I was in Limoges this morning. Benj had the first of his Freshers’ lectures which the University, UniLim as it calls itself, has thoughtfully started before the vast majority of the kids have access to their accommodation. Makes life a bit complicated. Anyway, we set off at 6.30 am this morning, ugh, and got there 2 hours later. We had an exciting journey down as the Renault’s windscreen wipers jammed while we were blasting along the busy A20 in the rain in the outside lane. It was pretty nerve wracking. If I were a cat, I’d be down to 8 lives I think! I got back into the inside lane and came off at the next junction, which fortunately wasn’t too far away. No sooner had I pulled into a layby than the wretched things started again. They’ve been fine ever since.

Victorien Sardou

Benj went off to his lectures so I walked into Limoges. It takes about half an hour on foot to get to the centre from Benj’s campus. I had a history  lesson on the way as the street signs tell you about the person that particular rue is named after. The French predominantly use famous persons or events as road names. So I walked along Rue Victorien Sardou (dramatist, academic 1831-1908), crossed, amongst others, rue Jeanne d’Arc (1412-31), went up Avenue François Perrin (teacher and Resistance martyr 1891-1942) and ended up in the Place de la Motte. There are interesting notices up at various places telling you about their history. At Place des Carmes you learned there had been a Carmelite monastery there. The Place de la Motte was the site of a medieval castle on a mott, and on 15 August 1864, the scene of the Great Fire of Limoges. It’s thought a firework let off at Champ de Juillet started the blaze. (August 15 is a public holiday in France, often celebrated with firework displays.) It quickly spread amongst the old timbered houses and destroyed 150 of them between the rue des Arènes (today’s rue Othon Péconnet where you’ll find Games Workshop – if you have teenage boys you’ll know how important that shop is!), the Place de la Motte, and the Place d’Aine. It also destroyed the original halles, market halls. The firemen did their best but couldn’t put the flames out with water, despite the nearest pump supplying them with 50 barrels of water, so had to resort to demolishing houses to make a fire break. The Emperor and Empress were very upset to hear about the disaster and sent the Préfet 15,000 francs to help towards costs. There don’t appear to have been any fatalities, amazingly but very fortunately.

Stupidly I left my camera at home so wasn’t able to take photos. My excuse is getting up too early. However, I’ll be back there tomorrow for Benj’s second morning of introductory talks, and I’ll be properly equipped this time. This south-western corner of Limoges is quite stunning, as you’ll soon see, with remarkable old buildings and tiny streets.

I imagine I’ll be seeing quite a lot of Limoges over the next three years while Benj is studying there. Caiti definitely will. She’s already planning on how to get there from her lycee Gueret to visit her brother and take in some city life. Not sure if Benj knows about her plans yet though …