La Ville Anglaise
- Published on September 23 2009
- Written by David Blackburn (All Rights Reserved)
THIS IS A NEW WEBSITE THAT WILL BE UNDER CONSTRUCTION THROUGH 2012. PLEASE CHECK BACK FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PAU, FRANCE DURING THE 19TH CENTURY AND AMERICAN AND BRITISH FAMILIES WHO LIVED IN PAU ALONG WITH THEIR GENEALOGIES AND BIOGRAPHIES.
An English community was established in the city of Pau, France in the early 19th century, transforming Pau from the relatively small capital of Bearn, the home of Henri IV, King of France, to a retirement destination, winter health resort and sanatoria.
Pau probably couldn’t be better described more eloquently than the words of Alphonse de Lamartine, "Pau has the world's most beautiful view of the earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea." Set in the piedmont of the Pyrenees, with rolling wooded, lush green hills and a backdrop of the magnificent hyacinth colored mountains, Pau remains one of the loveliest places on earth.
Pau is in the southwest of France, 40 miles from Spain with the border at the peaks of the Pyrenees. Pau is 70 miles inland from the Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay. It is the siege or seat, of the prefecture for French department 64, The Pyrenees-Atlantiques, which also contains the cities of Bayonne, Biarritz, Orthez, Salies-des-Bearn, and Oloron-St. Marie.
The English began passing through the Pyrenees as early as 1673, and then began visiting in the early 1740s. The most famous thermal stations at that time were Barèges, Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Cauterets and Bagnères-de-Luchon. Dr. Christopher Meighan decided to study these miraculous springs in 1739 at Berèges. In 1742, a General Keith and John Lindsay, 20th count of Crawford went to Meighan for a cure after the Ukraine campaign, the former as a successful last effort to save a leg from amputation. At the end of their treatments, both were reported to have been capable of mountain climbing. Later that year, Dr. Meighan would publish “A Treatise of the Nature and Powers of Bareges’s Baths and Waters”.
Before the French Revolution (1789 – 1799), there were families from both Ireland and Scotland who left Great Britain due to religious persecution to settle in Pau. At this time, most British who came to visit the Pyrenean springs in the summer, would descend the mountains and spend the winter in Tarbes, which is 30 miles (49 km) east of Pau. They complained that although the surroundings were agreeable, Tarbes was limited culturally and they preferred to have a more fashionable winter residence. From the time of the French revolution, until 1814, it would be dangerous for the British to travel within France, so there was a 25 year period where virtually no British came to the Pyrenees.
General Arthur Wellesley, who later became the First Duke of Wellington and the British Prime Minister, drove Napoleonic forces out of Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War. After securing Spain in Vitoria, Wellington entered the northern Pyrenees to force the French to retreat further into France. In the autumn of 1813, Wellington and his troops occupied the Basque region of France and were reportedly more respectful of the communities than the departing armies of Napoleon.
On March 6th, 1814, Wellington ‘liberated’ Pau from the Napoleonic forces and was welcomed with a great ball by the citizens of the capital of Bearn. Their wish was to restore a descendant of their beloved Henri IV to the French throne; Louis XVIII.
After the final Napoleonic Battle of Waterloo, several of Wellington’s troops retired in Pau. As done before the French Revolution at Tarbes, they would benefit from Pyrenean thermal springs and establish sanatoria and fox hunting.
Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, killed one in four English during the early 19th century. Sanatoria were created for the wealthy and the poor throughout England to provide the recommended treatment of the time; fresh air (preferably at high altitudes – Pau is at 200 meters or 700 feet), exercise and good nutrition. This accepted treatment reportedly provided a 50% survival rate beyond five years. The first American sanatoria, Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, wouldn’t be created until 1882.
Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, the founder of Winnipeg, Canada, was gravely ill with tuberculosis and decided to travel south with Dr. George William Lefevre for a cure, leaving London in September 1819. At Bordeaux, they were advised to stop at Pau and arrived in early October. They were charmed by climate and the panoramic view of the Pyrenees and decided to spend the winter. Although his health improved, Earl Selkirk died at Pau in April 1820.
Other notable doctors, Dr. Playfair, Dr. James Clark and Dr. Alexander Taylor visited and treated patients in Pau. The latter published a study “Climates for invalids; or, A comparative enquiry as to the preventive and curative influence of the climate of Pau, and of Montpellier, Hyères, Nice...their respective mineral sources in disease,” in 1842. He touted Pau’s mild winter climate, absence of wind along with its clean, fresh air as an ideal location for a sanatoria. Dr. Taylor compared the mortality rate of Pau (2.2%) to winter resorts such as Nice and Rome, which had mortality rates 45% and 80 % respectively higher than Pau.
Shortly thereafter, an English community grew quickly in Pau, creating a larger sanatoria and seasonal winter resort resort from October through April. The ill would come with their entire families, luxury hotels were built, villas were purchased or rented at an annual rate for the winter season. The British Pau-Hunt was created for foxhunting, they played polo and founded a men’s reading room (with a bar), le Cercle Anglais, a casino and the hippodrome was opened in 1854. They also built churches; Christ Church, Trinity Church and later St. Andrews for Anglicans. In 1856 they founded the first golf course in Continental Europe, The Pau Golf Club, in neighboring Billère.
American, Samuel Ward McAllister, was born in Savannah, Georgia and moved to California after the Gold Rush, where he practiced law with his father and brother. After making a modest fortune, he moved to New York, where his aunt, Mrs. Samuel Ward was highly regarded in society. In 1853, Ward McAllister married heiress, Sarah Taintor Gibbons, whose grandfather employed Cornelius Vanderbilt on his ferry line, before Vanderbilt left to start his own empire. After the McAllister marriage, they bought property on Narragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island. He was later instrumental in convincing New Yorkers to make Newport a summer resort. After purchasing the property, Ward McAllister planted 10,000 trees, and then left for a tour of Europe, ingratiating himself in society in London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Baden-Baden and Pau.
Ward McAllister spent two winters in Pau before returning to New York, where he became the self-appointed arbiter of New York society. He wrote about his winters in Pau in “Society as I have Found It” published in 1890 (available at our bookstore under New York Society), stating he had hired a beautiful villa in Pau for only 800 dollars a year, which he described as ‘a perfect home’ with grounds filled with camellia bushes and a beautiful view of the Pyrenees. He said the country was full of beautiful women with the best cooks in the world and people only seemed to live in order to eat and sleep.
Some Americans families that were well established in Paris began wintering in Pau as early as 1852 along with British aristocrats. These Americans, with names such as Hutton, Ridgway, Munroe, McCarty and Post were wealthy merchants that exported European goods to the United States, bankers and diplomats. Their children would later make Pau their primary residence beginning around 1870 when Paris became dangerous after the Siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. They would create a community not dissimilar to those in later ones of Newport, Lenox, Massachusetts, Tuxedo, Saratoga Springs, Bar Harbor, Maine and Aiken, South Carolina. They would support their own school, shops, apothecary, dress and hat makers and there would be an American Consulate. In the early 20th century there would be the first flight school and one of the first automobile clubs.
Americans with the family names of Lawrance, Bennett, Tiffany, Storey, King, Livingston, Thorne, Remsen, Kane, Forbes-Morgan, Prince, Potter, Winthrop, Ridgway, Cushing, Mary Todd Lincoln and the Wright Brothers came to Pau too. Other Americans would come for short stays; Mrs. Astor, Winthrop Rutherford and Ulysses S. Grant.
But unlike other resorts, these Americans would stay and make Pau their permanent home, with many of them buried in its cemeteries. Why? Who were they? Could their residency be explained by local legend; that they came for health reasons, sports or to ingratiate themselves with English aristocrats? Or were there other extraordinary factors the moved and kept them in Pau?