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The story of the "ferme castrale

Although we have oldest information on the history of the village  Hermalle, the documents found to now about the "ferme castrale" can only be traced back to 1642.

Indeed, it is at this time that the Count Conrard d'Ursel, owner of the manor of Hermalle since 1639, May 16, finishes building a square tower-porch, topped by a spire, like entrance to the castle that he renovates and expands.

tour et Remacle 1 Left  : reconstruction of the tower-porch,
according to the existing architectural elements included in
Le Patrimoine monumental de la Belgique, Tome 16/1,Mardaga, Liège, 1992,
and according the engraving of Remacle le Loup in 1735
(center, with detail of the spire to right.)

This tower includes elements of defense in the north facade:

Breteche seule

Photo of the bretèche - 1642

  • A tufa bretèche (or brattice) (1) : a small closed balcony with machicolations, placed on a corbel arch, with the purpose of enabling defenders to shoot or throw objects on the attackers. Belove is the arched entrance gate (2), decorated with two coat of arms. They probably had to represent the weapon of Ursel and Robles; we do not know when they were logs.
  • A drawbridge: its roadway(3), raised, is embedded in the rabbet (4); two thin vertical slots (5), on either side of the bretèche, welcome the north ends of the "gaffs" (6).


bas tour et pont levis

Right: profile of the mechanism from Viollet-le-Duc.

When the roadway is lowered for passage over the moat, its tip lies on a arched bridge leading to the ancient Roman road which for centuries connected the center of the village at the ford of Amay (which itself was the junction of two sections of the Roman road Arlon-Tongeren).

This arched bridge spanning a pond - survival of the moat surrounding the medieval castle - is still on cadastral maps of the nineteenth century.
It was "rediscovered" at work in 2006.
It is indeed always there, even if it is no longer visible! Hidden by the wall of the moat on one side and a filled land of the other...
What seems a simple paved driveway allowing the passage from the street to the building is really the roadway.

Conrard d’Ursel is also erecting a new building in L, adjacent to the tower, built of sandstone and limestone and brick on basis of the previous century.

FCH Herm 17e

The farm in de 17th century, under Conrard II d’Ursel

1. Castle – 2. tower-porch – 2a. Bridge on which comes the roadway of he drawbridge – 3. East wing – 4. South wing
Red: the sense of entrance to the castle

The wing has, at the northeast corner, a home for the farmer and to the east, a suite of stables, piggeries, etc. Several openings were altered in the following centuries but there is still a door whose the lintel, Romanesque, was a re-use equipment.

The southeast corner is made up of a wide barn which is accessed from the courtyard by a curved gate.

Charpente 17e

The frame skeleton of the barn

The south wing of the farm is also flanked, to the southwest corner, of a tower slightly wider at three levels and contains two stables builded with arches of intersecting arches falling on square monolithic pillars - which currently houses the Gourmet museum.

piliers voutes

One of the two stables

When the grand-son of Conrard II d’Ursel, Philippe-Albert comte de Milan d’Hermalle, sold the manor to Guillaume de Moreau in 1704, the farm may contain "three hundred sheeps and many other cattle."

The family Moreau, new owner, retains possession of the lordship for two generations.

In 1735, the design of the Remacle le Loup always shows a spire above the tower-porch but the facade of the tower will be changed: the drawbridge, having lost its usefulness, is removed, the slots for the gaffs filled, and two openings are pierced either side of the bretèche.

We could not even find the exact time of this change - maybe it was decided by Moreau, perhaps by Louvrex who became owners of the property by the marriage of Marie Catherine de Moreau with Charles Louis Joseph Augustin de Louvrex of which has raised in 1753.
Similarly, we do not know the exact time when the spire of the tower was removed.

In this eighteenth century, the addition of a new wing, almost perpendicular to the south wing and mid-length thereof, creates an oblong paved farmyard, in the center of which lies the dung heap, and increases the number of stables justifying further the name "Maison de la Boverie" (Ox' House).

FCH Herm 18e

The farm in the 18th century
Changing the front of the tover and adding a wing perpendicular (5) to the south wing - Green: pasture.

From 1795 Hermalle is subject to French taxes because the Principality of Liège has disappeared and the land of Liège became the department of the Ourthe). Without doubt this is partly to evade taxes on doors and windows that the two bays of the north side of the tower are walled; they will remain until 1911 minimum.

Fac nord metal recadr
This photograph - we do not know the author and kindly ask to become known - dated on the back July 12, 1911, shows the walled windows.

The farm is experiencing significant architectural evolution in the nineteenth century under two successive owners:

In 1807, the widow of baron de Hermalle Mathias Guillaume II de Louvrex married Charles-Nicolas-Joseph Warzée and lordship even changes its name.

In 1837, a gate is installed at the entrance to the tower - it will be renovated in 1994.

Porte rnove

Charles Warzée became baron de Warzée d’Hermalle and his wife bears him a son who died at the age of 38 years. He was buried in a part of the pasture along the outside of the wing of the farm and there is a small cemetery face (No. 6 below) to the porch of the St. Martin Church.

Photo tombeau

When Charles de Warzée d’Hermalle dies, the lordship was sold. The mayor of Engis, Charles Louis Marie de Potesta d'Engismont, bought it in 1853 and undertook major work, recorded at the land registry in 1856, which profoundly alter the size of the farm and isolate the castle.

It is still in the horse-drawn carriage but the main traffic moves from the old Roman road of Gerée to the road by Ombret that connects Huy to Liege; it influences the flow inside the castral field.

FCH Herm 19e

The farm after 1856. Fuchsia: access to the farm

6. small cemetery  - 7. embankment for the north lake– 8. Adding a turret and a wall
9. ewtention of the wing – 10. Semicircular wall – 11. Additional boundary wall

A semicircular brick wall (2 meters high) is erected outside the south wing relying on it; the enclosed space is itself divided into two symmetrical parts by a wall of equal height that is in line with the front of the farm (10); a portal with two doors allows access the farm.
Another boundary wall, built a few meters away from the south facade, along the curve of the road, connects this new wall to the little southeast corner tower before which it is pierced by a door (11).

The water that remained north of the tower is filling (7). The tower loses its original purpose monumental entrance to castral site; it only serves as access to the farm because, at the north end of the west wing, a half-circular tower and a little wall (8) joining the moat close the access passage from courtyard to castle. The main entrance of the castle is now done through a grid in a new boundary wall of the south wing in the curve of the road, but another access is possible through the park from Gerée and a third with a new pedestrian bridge cantilever (attached to the old round tower southeast) and a bridge over the moat leading to the tower.

Half of the south wing of the farm is now reserved for the use of the lord; it turns into garages, cottages housing for the gardener and other staff, saddlery, stables, small workshop and it will be increased by a large private ride.
The loss of place for the farm is offset by the creation of a stable in the barn (the current tavern) and the wing expansion is lined in width along its length by a frame holding the old pasture (9) - except at the location of the small cemetery.

The new facade, industrial style, presents a significant withdrawal up to the cemetery. It consists of an almost blind cantilevered walkway supported by three barrel vaults resting on consoles; the middle vault, centered in the tomb, is in the center of the largest of the three bricked up openings that adorn the facade finished by a triangular pediment.

face ETprofil couleur plan

1856 : Façade of the small cemetery. Front view and profile.

After 1862, the bottom of the bridge cantilevered wing sees is masked by the construction of a "Lourdes Grotto" that frames the tomb.

avec sans fronton couleur
Left: the bottom of the facade masked by the Lourdes grotto.
Right: the same façade cropped height after 1964.

Between 1984 and 1990,  the pediment is demolished - probably to reduce the cost of repairing the roof.
Probably for the same reason, the top of the turret of semi-circular staircase in the courtyard at the corner of the tower and the east wing, unfortunately changed.

The farm played a leading role during some 200 years.

Until 1975, it constitued a place of power as link between the villagers and the lord of the manor; it used an important local manpower (male as female, adolescent as adult) and offered seasonal jobs to the Flemishs and the strangers.
It was also a meeting and user-friendly place : the priest and the neighbors provided themselves there with water; the children and teenagers played there; the villagers met there to take their mind off things, to chat, to gossip or to have serious conversations. The local table tennis club was created there. Members of the Resistance and allied combatants took there refuge.

Around 1980, the agricultural activities stops lack of land: Potesta family was expropriated many acres along the Meuse to the creation of a business park

Lack of maintenance, the farm will greatly degrade and vaults floor will collapse. The cessation of agricultural activities and the building abandoned create a no man's land and cuts the villagers from the castle that had always constitued the real centre of the village life.

Castle and farm, after the death of Baron Édouard de Potesta, became undivided property that buys one of his great-grandchildren, Philippe de Potesta on 21 November 1985.

Almost four years later, on 1989, June 23, he sold the farm, separately from the castle. The following year, the buyer returns the goods on the property market and and some persons form a cooperative company to buy and save it. The farm is in a very poor and indescribable condition... ; all is to be renovated : electricity, heating, pipes and toilets, walls and floors.

The renovation starts in 1991 at the two sides of the building, in the home and in the barn where the sloping trodden earth floor is leveled and  paved, and where frame and walls are cleaned after removal of the too old hay.
For the Heritage days of 1991, the barn opens to the public.  People discover not only an exhibition of gastronomic objects but also, and above all, an extraordinary space. The lighting exploits the height and the majesty of the place. The villagers who worked or played there notice then they never "looked" at it !

From 1992, the home finds occupants again, and goodwill people buckle down to the work..

Success leads to a new exhibit for 1992 days, when the home found news occupants. The success of this second event influences choice  of reallocation for the building and promotes the creation of the association npo Al Rawète. Throughout the renovation (which is still not complete), two museums and the most important Belgian gastronomy library are housed there, a small tavern installed, cycles of walks and tours created.

Despite the support of the Engis municipality and of the provincial council, the building classification procedure requested by the cooperative and the association in 2008 remains without result

The building however is the memory of an architectural evolution through four centuries and of scientific interest. The engineer Brigitte Van Hemeryck has chosen the study of floors, arches separating the ground and 1st floor of the Ferme castrale of Hermalle-sous-Huy as a subject for its Advanced Master in Conservation-Restoration (Walloon Heritage Institute Amay) because there are different types of vaults in the building:

2013 09 JP 4 types voutes

  • Groin vaults in the two former stables that house the Gourmet Museum (center en top left of the picture)
  • Large vaults in different places of the east and west wings (top right)
  • Torus vault in an old piggery (bottom left)
  • Vaults on metal rails in the tavern and the museum Postes restantes (bottom right).

We must add the vaults of the sixteenth century cellars, barrel vaults or with elliptical arch, and those purely decorative, kind of little vaults on joists of the main building.



Testimony :

Il a fallu aux propriétaires et amis de ces lieux beaucoup d’audace, de courage et de persévérance pour sauver, restaurer, entretenir et embellir ce lieu chargé d’histoire, plutôt que d’en faire un parking ou un immeuble de rapport, comme trop d’autres l’on fait par ailleurs par pur profit. Qu’ils soient remerciés de leur travail et de leur amour du patrimoine.

Bruno Heureux, 2003, May 9
for the exhibition « Simenon se met à table »