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Ecole gardienne no. 1 21 February 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels.
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My flat in St-Gilles is in one of four blocks that mark the corners of a little park that was created when the metro line was dug in the early 90s. I’d always wondered what stood here before. My interest was piqued by stories of the massive Fort Monterey which stood just below where the Barrière now is, and the three gunpowder mills that once blew up in what is now the Rue d’Albanie.

Ecole gardienne no.1 in 1953 (Bruciel)

Ecole gardienne no.1 in 1953 (Bruciel)

Then I studied an old Girault Gilbert plan of Brussels I’d inherited from my dad – judging by the state of completion of the Ring, I date it to 1959. As well as a spiders’ web of tramlines, it shows that on the place where my flat stands was a building with three wings, in black – which means it was a public building. Further research threw up the remarkable Saint-Gilles-lez-Bruxelles. Monographie. Histoire et description illustrées, written by Fernand Bernier in 1904. This exhaustive volume details the fact that the building was a nursery school. In fact it was école  gardienne no. 1 – the commune’s first and biggest. Opened in 1864, it catered for 533 children in 10 classes, and had two playgrounds and a canteen. The building also housed innovative “4th degree” courses for the whole commune. These, thanks to Mr Morichar the echevin, were in useful crafts like metalwork rather than dull theory.

The school can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner of this 1891 map (and absent from the 1858 map).

And while we’re at it, finally the answer to a question that’s long puzzled me. Who was Paul Dejaer, who gave his name to the street on the left in the aerial photo above from Bruciel (and in which I previously lived)? The simple answer is that he was St-Gilles’s mayor from 1982-93. I’m not surprised, as half the streets in this classy quarter are named after mayors – Van Meenen, Bréart and Morichar to name but three.

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