the town’s buildings and those on the seafront were totally destroyed, along with the impressive casino. The latter was replaced, although the one we see today is rather insipid compared to the original.
The beautiful seafront villas were not restored.... In their place today, we see this vast concrete building that stretches the full length of this expanse like some kind of soviet bloc accommodation, running like a scar along the esplanade area. I don’t know when exactly this was built, but it is a construction that in no way reflects the former elegance of the town, but presumably that was the intention and/or the means were simply not available to recreate this.
|Le Tréport esplanade
|Beach huts at Mers-les-Bains with Le Tréport backdrop
|Mers-les-Bains with its (white) beach huts
Hundreds of visitors still follow the cliff top paths, leading away from Le Tréport on the left, when facing the Channel, or along the original ‘chemin des douaniers’ on the right, from Mers-les-Bains. Many more are able to use the restored funicular train which links the lower parts of Le Tréport to the spectacular cliff tops above, and had initially been created for the benefit of the Trianon guests in 1908.
The past was symbolically linked to the present in 1989 with the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution that saw the cliffs at Le Tréport draped in huge tricolour netting to represent the French flag. For the last 13 years, the end of July sees the commemoration of the Belle Epoque of Mers-les-Bains with the Fête de Baigneurs. The costumed participants of this event stroll along the promenade in their 19th century finery, and many more bathe in the sea, wearing traditional bathing attire.
At the end of the day’s trip to Le Tréport I was exhausted from having traced the Belle Epoque archictecture and trekking along both cliff tops. As I didn’t have time to visit Eu, the third ‘sister’, this will be the perfect excuse to return next summer on the good old SNCF train!