Le Grand Duc Guest house was originally the home of the General Director of the Compagnie des Mines d’Anzin (the local coal mining company at Anzin, on the outskirts of Valenciennes), whose entrance is just across the road.
Located strategically, the house allowed the director to watch 4000 workers and miners come and go.
The Mining Company of Anzin emerged 19 November 1757 from an
agreement between three landowners who were competing for land:
Viscount Jacques Désandrouin, François Marie Le Danois, and Emmanuel
de Croÿ-Solre, “seigneur haut justicier”, a function that implied an important judiciary office in the northern region.
The charter that founded the Company was signed at the Château de l’Hermitage, located in the Bon secours woods, near Condé sur l’Escaut hence the name of the street Avenue de Condé. The Compagnie des mines d’Anzin was the first in the Northern minefield to exploit coal and one of the first industrial groups in Europe.
The well-known French writer Emile Zola visited the Mining Company on
several occasions and used it as a setting for his novel Germinal. He wrote:
“the owners who were to form together the Compagnie d’Anzin had triggered a growing interest.
Every single town was probing its soil, more such companies were created and seemed to sprout overnight”.
The Anzin Mining Company extracted coal for almost two centuries until the mines were nationalised.
The last mine cart filled with coal in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais area came out
of the pits on 21 st December 1990 in Oignies. It signalled the end of three
centuries of local history.
Thanks to the booming coal industry, the De Croÿ family who had been
powerful in the Franco-Belgian Hainaut area since the Middle Ages turned
the Château de l’Hermitage into a magnificent property. If you go for
walks in the Regional Natural Park Scarpe Escaut you can visit it though
now only as a private home.
With a passion for botany and the art of garden landscaping, the Duke De
Croÿ imagined for his dwelling a novel concept that would soon cross the
borders of Europe, and become fashionable worldwide: the garden-forest.
Two similar examples of such landscaping are to be found near Paris, the
Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne.