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Denain (Municipality, Nord, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-20 by ivan sache
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Flag and banner of Denain - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 7 July 2020

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Presentation of Denain

The municipality of Denain (19,933 inhabitants in 2018; 1,152 ha; municipal website) is located 10 km south-west of Valenciennes.

Denain was established on the left bank of the Scheldt, close to the confluence with the Selle. St. Remfroy (aka Renfroie / Rainfroye / Ragenfrède; d. 805), one of the ten daughters of Count of Ostrevent Adalbert and his wife, Reine, founded in 764 an abbey near a miraculous source whose water healed eyesore. Until 1794, that is for more than one millennium, the abbey would rule the village that developed nearby, originally as Donnum (9th century), than as Dennaing (16th century) and eventually Denain (17th century).
During the enduring War of the Spanish Succession that broke out in 1702, Marshal de Villars won on 24 July 1712 the decisive battle of Denain over the Austro-Dutch troops commanded by Prince Eugen of Savoy.

In the early 19th century, Denain was a significant (900 inhabitants) rural village. Coal was discovered by chance on 30 March 1828, which prompted the establishment of the Villars pit. Up to 15 pits were subsequently established between 1828 and 1853 by the Compagnies des mines d'Anzin, which employed 1,800 miners.
In 1837, Pierre-François Dumont (1789-1864) founded the Forges de Denain and inaugurated the first "iron factory" (smelting furnace) in the town. The smoking brick chimneys of the several units that were subsequently operated by the Société des Hauts-Fourneaux de Denain-Anzin yielded to the town the nickname of "cité feumière" (Smoking town).
In 1844, a former, successful boilermaker apprentice, Jean-François Cail (1804-1871), built in Denain a branch of the Derosne-Cail company in Denain, appointing his brother Jacques as the director. The workshop specialized in the production of distillation devices for sugarmills, and, subsequently, of locomotive boilers. Awarded in several international exhibitions, the company diversified its production to mechanical, boilermaking and armament industries. It contributed to the decoration of emblematic monuments in Paris, such as the Eiffel tower and the Arcole and Alexandre III bridges. After Jean-François Cail's death, the company was renamed to Société Fives Construction Mécaniques (SFCM); stretching over nearly 60,000 m2, the company's factories employed up to 4,000 workers in the beginning of the 20th century. Equipped with several workers' housing estates, Denain appeared as a kind of workers' citadel managed according to the paternalistic capitalism of the time. All streets were paved, a water supply network was established, as well as refuse collection. Public baths were established, including a swimming pool, tubs, showers, a sweating room and even stream baths.
The theater designed by Louis Six and inaugurated on 10 July 2012, was built in Italian Neo-classic style, on the model of the Paris opera designed by Charles Garnier. It was decorated by the most famous local artists of the time, the painter Victor Lhomme, the glass-maker Pierre Turpin and the sculptor Edgar Henri Boutry.<+P>

The Gilded Age pf Denain ended with the First World War. The emblematic equestrian statue of Marshal de Villars, designed by Henri Gauquié and inaugurated on 13 July 1913, was put down, cut into pieces in the SFCM workshops and sent to Germany for smelting. On 20 October 1918, one day after the town's liberation, the allied troops were reviewed in front of the statue's pedestal by the Prince of Wales and the Canadian general staff. On 10 November 1918, Raymond Poincaré, President of the Republic, visited Denain, which had been completely destroyed by bombings. Before withdrawing, the Germans flooded the mines, looted and dynamited most industrial sites. In 1922, the SFCM factory resumed its pre-war activity, employing 3,500 workers. In a few years, employment reached 5,500 and production was 40% higher than before the war. So did the Forges de Denain-Anzin.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Forges de Denain-Anzin were transformed in 1948 into USINOR, which produced more than 2 million ton steel in 1962. The town's population increased to more than 30,000.
In 1978, USINOR abruptly fired thousands workers. The SFCM was closed a few years later, as were the mines. Population fell down below 20,000.
Little has remained from the former mining industry but the Mathilde pit (named for Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, a cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, and operated from 1831 to 18562), the Renard coal tip (known as the Citadel, erected from 1836 to 1948), and the Chabaud-Latour workers' housing estate, which were registered on 30 June 2012 on UNESCO's World List of Heritage.

Denain was a main source of inspiration for émile Zola's Germinal (1885). The writer visited the Jean-Bart worker's housing estate. In 1884, he went down into the Renard pit, which he renamed to Voreux in the novel.
Jules Mousseron (1868-1943), who spent all his life in the Jean-Bart worker's housing estate, has remained famous as a "poète mineur", which can be understood as "miner poet", and, to his great delight, "minor poet". His "public speeches" delivered in rouchi, the local dialect, "by" the miner Zeph Cafougnette (a Picard word for "joke") soon yielded him a local fame (élan béarnais Pau-Orthez; he played 85 matches with the French national team. Demory is a successful coach for feminine teams, who won three national leagues with Lattes-Montpellier MMA (2014 and 2016) and Lyon ASVEL féminin (2019).

Ivan Sache, 13 February 2021

Flag of Denain

The flag of Denain (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) is a banner of the municipal arms, "Or a cross engrailed gules, in chief a label of six points argent". The Town Hall also uses a vertical banner of the municipal arms (photo, photo, photo).
A seal (photo) featuring a cross dancetty and a six-pointed label was used in June 1229 by Brognart of Denain (G. Demay. Inventaire des sceaux de la Flandre..., Vol. 1, 1873). Th. Leuridan (Armorial des communes du département du Nord, 1909) reports that Dumont's map and a municipal seal dated 1764 feature the arms of Denain as "Or a cross engrailed gules". At the time, the municipality of Denain used that arms.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 13 February 2021