Bois-du-Luc

The place known today as the Bois-du-Luc is only a piece of what was once one of the largest coal mining company in Belgium. The mining structures you can visit, the Saint-Emmanuel pit, date back from 1846, but the company was founded on February 14th, 1685: it’s the oldest known example of a capitalistic company in Europe.“Société du Grand Conduit et du Charbonnage d’Houdeng” was created to solve the water drainage problems caused by the depth of the extraction works around Houdeng. Humidity was a major issue for mining activities in the regions of Borinage and Centre, particularly for the deep pits (more than 20 metres) which flooded: the aim of the new company was to build a canalization made of hollow oaks, through which water could be drained in the Thiriau creek. The utilization of wood ventilation ducts allowed also the Grand Conduit company to build new pits and satisfy the increasing demand for coal. Because business was very good, a second wood canalization was built between 1727 and 1747; in 1802 Grand Conduit was an established mining company with 5 pits: Sainte-Barbe, le Bois, le Moulin, l’Avancée and la Grispagne. The Bois pit was equipped in 1779 with a steam engine designed by Thomas Newcomen to pump water at a depth of 112 metres.

The name of the company was changed in “Société de Bois-du-Luc” in 1807 and a massive modernization of the equipments started, with the introduction of the Watt engine, the electric power, the lifts and more. The Saint-Emmanuel pit was opened in 1846 on the left bank of the Thiriau: the deep of the extraction pit reached 558 metres and there was also a drainage pit, located in a building which hosted since 1921 the shower rooms for women. At the beginning of the XX century another building was built between the former two, where the shower rooms for men, the lamp room and the foremen hall took place. Saint-Emmanuel was completed with the building of the headframe on the extraction pit in 1913, while the electric sub-station and the ventilator hall followed around 1920. A famous landmark of the Bois-du-Luc are the guillotine gates: they were built in 1896 to protect the workshops, the offices and the extraction structures from the destructive fury of the miners during strikes and demonstrations. Their medieval style aimed also to impress and even scare the people from rebellion against the power of the mining barons. The offices took place in a courtyard which includes also the workshops, where metals, wood and other materials were worked and the equipments were repaired, following the autarchic logic of the Bois-du-Luc mining city; the rich decorations and the expensive furnitures (all made in the nearby workshops!) in the director’s office express again the power and the high self-awareness of the Bois-du-Luc managers. Between the Saint-Emmanuel pit and the courtyard there’s the house of the director, sometimes called “château”: in fact not only its guests, but also its dominant position in order to control everything happened in the surrounding settlement should remind something like a castle. The decision to build the director’s villa in the mining site to keep all under control came in 1844, but the actual edifice was built in 1916.

The centennial mining experience of the Bois-du-Luc ended in 1973, during the vast coal crisis that hit western Europe in that period, when the closure of the site in Trivières (Saint-Emmanuel stopped exploitation in 1959) was the definitive end of the mining economy around La Louvière. The coke ovens and the coal washing structures were demolished, but the other buildings were preserved, restored and became part with the beautiful workers’ settlement of the Bois-du-Luc Ecomuseum, which opened in 1983 and became one of the forerunners in the European industrial heritage.

Where: La Louvière, B     50°28’12.23″N  4° 8’57.08″E

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