Bourg de Visa - a little history

When you drive through Bourg de Visa  (82190) on a wet winter’s afternoon and you see the village dead to the world, you would find it hard to believe that it was once the vibrant heart of the local universe.  Imagine one main street and a couple of small squares being the home of up to 60 businesses around the turn of the 20th century, dwindling down to around 30 by the second world war when  improved transport and desertification of rural areas meant less demand , then finally succumbing to the bare necessitiesof today.

Once it was a microcosm of independence providing everything the cantonal population needed. In terms of administration Bourg had its Mairie, Gendarmerie and Perception (where you paid state and local taxes). The latter was situated in part of the Gendarmerie building. There was a post and telegraph office at the top end of town, a bank on the lower corner of the marche couverte (note metal grill still seen today) and a bailiff where the current district nurses have their office. An elementary school at the top of the village with separate entrances for boys and girls catered for children up to the age of 11. Until the end of the Second World War, education although obligatory was fairly irregular due to the demands of labour on the family farms which in those days were still fairly labour intensive. Although most of the satellite villages also had their own elementary school, children often walked miles there and back and if unable to return at midday took a can of soup for lunch which they warmed up on the wood burning stove in the classroom.  At one point there was also a small college (secondary school), run by the church and staffed by teaching nuns in a convent facing the cemetery on the B road leading out of the place des Ormeaux to Lacour.

To cater for the health of the community there was a doctor and a dentist, the latter practising in place du Foreil. There was a pharmacy, located under the arcades of the marche coverte, then later opposite the old bank on the main road. A small group of nuns living near the church provided social services until the state took over the role in the 1930s. They were nursing sisters who looked after the sick and needy, widows and orphans and acted as midwives. This was common in rural areas and each satellite village however tiny had its own convent with complement of 2 or more nuns to provide the same social services.

Bourg de Visa also boasted 3 hotels at one point all on the main street, although they were simple auberges with a few rooms to let, catering to passing commercial travellers especially on fair and market days. The Hotel du Nord was opposite the gendarmerie and later became a cafe. The Hotel du Midi with the ironwork balcony is now the newsagents cum grocery shop and the Hotel du Commerce was next to the former bank on the left just before the current tourist office.  At any given time there were 3 bars in the town, including under the arcades and the place du Forail plus a restaurant/bar on the sharp left hand bend at the lower end of the village. One can still see Cafe engraved above the entrance to what is now a dwelling.

The local population was well supplied with shops most of which cluttered up both sides of the main street with other businesses on the place des Ormeaux and place du Forail. Although businesses often changed hands and services, until 70 years ago there were at least 3 grocery shops, 3 butchers, one baker and a patisserie plus a couple of ironmongers who would supply all kitchen, gardening and farm goods along with shotguns and pellets. For the more aesthetic requirements the old bank had once been jewellers. Opposite was a tailor. Next to the Hotel du Midi was a bookshop, followed by hat makers. Further down the road was a printers, haberdashers cum clothes shop, hairdressers, shoe shop and mattress maker. There were even a couple of petrol pumps on the narrow pavements; one near the gendarmerie, the other was further down the main street. When these were installed with the advent of motorized transport, the blacksmith on the place du Forail (now the hairdressers) acted as mechanic before garages became popular. Other services included a cartwright situated where the road forks off from the gendarmerie down to the current garage. A cycle shop was just behind the current Credit Agricole on the place des Ormeaux, a cobblers on the place du Forail and a grain merchant under the arcades.

Bourg even boasted its own abattoir which was a necessary adjunct to is role as a cattle market on fair days when the place du Forail would be crowded with beasts driven into the village and traded. All this died off when middle men appeared with their modern transport, trading directly with the farmers at home and shipping the cattle off to the state controlled abattoir at Moissac.  Although I have only touched on some of the businesses that made Bourg a prosperous village I haven’t even mentioned all the other rural trades and professions which existed in the area and provided the population with everything it needed to be self supporting and vibrant.  by: Jeanette Mc George.  Published 2014