The Pays Loire Val d’Aubois is a region of water and woods, where traditional iron and steel metallurgy, dependent upon the waterways and charcoal has been fully integrated into favourable sites.
Although basically agricultural today, the Pays Loire Val d’Aubois is none the less heir to an old industrial tradition which began in the Middle Ages and reached its peak in the 19th century.
This territory, bounded by the Paris Basin and the Massif Central, had seen an administration encompassing both Nivernais and Bourbonnais. The neighbouring départements of Cher, Allier and Nièvre, all created during the Revolution, shared industrial developments which were sometimes interdependent: merging of companies, and organization of transports (canals and railways).
Due to its geographical status as a passage between the Paris and Lyons regions and the département of Loire Atlantique, the Pays Loire Val d’Aubois has also created relations with the Saint-Étienne Basin, the Nantes estuary and sea ports, as well as with the Loire stopovers.
The early development of Val d’Aubois was favoured as early as the Middle Ages by abundant mineral, forestry and hydraulic resources. The transports were organized from the waterways, either natural or man-made, such as the Berry canal or the lateral canal along the Loire opened in 1837 and 1827, respectively.
Iron metallurgy employed in factories loaders, founders, pattern makers, casters, hammersmiths, rollers, blacksmiths, and unskilled labour, and also, outside, many lock keepers, miners, woodcutters, coalmen, wagoners…
After the extinction of iron and steel metallurgy, the earthenware industry took over with tile and brick making in the southern part of the Val d’Aubois, in La Guerche sur l’Aubois and, above all, in Sancoins.
Another earthenware industry, the production of hydraulic lime and Portland type natural cement, made the renown of the Beffes basin. It is used to make coatings and mortars which are highly prized for building in wet environments.
Water and wind mills, quarries, tileries, brickyards and lime kilns have underpinned a half-craft, half-industrial activity in the Val d’Aubois since the Middle Ages.
Unlike most other employers, the ironmasters have always accommodated their workers on the spot and paid special attention to housing in order to make a highly mobile and qualified labour settle down.
The life of the worker and his family is fully taken care of from birth to death, especially in ironworks, in a way which is meant to be “paternal” (a word used in 1828).