In 1996 we had 600 Venables families accounted for from all over the world and only 78 answered our invitation to come to Venables
Friday 12th July 1996
- At 6 p.m. the families were welcomed at the town hall by the Mayor, M. Jean Marie Drouet and the Conseil Municipal and then the official photo was taken in front of the Town Hall.
- At 7 p.m. the Venables families were welcomed at the Village Hall and applauded by the Venablois and their friends who have put all their efforts in preparing this convention. Each Venables family, giving their country of origin, were introduced to the assembly. This year, Great Britain, the States, Switzerland, Canada and Australia were represented. Once the official speeches were over, everyone gathered outside under the Normandy sun for a drink, which gave everyone a chance to get to know each other better, to discuss under the family tree of the Venables families hung on the wall and to admire the artwork from local artists, who have painted the most spectacular sites from the village. There were also two exhibitions of old photos showing us the village of yesteryears and the most recent photographs taken during the rehearsal of the spectacle which took take place on the next day. A small library with books on the history of Gilbert de Venables, his childhood and how he lived, local history and tourist sites of the region, is at everyone’s disposal. One could also admire a beautiful model of the village as it was in those days with its feudal mound, built by a local, Christian. Next to all this, one could admire the village nowadays on the website created by our friend Robbert. A souvenir shop will allow everyone to bring back a memento of the third convention. Before getting ready for the evening festivities, each Venables family wrote and signed the Visitor’s book of the Village.
- At 9 p.m, a medieval meal was served and the Venablois were dressed in brightly coloured costumes for the occasion. There were gentlemen and ladies, handsome lords, bishops, minstrels, knights, damsels and squires. The evening finished with Annie Venables, the queen of the pirates, with the help of the children, to conquer a giant cake. This was a very memorable evening for everyone who felt very much like a descendant of Gilbert.
Saturday 13th July 1996
- At 9 a.m. the coach which was kindly lent to us by the municipality for the occasion, broke down and left us with no means of transport. All the villagers and guides took their car and drove us to Rouen, a highly cultural site in Normandy, which seduced the visitors. They visited the cathedral, the Clock Street, the church built in honour of Joan of Ark…. There were such marvellous places that the Venables were not left indifferent to such beauty! We then went to Les Andelys for a cruise on the Seine, and the most courageous ones launched a peaceful assault on the Chateau-Gaillard, an English military architectural masterpiece on French soil. Chateau-Gaillard is the very place where these romanticized stories meet History. For this fortress was dreamed of, skilfully designed and built by the fiery Richard I of England, feudal Duke of Normandy, better known as Richard the Lionheart. This nickname was given in recognition of his bravery in the Crusades. It seems hard to believe that the construction of this massive stronghold was completed in one year, but it is historically true. One imagines the site swarming with thousands of labourers. Over 6,000 of them had to work relentlessly to achieve such a feat. Construction began in 1197 and was completed in
1198. Richard-who had spent a huge amount of money on it-could then exclaim: "How beautiful she is, my one-year-old daughter! What a 'gaillard' (well fortified) castle!"
The fortress was meant to impress King Philip Augustus of France, whose lands expanded as near as Gaillon, about ten kilometres away. Chateau-Gaillard was the stronghold intended to prevent him from invading Normandy.
Back to the village, tired but happy with their heads filled with wonderful memories of such a day, the Venables enjoyed a short break before the long evening ahead of them.
- At 8.30 p.m. the 450 villagers and their friends gathered with the Venables around a huge barbecue to savour mixed grills and other food, all this with accordion music and bangers, as is the custom on Bastille Day.
- At 11 p.m. 800 spectators came to watch the son and lumière show prepared and realised by the A.C.S.V. This was called « LES CONTES DE LA GOUTE D'EAU ». They are tales and legends from the village whose name recall the start of Christendom, such as the Prayers’ wood at Fontaine La Verte or the meeting of Gilbert with a she-wolf at the bottom of Louvel common grave, the joy and love at Vaux-Genets, the panache of the bandit, François Caboche, who wreaked havoc in the woods which carried his name, the lost washhouse from Venables and all its gossips, the diabolical Seine which swallowed up the poor careless fisherman from Lormais, the Norman farmers with hooked fingers at La Mare, the Mayor and his village policeman who were seen by children making circles in the water of Marquais at La Mare sous Venables. All in all, they were a complete mixture of love, frightening and humoristic stories which were finished by magnificent fireworks. The evening finished with the traditional popular ball for the 14th of July.
Sunday 14th July 1996
Everybody met up again late next morning, looking tired, but ready to listen and follow the commentaries from our historian Bernard Oger during the visit of Our Lady Church in Venables.
During this convention, our Venables friends were kind enough to answer to the questions by our two reporters from Venables, Catherine Bouvier and Philippe Mero :
- Who are you?
- Where do you come from?
- You are in your ancestor’s village, what are your impressions?
A common feeling of pride to be a Venables and to be actually in Venables came out of each interview. The emotion was also very strong when three generations of the same family were actually treading together the land of their ancestor or vice versa when the parents would have wished the presence of their children to share these marvellous moments together. Léon Drouet, the previous Mayor, was also fondly remembered near the Church when Robert and Steve told of their first experience in the village. They were looking for an evidence of their origins and have found the friendship of a family man.
The big family of Venables reunited for a last meal, which, after having spent three days together, gave them the need to keep in touch. This time of happiness was the occasion for Jean Marie
Drouet, dressed in his French flag sash, and Emmanuel Caillé, the Town Hall’s secretary to celebrate the wedding of Linda Venables and Graham Stewart which was to take place after the convention on the 4th of January 1997. This was a moving ceremony during which tears were mixed up with laughter.
At the end of this afternoon, the history enthusiasts had the occasion to get together at the Cultural Centre to join a debate with Patrick Lequette, Jean Marie Drouet, Christian Marchand, Francis Meyer, Bernard Oger, Steve Venables, Tony Venables and Robert Venables, with the help of Robbert Groot who did the translations. They were mainly looking for information on the origins of Gilbert de Venables, and the conversations concentrated mainly on the family tree of the Venables. Tony Venables gave an account of the probable origins of Gilbert and his eventual family relationship with William the Conqueror. This was a short but very interesting conference to be continued in the future.
The time came to separate. There’s an end to all good things and the time spent during this third convention was a happy one, filled with at times very intense emotion which will remain engraved forever in our hearts.
It was during the third Convention, in July 1996, that Franck and Elsa Venables offered a school exchange with St Mary School of Amersham.
As soon as September 1996 the pupils’ parents from the primary school of Venables were asked to give their opinion on this project ; after a rapid survey it was approved by almost every parents. People agreed not only for the children to go to Great Britain but also for two English school children to come to Venables.
As a result, Catherine Bouvier, our volunteered English teacher started working on the organisation of this project. In order to finalise the procedures of this exchange, Joëlle, Emmanuel and Catherine, accompanied by Benjamin, went to Amersham in February 1997 and were received as princes and princesses by Elsa and Franck. To check the location they visited London and met Roy and Mark, Director and Teacher at St. Mary School respectively. This was the occasion to get on with the final touches, to clearly define the educational options and to settle the financial problems.
The French children were the first to cross the Channel on 11th April. The crossing from Le Havre to Portsmouth, although a long one, went very smoothly. This was the occasion for the children to leave their families and go on a ferry for the first time.
What a pleasure to see the Isle of Wight and the English coast line, slightly over shadowed by haze!
As soon as they landed the « colony from Venables » went straight to Brighton to visit the Royal Pavilion and the sea front with its famous pier. The Royal Pavilion grew over 35 years from a simple farmhouse to a spectacular palace. In 1787 Henry Holland extended the original farmhouse into a neo-classical building know as the 'Marine Pavilion'. From 1815-1823 John Nash used new technology to transform the Pavilion into the Indian style building that exists today. He enlarged the building and added the domes and minarets that characterise his design by superimposing a cast iron framework over Holland's Marine Pavilion. This Palace was rented to George IV, Prince of Wales, in 1780 during his visits to Brighton for medicinal purposes.
In the coach songs and stories were on the agenda to help pass the time.
At last, it was time to meet our British counterpart and the children enjoyed a 4 o’clock snack before the welcoming speech from Roy was heard. The children then went to their respective families, which was their first contact with English culture. It must be said that it was not the children who were the most anxious but the mothers who wondered what on earth they will give them to eat and how they will make themselves understood. Very quickly the tension lessened and everyone felt very much at ease with the situation and the atmosphere was very lively in the English homes that evening.
The next morning everyone met at St Mary School for a visit of London. The only one who did not manage the trip was Lucie who did not felt slightly under the weather and had slept very little during the night. Mrs Patterson decided to keep her at home for the day. However, after a while realising that she was much better, Mrs Patterson drove her to London to join the others on their visit of this wonderful City.
After having admired Trafalgar Square and stood in front of the famous lions for a traditional photograph, the children, guided by Franck, walked across St. James Park, admiring on their way the animals and the flowers, amazed to discover that the natives were very much animal lovers. They arrived just on time to watch the trooping of the colour before admiring Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s palace.
It was time to have a break for lunch and they enjoyed sun bathing on the lawn at Green Park. It was a well deserved rest before carrying on the visit with Westminster Abbey where they bought souvenirs from the Westminster Abbey souvenir shop.
They then discovered Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and had a boat cruise on the river Thames. The commentaries were in English which was a shame as none of the children were able to understand what was said. Luckily the teachers from Venables had prepared their visit with documents and thus they were able to appreciate the English Capital.
Back on firm land, the children visited the Tower of London and saw the crown jewels and the white tower with a collection of royal armouries, the traitor’s gate, the tortures chamber, the Beefeaters and the Ravens, looked after by the Ravens Master. Our driver had difficulty to meet us but eventually arrived and was able to take us back to Amersham. During the trip the children overcame the language barrier and were able to communicate with each other.
On their last day the children back at St. Mary School were able to visit the Museum and the old town of Amersham. After a short walk, the children were taken to McDonald of Chesham for a quick lunch. It then was time to leave and go back to Dover and visit the imposing castle. A quick crossing of the Channel on the ferry took the children back to their families late at night.
This exchange was commemorated one evening with an exhibition of photographs and the show of a video film where everyone enjoyed sharing the wonderful time they experienced in England.
It was then time to organise the venue of the English children from Amersham. With the combined efforts of pupils’ parents, members of the Municipal Counsel, members of the A.C.S.V and teachers they prepared the weekend of Pentecost.
On Saturday 17th May all the pupils invaded the school yard, excitedly awaiting their English friends. While this was taking place, everyone got on with the last minute preparations. At last, the children from England arrived, however tired after such a long journey. After putting their luggage in a safe place, they enjoyed a quick snack, in one of our classes, of fruit and cakes prepared by the parents. They then went to their respective families to settle down and have a rest. Everyone met up again at 8.00 p.m. at the Village Hall for an evening meal, prepared by the mothers belonging to the team of the A.C.S.V. This was the occasion for everyone to exchange a few words of welcome and for the adults to get to know the children….
On the next day, the children gathered at school and had a short history lesson, prepared by Catherine and Emmanuel, on the various castles they were going to visit. They were also given a folder with information and games in connection with their visits of the day.
Afterwards, the English coach followed the parents in the mini bus from Venables and went to the Château Gaillard, a fortress which is full of Anglo-Norman history. This was a very pleasant and friendly visit enjoyed by all. Then on their way to Mortemer they stopped for a pancake meal. All the accompanying mothers were in charge of the service and the scheduling of this meal arranged in this lush surrounding.
It was then time to visit the Abbey transformed into a Fabulous Museum of History and Legend. The Abbaye was founded by Henry Beauclerc, William the Conqueror’s son, in 1134, and it was the largest in the Duchy of Normandy. The monks here followed the Cistercian ideal, dividing their time between prayer and the management of a quite wealthy estate that enabled them to live independently, far from secular temptations.
However, the centuries got the better of them. Nearly 900 years have passed, but there are no longer any monks. However, some marvellous ruins remain: a dovecote, parts of the church walls, a wing of the cloisters, and the large conventual building rebuilt in the 17th century... Here, the stones are living memory. The fleeting silhouette of the Woman in White glides over the stones, while the memory of monks murdered during the Revolution also lurks. In the moonlight, when evening drapes its cool halo over the countryside, don’t forget to bring a sweater, if ever a chill were to run down your spine.
Afterwards the children enjoyed a train ride and had a snack before going to Fleury-la-Fôret. In this beautiful castle they saw a collection of old dolls and toys and discovered how our ancestors lived.
The evening was spent with their families.
The next morning it was already time to say goodbye and exchange addresses, a very moving moment for everyone.
This success is mainly due to the willingness of the host families, the support of the A.C.S.V., the work from the teachers and volunteers, the motivation of all the children, and above all the tenacity and enthusiasm of Elsa and Franck Venables. We sincerely thank Elsa and Franck for their kindness and their wonderful dynamism!
School Head master