City of Blue

City of Blue

The theme of my posts for the moment is days out. Since lock down was released we are trying to make sure we get out somewhere 1 day a week. This year is so strange we’re making it as positive as possible. We are also lucky that this area is very textiley – there was a huge flax industry here in the past but much of the wealth came from Woad – Isatis tinctoria.

cafe by the cathedral

Yesterday we went to Amiens for the day. Capital of Picardie. In the Middle Ages it was most famous for the blue dyestuff Woad. Traces can still be found from that period and, I’m pleased to say, there is still a woad grower producing and dyeing with woad not far outside the city.

So the day started by the cathedral – with refreshment of course and then we went on the walking tour round the medieval part of the town known as St Leu.

You may notice there is a theme with the buildings! Many windows, shutters, doors etc used to be painted with a wood stain made from the remnants of a woad vat once exhausted – known to be antibacterial, fly repellant, anti fungal it’s a very efficient wood protector, maybe we should bring it back?!

Continuing out walk past the modern University we came to the Watermills – Passe Avant and Passe Arrière. here there is a restored single waterwheel on 1 side of the canal and on the other there is an in line double waterwheel – first time I’ve ever seen one of these! These are all that is left of almost 25 mills along the river and small canals of Amiens – grinding wheat, crushing bark, fulling cloth and grinding woad leaves to make the famous cocagnes.

From 1250 – 1350 much of the woad used in the UK came into Britain through Southampton from Picardie. In fact Amiens had merchant representation all round England selling the woad and the “Hanse de la Guède ” (set up in London for the merchants of Amiens, Nesle and Corbie) received its privilege from the Mayor of London in 1237 for the storage and re export of Woad balls. Sadly due to the 100 years war between France and England the supply changed to the Mediterranean and Italy and Picardie stopped exporting so much and started just using it themselves.

oldest bridge
Oldest Bridge?

Onwards and we came to a beautiful bridge – this is described as the oldest bridge still in existence in the city, (assume it dates from the same period, but don’t actually have a date.) There is a water market for fruit and veg each Saturday which we will have to come and see at some point, but maybe when not so concerned about being in a crowd! (We would have taken a boat tour on the canals and river – but the queue was huge.)

Finally we headed back to where we started and obviously had to pay homage!

woad merchants with a huge sack of woad alls
woad merchants and sacks full of cocagne

The cathedral is celebrating it’s 800th Anniversary this year, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and the biggest cathedral in France (according to the blurb we read!) There is stained glass dating back to 1240 – The tree of Jesse – some fabulous 16th Century screens (interesting coif styles) and of course a labyrinth!

dyed in Picardie

I do find it a shame that so many visitors to France just blatt south and completely miss the beauty and history of this amazing area! Wonder where we’ll go next week?!

Finally a mention for the Woad being produced in Picardie – Bleu d’Amiens – they have products available to purchase in the Cathedral shop and of course a facebook page!

References and Links

Verhille B Woad in Picardy paper presented at the 23rd Annual meeting of Dyes in History and Archaeology.

Hicks M (ed) English Inland Trade 1430 – 1540 Southampton and its region.

Bleu d’Amiens

Bleu d’Amiens on Facebook

Tourist Information Amiens