THE HISTORY OF ROCHEBONNE
The first record of Rochebonne dates to 1658, when the property was owned by one Jean d’Arquesson, lawyer to Louis XIV, the famous “Sun King” who built Versailles. However, the dove cote and the upper section of the staircase pre-dates this by 30 years or so, so one can safely assume that the original Chateau de Rochebonne was built in around 1628.
Rochebonne changed hands several times till 1738 when it was inherited by the female line of the Saint Collet family, aristrocratic farmers who were based in the Limoges area.
During the French Revolution in 1799 it was burned to the ground, leaving just the staircase and the dove cote, and some of the old red floor tiles, intact.
The owners, by now married in to the Machefert-Herve family, were re-housed in a convent in the village. Their daughter, Adele Senne, was born in the Chateau and was a small child at the time of the fire. It was she who, fifty years later in 1848, re-built Rochebonne as we see it today.
The new building is about half the size of the original which stretched as far as the cottage behind the white wall (marked “private”) where the old bread oven and scullery area was. The remains of the bread oven, dating to around 1700, are still there. The old stone sink by the palm tree also dates to that period and was taken from that same scullery area. The staircase had been part of a tower, which is why it is so steep.
The land stretched as far as the river Seudre, to the south, and up beyond the village to the north, 386 hectares strong.
Adele Herve moved in along with her daughter and son-in-law, Marie and Christian Roy, and their three children. They re-named themselves Roy de Rochebonne. They occupied the middle floor, the top floor never having been finished. With them they had six or seven servants: a couple of maids, a scullery maid, a manservant and a few stable boys. The household servants would have slept at the hearth in the kitchen. The fields were worked by the villagers; in the village archives are a great number of references, spanning two hundred years, referring to the workers of Rochebonne, sometimes called simply Roche.
Adele died in 1851 and the property passed to her son-in-law, Christian Roy. The Roy family remained the owners of the property till the present English owners, the Broughtons, bought it in 1995. This was at a time when inexpensive property was being snapped up by the British and it has to be recognized that the British did, in many ways, save a lot of our old buildings all over the country.
Country life continued peacefully at Rochebonne, with only the slightest interruption during World War 1, till 1933 when Sebastien Roy, grandson of Christian, died and left the property to his sons, Charles and Ludovic. The two brothers (the de Rochebonne appendage to their name seems to have been discontinued at around this time) did not get on and they promptly split the house in to a pair of semis. The garden was divided in to two, and most of the land was sold off. The existing front door served Ludovic, who owned the eastern half of the house, comprising the front of the hall, (where a 1930 staircase went through what is now the mezzanine), the living room and the rooms over it
Ludovic died during the war, leaving a heavily pregnant wife and a small son. Destitute and alone, the young Madame Roy closed up and returned to her family in Angouleme. Barely a soul entered her part of Rochebonne for very many years.
Charles’ part of the house was briefly occupied by the Germans during WWII. However, that part of the house was barely used either, serving only as a kind of eccentric holiday house for a few weeks in the summer. Slowly and inexorably fading and crumbling it remained largely empty till 1979 when, unwilling and unable to pay for its upkeep, the Roy family put it on the market. It remained for sale for 19 years !!
The Broughtons undertook a massive task in the saving and renovating of the property, and they have undeniably achieved a great feat of which the village is truly proud. From a long distance passers-by can appreciate the regular structural features of this classic style; the interior is sympathetically arranged to suit the needs of holiday-makers while also retaining its charm. Apart from the addition of the bathrooms and the pool the house remains largely as the 1848 architect intended.
The renovation of the cottages at the Domaine de Rochebonne started several years later. Now forming eight cottages, these were mostly derelict old barns, though the caretaker’s cottage has not changed much. These extensive old buildings help to date the property as vast quantities of easily-dated farm implements and associated items turned up. The oldest section, the remains of a cottage with mullioned window, pre-dates Jean d’Arquesson, and goes back to about 1560. The owners have achieved a remarkable feat in combining practical modern elements with the ancient features. The cottages of Rochebonne, old as they are, may by some be considered to be a little on the dark side, yet this very enigmatic look is precisely what makes them so ideal. Now used for holiday lettings they are among the most sought-after in the area.
Written by Emile Didier
Translated by Catherine Broughton
Catherine Broughton is English and, with her family, has lived in France for several years. She is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are on Amazon and Kindle or can be ordered from most leading books stores and libraries. More about her and her work on turquoisemoon.co.uk