Lavoirs are open air communal wash houses built mainly in the 18th century. They were usually constructed on the sites of springs or beside streams and rivers. Apart from their obvious function they also provided a place for the women of rural France to socialise, thus relieving the tedium and hard work of washing by hand. They remained in use until the advent of mains water and washing machines-in some places up until the 1960s.
Unused and unloved they began to crumble and decay and some have disappeared altogether. Happily, many communes have now recognised the importance of preserving this part of their heritage and the lavoirs have been restored.
There are several different types of lavoir depending on the water source; a covered stone quay on the banks of a river or lake, a covered central wash pool or a wash pool with an open sloping roof angled to collect rainwater. Some are simply built, others elaborate examples of the local architectural style. All are lovely and alongside that other great meeting place of the village, the church, have become on my must see list wherever we stop.
Usually completely deserted the lavoir could not be more atmospheric; cool, damp, sometimes mossy, the only sound the trickling whisper of water echoing off stone walls which once resounded with the talk, argument, song and laughter of the village women.
Here are some photos which I'll add to from time to time.
Lavoir at Merry-sur-Yonne, Bourgogne
Lavoir - Accolay, Bourgogne
Apremont -Haute Soane
Froncles, Haut Marne, Champagne-Ardenne
Lavoir de Brienon sur Armancon -Bourgogne
A beautiful lavoir once used for washing tripes as well as clothes. The resident rats apparently (and perhaps understandably) preferred to steal and eat the soap rather than the tripe!
Lavoir de Pousseaux, canal du Nivernais, Bourgogne
Underground lavoir at Dole, Jura