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Colfontaine (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)

Last modified: 2012-10-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: colfontaine | paturages | wasmes | warquignies | eagle: half (black) | posthorn (yellow) | shovels: 3 (white) |
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[Flag of Colfontaine]

Municipal flag of Colfontaine - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 25 May 2005

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Presentation of Colfontaine and its villages

The municipality of Colfontaine (19,998 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 1,364 ha) is located in Borinage, aka Pays Noir (Black Country), the former coal mining basin, 10 km south-west of Mons and 10 km north-east of the border with France. The municipality of Colfontaine was formed in 1976 by the merging of the former municipalities of Pâturages, Warquignies and Wasmes (seat of the new municipality) with a part of the former municipality of Eugies (the other part of Eugies being incorporated to Frameries. The new municipality was named after the forest of Colfontaine, located on its territory. The name of the forest is said to recall Colart de Fontaine, lord of Fontaine-l'Evêque, who was appointed Bishop of Cambrai around 1100.

Between 1828 and 1842, Henri Degorge, the owner of the coal mining complex of Grand Hornu, bought 645 ha of the forest of Colfontaine; the domain was laid out by the French architect Séquenard for wood exploitation. In the beginning of the XXth century, the forest had to be suppressed and replaced by a colliery; on 20 May 1907, a huge crowd rallied against the suppression of the only natural park in Borinage and the forest was purchased the same year by the Belgian state. The forest has today 750 ha and is a main ornithological reserve.
Coal extraction started in Borinage in the XIIIth century. In the XVIIth centuries, the fifty active shafts were destroyed by Louis XIV's troops. Coal industry flourished in the XVIIIth century, with the set up of the big collieries of Hornu, Wasmes, Grand Buisson and Vanneaux. In the XIXth century, the Agraffe-Escouffiaux colliery exploited 3,328 ha located on seven municipalities; the territory of Wasmes was also exploited by the Rieu-du-Cœur colliery. in Wasmes, there were also two quarries of chalk (used to produce lime), one tannery, three breweries, three grain mills (one wind mill and one water mill powered by the brook Ribeaupont).
A disaster killed 91 miners in Wasmes in 1819; until 1953, another 88 were killed in five accidents. The last shaft was closed in 1957. In Warquigines, 23 miners were killed on 4 March 1894. In Pâturages, an accident killed 57 miners on 15-17 May 1934 in the Fief of Lambrechies; 33 bodies were never recovered. The disaster is commemorated by a monument inaugurated in the municipal parc of Pâturages on 26 August 1945. The last shaft was closed in 1961.

Pâturages (332 ha, lit., Pastures) was in the past a wide non-cropped area used by the inhabitants of Quaregnon, Eugies, Frameries and Jemappes for cattle grazing. After a long dispute between the Chapter of the St. Waudru church in Mons and the Count of Hainaut, the land was split among the Chapter, the Bishop of Cambrai and the villagers. The "common pastures" could neither be sold nor ceded to foreigners, and the dispute resumed when coal extraction began in the XVth and XVIth century. The first permanent settlement was set up in the forest of Colfontaine in the XVIIth century and a chapel was built in 1680. Bishop of Cambrai Fénelon, then fallen into disgrace, stayed in the Belle Maison (Beautiful House) at the edge of the forest, from 1695 to 1715. Around 1735, the first machine à feu (steam engine) of Borinage was set up in Pâturages, which became an independent municipality in 1792.
Pâturages is the birth town of Achille Delattre (1879-1964), a miner and newspaper seller who became redactor at the newspaper L'Avenir du Borinage and secretary of the President of the Miners' Union. Delattre was Socialist Deputy of Mons (1921-1954), Minister of Work (1935-1939), Minister of Fuel (1947-1948) and State Minister (1945), and Mayor of Pâturages (1939-1940 and 1944-1952).

Warquignies (56 ha) was given in 1262 by Pope Urban IV to the abbey of Saint-Ghislain. The village was later owned by the lords of Montignies-sur-Roc and then the Grouff d'Erkelem. Wasmes and Warquiginies were separated in the XVIIIth century. Coal was already extracted in Warquignies in 1470 but the production always remained low.

Wasmes (688 ha) is considered as the geographical center of the region of Borinage. King of the Franks Dagobert I is said to have given the land of Wasmes around 635 to St. Ghislain in order to found a monastery. In 1095, Bishop of Gaucher ceded the church of Wasmes to the abbey of Saint-Ghislain; Gontier and Gilles de Chin gave in 1133 their possessions at Wasmes to the abbey. The monks progressively purchased the whole village. Wasmes is known for its dragon, killed in the beginning of the XIVth century by Gilles de Chin. This act is celebrated every year on Whit Tuesday by a procession dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
In the XVIth century, Protestants settled in Borinage, in spite of a violent repression by the abbey of Saint-Ghislain. On 26 December 1878, the Synodal Committee of the Evangelical Protestant Church of Belgium sent to Peit-Wasmes a young intern pastor named Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). He lived in Wasmes and helped the poor. Vincent was 25 and was deeply impressed by the extreme poverty of the coal miners, as can be read in the letters he sent to his brother Theo. After six months, in July 1879, Van Gogh was rejected by the population and fired by his employer. On the St. Peter's square in Wasmes, a bust of Van Gogh by Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) recalls this episode.
Wasmes is the birth town of Marcel Busieau (1914-1994), member of the Socialist anti-German resistance during the Second World War and publisher of the clandestine newspaper La Pensée Socialiste. Busieau was Mayor of Wasmes (1953-1976) and the first Mayor of Colfontaine (1976-1983). He was Deputy of Mons (1954), Senator (1956-1982) and Minister of the Post (1961-1963). In 1960, Busieau was appointed Delegate for Belgium at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 21 March 2006

Municipal flag of Colfontaine

The municipal flag of Colfontaine is vertically divided green-yellow with the municipal arms in the middle.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag and arms were adopted by the Municipal Council on 25 October 1999 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 20 December 1999, with the following description:
Flag: Parti vert et jaune, chargé au centre de l'écu communal occupant le tiers du battant (The width of the shield is one third of the flag width).
Arms: Parti, au premier d'or à la demi-aigle de sable, armée et lampassée de gueules, mouvante de la partition, au deuxième de sinople à trois pelles d'argent, accompagnées en chef d'un huchet d'or (Per pale or an half-eagle sable armed and langued gules moving from the partition vert three shovels argent in chief a posthorn or).

More details are given in the unofficial Colfontaine website.
On 28 February 1977, the Municipal Council of Colfontaine applied for the following arms:
The shield surmounted by a Count's crown, representing Warquignies and recalling Count Baudouin de Grouff d'Erkelens.
The first third of the shield charged with an half-eagle, representing the abbey of Saint-Ghislain.
The second third of the shield charged with an abbot's crozier, also representing the abbey of Saint-Ghislain.
The third third of the shield, representing Pâturages, with two equal parts:
- On top, three miner's double-headed picks (in French, haveleuses) on a black background, representing the collieries;
- In the bottom, a hunting horn (in French heraldic language, huchet) on a green background, representing the forest. The shield would be tierced per pale.

This proposal was rejected by the General Archivist; on 15 October 1979, the Municipal Council commissioned M. Delferrière to design a new proposal based on the General Archivist's recommendations. There were several successive versions of the coat of arms, amended by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community. The Heraldry Council recommended to simplify the initial proposal by placing the half-eagle on the viewer's left and three spades on the viewer's right. The Municipal Council required the addition of a hunting horn in the upper right corner to better represent Pâturages; the Heraldry Council suggested to swap the spades and the horn for the sake of aesthetics. On 25 October 1999, the Municipal Council of Colfontaine unanimuously adopted the municipal coat of arms and applied to the French Community for its official confirmation. On behalf of the Executive of the French Community, Minister of Culture Robert Collignon signed on 20 December 1999 the Decree confirming the municipal coat of arms of Colfontaine. The honour diploma is shown in the entrance hall of the town hall, located in Wasmes.

Servais gives the description and the origin of the coat of arms of the former municipalities now included in Colfontaine.
The Municipal Council of Pâturages applied for a coat of arms in 1864. The printer and bookseller Caufriez wanted to give to the municipality a shield representing the collieries and agriculture. Nothing happened until the Heraldry Council decided to grant a shield to the municipality, confirmed by Royal Decree on 5 November 1913 and probably based on the early request:
Écartelé aux 1 et 4 de sinople au huchet d'or et aux 2 et 3 de sable â trois haveuses d'argent (Quarterly; 1 and 4, vert a hunting horn or; 2 and 3, sable three haveuses argent).

The Municipal Council of Wasmes used in 1534 a seal (scel eschevinal) showing a spreading eagle bearing a shield. This shield was divided per pale and showed dexter the arms of the abbey of Saint-Ghislain and senester the quartered arms of Croÿ-Renty bore by Abbot Charles de Croÿ. In 1572, the Municipal Council used the same kind of seal, with the shield showing dexter the arms of the abbey and senester the arms of Abbot Moulart - a fess with two horse's heads in chief and a harrow in the bottom. The Heraldry Council refused to grant this seal to the municipality of Wasmes but granted the arms of the abbey of Saint-Ghislain. They were confirmed by Royal Decree on 22 May 1909:
Parti à dextre d'or une demi-aigle éployée de sable, becquée, membrée et languée de gueules, à senestre de gueule une crosse d'or posée en pal (Per pale, or a half-eagle sable, beaked, armed and langued gules, gules a crozier or per pale).

The Municipal Council of Warquignies was granted a coat of arms by Royal Decree on 19 February 1951:
D'argent à trois pelles de sable, emmanchées en pointe.
These arms, represented on a municipal seal dated 1750, were bore by the Grouff d'Erkelens.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 6 June 2007