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Gonfreville-l'Orcher (Municipality, Seine-Maritime, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-20 by ivan sache
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Flag of Gonfreville-l'Orcher - Image by Ivan Sache, 7 August 2011

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Presentation of Gonfreville-l'Orcher

The municipality of Gonfreville-l'Orcher (9,115 inhabitants in 2008; 2,581 ha; official website) is located close to the estuary of the Seine, a few km east of Le Havre. It is mostly an industrial town, part of the big industrial part developed around the port of Le Havre. The municipality of Gonfreville-l'Orcher is made of the three boroughs of Gonfreville-l'Orcher proper, Gournay-en-Caux and Mayville.

Gonfreville ("Gonfredi villa") is of probable Saxon origin. The epithet "Orcher" must refer to Guillaume d'Aurecher, Marshal of Normandy, said to have contributed to the seizure of Jerusalem in 1099. The Orcher castle was built in the 11th century on the 100 m-high cliff dominating the Seine estuary. Among its famous owners are André de Novion, First President in the Paris Parliament in the 17th century and the banker Law, who sold the castle in 1720 following his infamous bankruptcy. Subsequently transformed into a cosy manor, the castle, has kept a square donjon recalling the strategic significance of the site.
Gournay-en-Caux was incorporated into the municipality of Gonfreville at the end of the 19th century. Limited industrialization occurred in the village, with a foundry, a rope factory, a brickyard and a distillery.

The true industrial boom of Gonfreville is to be credited to the ironmaster Eugène Schneider (1868-1942), founder of one of the most famous examples of capitalistic dynasties in France at the time. In 1897, the Schneider company set up an ammunition factory in Le Havre. In 1899, Schneider transformed marshes of the estuary of the Seine into a shooting range, used to experiment brand new cannons. An artillery factory was built in 1905-1912, producing rockets, torpedoes, airplane engines, armored cars... During the First World War, the Schneider factory, covering 95,000 sq. m, employed 12,000 workers using 2,000 machines powered by electric engines; the production was shipped by a 2 km-long railway on which two locomotives were operated. A workers' housing estate was soon built, named Mayville for Eugène Schneider's daughter, May (1902-1999). During the interbellum, the Schneider factory experienced difficulties; on 26 June 1937, it was nationalized and renamed Ateliers de Construction du Havre (ACH), a state-owned ammunition factory. ACH was incorporated on 1 December to SNECMA, which transferred in 1977 the factory to its subsidiary Hispano-Suiza. In 2000, the SNECMA purchased the aircraft-making company Hurel- Dubois, founded in 1947 in Le Havre, and formed the next year the Hurel-Hispano group, producing engine components for the A380 and F7X Airbus planes. Hurel-Hispano was eventually renamed Aircelle in 2005 and incorporated to the Safran group, formed the same year be the merging of SNECMA and SAGEM.
In 1933, the Compagnie Française de Raffinage (French Refinery Company), founded in 1929 by the Compagnie Française des Pétroles, inaugurated a refinery in Gonfreville. Today the huge Normandy Refinery operated by Total, the plant nis the biggest refinery in France. It produces 350,000 oil barrels per day, that is 20% of the national supply and 40% of the supply of the Paris area. Covering 360 ha, the refinery is served by 70 km of roads, 22 km of railways and 40,000 km of pipes.

In June 1940, the French army ordered to set up fire to the oil tanks of the Gonfreville refinery, short before the Germans reached the village, on 13 June 1940. Liberated in September 1944, Gonfreville was the site of Camp Philip Morris, one of the biggest American transit camps ("cigarette camps") in Normandy. Covering 525 ha, the camp included a cinema, a restaurant and an hospital. The young, local French interpret Maurice Dumoulin (b. 1924) subsequently referred to the camp in his writer's name, Gilles Morris or Gilles-Morris Dumoulin. A noted author of detective stories, also under the name of Vic Saint-Val, Morris was awarded in 1955 the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière for his novel Assassin, mon frère....
Once deserted by the US Army, Camp Philip Morris was used as a "temporary" place of housing for inhabitants of Le Havre, nearly totally destroyed during the war. The 600 huts were split into three estates and the population of the town increased from 4,500 in 1945 to 8,000 in 1948. The set up of permanent buildings was a main challenge for the Communist municipality of Gonfreville, mostly achieved under the guidance of Jacques Eberhard (1919-2009), a factory worker born in Mayville, Mayor from 1953 to 1978 and Senator from 1969 to 1986. Gonfreville, a symbol of the - widely recognized - reconstruction skills of the French Communist Party, was visited by Communist celebrities, including Yuri Gagarin on 20 June 1965. Gonfreville has been continuously ran by the Parti Communiste Français since 1945.

Ivan Sache, 7 August 2011

Flag of Gonfreville-l'Orcher

The flag of Gonfreville-l'Orcher (photo, Le Courrier des Deux Rives, 7 June 2011) is white with the municipal logo in the center.

The municipal logo (image) is made of the municipal coat of arms held by a dove also holding an olive branch in the beak. The dove, as a symbol of peace, recalls that Gonfreville is a member of the Association française des Communes, Départements, Régions pour la Paix (AFCDRP - French Association of Municipalities, Departments and Regions for Peace), the French branch of Mayors of Peace, created in 1997.
The municipal arms are "Gules a refinery in base two wheat spikes crossed per saltire all outlined argent".

Ivan Sache, 7 August 2011

Former flag of Gonfreville-l'Orcher

The current flag of Gonfreville-l'Orcher seems to have replaced an older flag (photo) placed in the header of the official website and on another photo shown on the unofficial website (no longer online). On that flag, the coat of arms has the refinery colored in blue and the wheat spikes colored in yellow, and "GONFREVILLE-L'ORCHER" is written along the bottom of the flag.

Ivan Sache, 7 August 2011