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Grobbendonk (Municipality, Province of Antwerp, Belgium)

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by ivan sache
Keywords: grobbendonk | ravens: 2 | fleurs-de-lis: 6 (white) | wesemael |
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[Flag of Grobbendonk]

Municipal flag of Grobbendonk - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 30 July 2005

See also:

Presentation of Grobbendonk and Bouwel

The municipality of Grobbendonk (10,801 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,840 ha) is located in the heart of the province of Antwerp at the confluency of the rivers Kleine Nete and Aa, 20 km south-west of Antwerp. The municipality of Grobbendonk is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Grobbendonk and Bouwel.

Floris Prims, former municipal archivist in Antwerp, called Bouwel and Grobbendonk moederdorp (mother village) and dochterdorp (daughter village), respectively. Mutual links between the two villages are indeed very ancient. From 1300 to 1487, Grobbendonk and Bouwel were ruled by the same lord.

Grobbendonk was also known as Ouwen in the past. Grobbe, from the German word grubjon, means "cana"l, whereas Donk, from the German word dunga, means "a sandy piece of land within a marsh" or "a strip of land surrounded with water". This description fits the place where the lords of Grobbendonk built their old castle.
The canal of Kempen, built from 1843 to 1856, was the first easy access to Grobbendonk; beforehand, the ships had to follow the canal to the Nete before they could go straightforward to Antwerp. At the end of the XIXth century, the Kempische Stoomtram Maatschappij built a tramway line from Antwerp to Heist-op-den-Berg and Broechem, crossing Grobbendonk. Iron ore, already known in the region in the Roman times, was extracted in the XIXth century from the desert lands along the Nete and the Aa. The extracted iron was transported by barges to the smelting furnaces of Charleroi. Extraction stopped because of the mechanization of the extraction and the low content in ore of the mines.
For three-quarters of a century, Grobbendonk was known as a busy slijpersdorp (diamond-cutters' village). The boom started in 1885, when pioneers such as Cassiers and Delamontagne relocated diamond-cutting from Antwerp to the villages of Kempen and built there modern factories. There were separate rooms for sorting out, cleaving, sawing and cutting of diamonds. The machines were powered by steam, gas and electric engines. The social status of the workers was dozen years more advanced than in the other industries. The First World War hardly slowed down the diamond-cutting industry. The years 1926-1930, known has the steentje (small stones) years were less favourable. The factories were closed and were replaced by home working, which ceased a few years after the Second World War. The diamond cutters had to leave their own molentje (small mill) and go back to the factory.

Bouwel means "Bouden's forest"; el is the mute form of lo, "a wood". Bouwel was mentioned for the first time on 17 February 1244, as Bordele, in the chart of the Rozendaal abbey in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. It was listed in 1286 among the possessions of Hendrik III Berthout, as Bouwele, in the foundation chart of the hospice of Geel. The oldest known inhabitant of the village is Henricus de Boudele, who died on 24 November 1296 according to the chart of the hospice of Herentals. Like Grobbendonk, Bouwel was built according to a typical Frankish triangular plan, which is still visible.
The writer Felix Timmermans (1886-1947) enjoyed staying in Bouwel. Timmermans' first famous work is the novel Pallieter (1916), which describes the happy life of a young miller who hoists a large white flag to celebrate the first day of spring. Most of Timmermans' further books described the all-day life in Flemish villages like Bouwel.
The Bouwelse Bergen (Bouwel Mountains) are made of 8-20 m high and 70-80 m wide dunes, remains of a once long dune row linking Nijlen to Kasterlee. Some of these dunes date back from the Age of Iron but most of them were formed in the Middle Ages, following local agricultural practices. The farmers first cut the trees and the shrubs from the moor; then they picked up the plaggen, that is grassy sods constituting the humus layer of the moor. The plaggen were stored in the stables and later spread as a fertilizer on the poor fields. This system remained in use until the invention of modern fertilizers in the 1900s. After centuries of sod spreading, the elevation of the fields increased by 60-100 cm. The fertilization formed a layer of black humus locally known as plaggendek and called by pedologists "deep anthropogenic humus A-horizon".
The parts of the moor where sod was not removed were used as a pasture for sheep. Accordingly, vegetation disappeared from large areas, on which sand was deposited by wind gusts, forming a row of dunes in the border of the cultivated fields.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 30 July 2005

Municipal flag of Grobbendonk

The municipal flag of Grobbendonk is quartered, first and fourth, white with a raven standing on three green hills, second and third, red with three white fleurs-de-lis placed 2 and 1.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 12 April 1989, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 17 April 1990 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 December 1990.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms.

According to Van evers en heiligen: Wapens en vlaggen van gemeenten in de provincie Antwerpen [pbd98], the municipal arms of Grobbendonk are the former arms of the Schetz family, lords of Grobbendonk from 1545 to 1726. The first arms of the family shows the raven on the hills, whereas the three fleurs-de-lis on a red field are the arms of Wesemael, an estate purchased by Gaspar Schetz in 1561.
The Gelre Armorial shows several Wesemael coat of arms:
- Jean of Wesemael, Marshal of Brabant (Die He. v. Weesmael, #813, folio 72v): "Gules three fleurs-de-lis couped argent";
- Gerrit of Wesemael, lord of Merksem (H. Gerit v. Mar, #829, folio 73r): "Or three fleurs-de-lis couped gules";
- Arnold of Wesemael, lord of Wyer (H. Arnt v. d. Wier, #1546, folio 107r): "Gules three fleurs-de-lis couped argent a label azure".
The Lalaing Armorial shows "Gules three fleurs-de-lis couped argent" for Wesemael (#24, folio 72v).

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 8 July 2007