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Roubaix (Municipality, Nord, France)

Last modified: 2019-01-12 by ivan sache
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Flag of Roubaix - Image by Ivan Sache, 5 April 2010

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Presentation of Roubaix

The municipality of Roubaix (97,423 inhabitants in 2007, therefore the second biggest municipality by its population in Region Nord-Pas-de- Calais; 1,323 ha) is located near the border with Belgium, east of Lille and south of Tourcoing.

Roubaix was mentioned for the first time in 863, as "Robacum", on Nicaise Fabius' map, which was reproduced by Sanderus in his Flandria Illustrata (18th century). In the "villa robacensis", a rural estate with a manor, lived the noble, blind Dame Thecla; during the night of 18 September 881, St. Eleutherius (d. 532), Bishop of Tournai, appeared to her and ordered her to go to Tournai and tell his successor, Bishop Heydilon, that his relics were to be found in the church of Blandain. The relics were, of course, there and several miracles occurred, Thecla recovering her vision. Thecla was buried in the church of Blandain, where a miraculous source emerged near her grave.
The first known lord of Roubaix, Robert, is mostly known by a chart listing him, dated 1047; the local tradition claims, without any evidence, that he belonged to Thecla's lineage. However, the first significant lord of Roubaix was John (lord, 1270-1285), whose castrum (fortress) was noted in Flanders. His son Alard (lord, 1285-1310) supported Count of Flanders Guido of Dampierre against King of France Philip the Handsome; jailed in Falaise (Normandy), he came back to Roubaix after the truce signed in 1303 between Flanders and France. The most famous lord of Roubaix, John III (lord, 1401-1449), fought in the Battle of Roosebeke in 1382 and, subsequently, all over Europe; appointed Chamberlain in 1407, John served the Duke of Burgundy and was awarded the title of Knight of the Golden Fleece in 1430. He obtained in 1414 from Duke of Brugundy John Fearless the title of town for Roubaix and the creation of a Municipal Council.

Lord Peter of Roubaix obtained in 1469 from Duke of Burgundy Charles the Bold the permission to manufacture cloth, which was confirmed in 1564. In the 17th-18th centuries, cloth-making family workshops developed, the biggest of them being owned by emerging dynasties of manufacturers-traders. The population of the town reached 8,000 in 1800; steam engines were introduced in 1820 by the Grimonprez- Bulteau factory, and their number increased to 29 in 1834, 113 in 1857 and 250 in 1872, yielding to Roubaix the nickname of the "1000- Chimneys Town". Mechanization increased with the introduction in 1843 of the "self-acting mules" by Louis Motte-Bossut. At the end of the 19th century, Roubaix, known as the "Manchester of Cloth", was one of the world capital of cloth: eight manufactures presented their production at the Paris World Fair in 1889. Considered as the European center of cloth-making, Roubaix was visited in 1911 by President of the Republic Armand Fallières and housed the same year the Cloth- Making International Exhibition.
Ruined by the First World War, the cloth industry reemerged at Roubaix in the 1920s, but was again hit by the 1929 crisis and the 1931-1932 strikes. In the same time, Jean Lebas, Mayor of Roubaix from 1912 to 1940, pushed several social innovations, such as school's canteens, school's outdoor centers (centres aérés, the first in France) and council flats (habitations à bon marché).
In the 1960s, cloth industry was hit again by the crisis. In 2000, most factories had disappeared, for instance Motte-Bossut, founded in 1843 and closed in 1981, and the emblematic La Lainière de Roubaix, founded in 1912 by the Prouvost dynasty and closed in 1999. Roubaix moved over into new methods of marketing, becoming the French capital of mail-order sailing (La Redoute).
[Société d'Émulation de Roubaix; Histoire de Roubaix on]

At the end of the 19th century, the two cloth-makers Maurice Pérez and Théophile Vienne funded the building of a velodrome in Roubaix. In 1896, they decided to organize a race starting from Paris and finishing in the velodrome, which was unusual at the time, all the races ending in Paris; managed by Louis Minard, the editor of Paris- Vélo, the first Paris-Roubaix race was ran on 280 km on 19 April 1896 by 54 cyclists. Since then, Paris-Roubaix has became a legendary race, nicknamed "The Hell of the North" and "The Queen of the Classics" because of its famous cobbled sections and strategic places (The Trench of Arenberg and the Tree's Crossroads, for instance). Ran one week after the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix is also known as "The Easter Race".
Once doomed to suppression, the cobbled sectors are watched and carefully revamped by the association Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix (website), founded in 1977, which also offers the winner's trophy made of a genuine cobble. The association and other local actors were able to transform the race into a mass event of great local significance - for instance, the giants watch the race in most crossed villages.
Paris-Roubaix is mostly a Belgian affair, with 53 victories out of 108 races, followed by France (28) and Italy (13). Roger De Vlaeminck won the race four times (1972,1974, 1975 and 1977); Octave Lapize (1909-1911) and Francesco Moser (1978-1980) won "only" three times, but in succession.

Ivan Sache, 5 April 2010

Flag of Roubaix

The flag of Roubaix, as observed in April 2009 hoisted on the Town Hall, is white with the municipal arms (image) in the center.
The arms of Roubaix are "Per pale ermine a chief gules and azure a weaver's reed sable fimbriated between in chief a mullet or flanked by two cotton bobbins argent and in base a weaver's shuttle a bordure indented or".

The dexter part of the arms ("Ermine a chief gules") represents the arms of the lords of Roubaix. The ermine spots seem to be a mark of cadency added to the arms "Argent a chief gules" of the lords of Bourghelles, the stem of the Roubaix lineage (and still used by the municipality of Bourghelles, a village of c. 1,494 inhabitants located not far from Roubaix). In 1406, John of Roubaix was appointed lord of Herzele after Sohier of Herzele had betrayed the Count of Flanders; he added to his arms the arms of Herzele, "Gules a chevron or", used today as the municipal flag of Herzele (Belgium). These arms, without the Herzele charge, were subsequently used as the arms of Roubaix, especially on seals ironed to cloth produced in the town.

On 26 September 1814, King of France Louis XVIII re-established the municipal arms that had been suppressed during the Revolution and allowed towns to apply for new arms at the Seal Royal Commission.
Roubaix applied for "Azure a bendlet sinister argent fimbriated or in chief a weaver in point a spinner". The application could not be considered because of the Cent-Jours episode.
On 7 October 1816, the Municipal Council of Roubaix submitted a new application, as "Per fess argent and azure a border or and azure countercoloured a reed in chief two bobbins gules in point a shuttle or". The two proposals included a scroll with the motto "Probitas Industria" surmounted by a fleur-de-lis. Since the fleur-de-lis was turned down by the Chancellery, Mayor Roussel-Grimonprez proposed to add a mullet or in the shield. These arms were eventually granted on 17 November 1818 by Letters Patented, registered with the Royal Court of Douai on 11 May 1819.
In 1859, Mayor Ernoult-Bayart proposed to reestablish the old arms of Roubaix ("Ermine a chief gules"), either alone or combined with the new ones. Approved on 20 April 1859 by the Préfet, these arms were adopted on 5 May 1859 by the Municipal Council.

[Société d'Émulation de Roubaix]

Brian Timms once described the sinister part of the shield as follows:

The sinister part of the shield contains emblems allusive to the textile industry of the town. The mullet is unexplained; the weaver's reed is a device for separating the threads of the warp and beating up the weft, which was formerly made with thin strips of reed of cane, and now with metal; and the bordure indented may be a reference to the pinked edges of cut cloth.

The old-fashioned French world rot, also written ros, is indeed derived from roseau, "a reed".

Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 5 April 2010