18 Site Indus.du Centre Ville, 12300 Decazeville.
MAY to JUN Wed, Fri 14-18.
JUL to AUG Tue-Sat 14-18.
|Coal Mine Replica Underground Mine
|Incandescent Electric Light System
Pascal Dessaint (2023):
1886, l’affaire Jules Watrin,
Editions Rivages, ISBN-10: 2743659114, ISBN-13: 978-2743659110.
|ASPIBD (Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Industriel du Bassin de Decazeville), Zone Industrielle du Centre, 12300 Decazeville, Tel: +33-565-43-09-18. E-mail:
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|Société des houillères et fonderies de l'Aveyron (Company of the Coal Mines and Foundries of Aveyron) founded.
|first cast iron from the Forézie blast furnace in Firmi.
|Decazeville becomes a commune.
|the number of workers exceeds those in Le Creusot.
|Watrin affair, large demonstration against his wage cuts degenerates and leads to Watrin being defenestrated and killed.
|iron mine closed.
|Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Industriel du Bassin de Decazeville (ASPIBD) founded.
|coal mine closed.
The Decazeville coal basin is like all such basins in Europe a series of Mesozoic sedimentary rock, including sandstone, marls, and limestones. During the Carboniferous coal was deposited which now forms numerous seams in the rock. The biogene material was converted into coal by a process called coalification, which is based on high pressure and temperature for a long time
The name Musée du Patrimoine Industriel et Minier (Museum of Industrial and Mining Heritage) is used by a dozen museums all over the world. We have no idea how intelligent people can be so foolish to choose such a generic name, which causes confusion and makes any Google search a pain in the ass. We will shorten it to Decazeville on this page.
Between the village Decazeville and Le Moulinou there is a huge area with lakes, forests and hills. This is actually the reclaimed area of the local open cast iron mine. On the northern side, at the town Decazeville, there is a huge industrial area with numerous huge supermarkets and other companies. This is the ground of the former furnaces. Most buildings were smashed down, but a few workshops, rather dull workshops built of bricks, survived. And one of them contains today the museum with the generic name created by a non-profit association with a long, complicated and more or less meaningless name. And despite all those annoying names, the museum is definitely worth a visit.
Two exhibition halls with an exhibition space of 600 m² present mining and iron and steel processing machines and tools. There are also two mine replicas, one for a coal mine and one for an iron ore mine. The non-profit association was founded by former miners and steelworkers which intended to preserve the local industrial history for future generations.
The Decazeville basin is both the name of the geological structure, and the industrial area which was created on top. Based on the coal mines, which provided the energy, steel, zinc, glass and brick were produced in this city. The museum starts with the mining, with two artificial mine galleries, a must as the original mines are destroyed or full of water. There is a huge exhibition of miner's lamps, and the association earns some mone with the production of replicas. There is a lot of machinery needed for the mining and the transport, including an exhibit on the use of horses underground to pull the coal carts. Then there is machinery for surface transport, including different trucks. And finally there is processing machinery like the Roue de coulée continu de Zinc (Continuous Zinc Casting Wheel).
A special exhibit is the Locomobile, a steam engine used to power all types of agricultural or industrial equipment with leather belts. The vertical hearth has a capacity of 535 l water, heating surface 7.5 m², steam with a temperature of 170 °C and a pressure of 8 bars drives the steam engine. The test pressure is 14 bars.
The existence of the “puech que ard” (mountain which burns) and the “foc sulfrenc” (sulphur fire) has already been described in very old documents written in Latin. The charbonnières were exploited since the 15th century by local landowners, those were small open-cast mines on the hillside where their servants extracted the coal mainly in winter. They used large wooden shovels and wicker baskets. The coal was transported by donkey or mule to Auvergne or Rodez. At Bouquiès, the barges on the Lot river took the coal towards Cahors, Agen and Bordeaux. There, the contents and containers were sold and the bargemen returned on foot.
Even with such a small scale extraction, mining was quite profitable. Therefore, from the 13th century onwards, the nobility tried to distribute the concessions for coal mining to a privileged few, but the population vehemently resisted the king's concessionaires. With the French Revolution, the coal and iron ore mines became the property of the people. The Industrial Revolution led to the creation of capitalist companies which expanded through mergers.
In 1826, the Société des houillères et fonderies de l'Aveyron (Company of the Coal Mines and Foundries of Aveyron) was founded. Duke Decazes had been introduced to the steel industry during a stay in London, and his engineer Cabrol was also fascinated by the English industrial adventure. On Christmas Eve, 23-DEC-1828, the first cast iron came out of the Forézie blast furnace in Firmi. British workers had come to train the local workforce in brand new industrial techniques. The area was a single castle farm on a small knoll with meadows and woods overlooking the Riou-Mort stream, named Lassalle farm. The newly founded miner's town was named Decazeville after Duke Decazes. It grew rapidly around the mine shafts and factories had a population of 2,715 in 1834 when it became a commune. By 1845, the factories employed more workers than those in Le Creusot.
In 1886, the Watrin affair brought Decazeville tragically to the forefront of the media. The engineer and assistant manager Jules Watrin was from Lorraine, an area at the border to Germany, which was alternating between German and French: So the people of the basin called him the "Prussian". In a time of general recession, he embodied the economic austerity imposed by the company, whose first victims were the workers, and so he was the focus of popular displeasure. A large demonstration against his wage cuts degenerated and led to Watrin being defenestrated and killed. At the trial of the ten defendants, eight men and two women, the maximum sentence of eight years of hard labour was imposed, six defendants were acquitted. His fate gave rise to a neologism, the "watrinade" which was a term commonly used for a workmen's revolt. In 2023 a historic novel was written about the incident by Pascal Dessaint.
In 1892, the Société Nouvelle des Houillères et Fonderies de l'Aveyron was taken over by the Société Commentry-Fourchambault. Major investments were then made to modernize the infrastructure. The production of steel went steadily up, and during World War I the production of shells and grenades began. Workers from Spain, but also from Poland, came to the area. In the 1920s production was diversified, for example, by an ammonia synthesis plant, nevertheless, the recession hit the metal industry. Almost 5,000 people left the area. In the wake of World War II the local industry was revitalized, for example, by the Louvroil-Monbard-Aulnoy company (L.M.A.) which manufactured aircraft bombs. After the war, Houillères was nationalized and the factories separated. The Marshall Plan contributed to the modernisation and Usines Chimiques et Métallurgiques de Decazeville (UCMD) was founded. But the situation deteriorated further. In 1960, the Industry Minister announced the decision to close down the underground mines. Massive strikes in 1961 and 1962 aroused national interest, but in 1966 underground iron mining ended. Over the next decades other sectors were closed, and finally in 1987 the steelworks were closed.
Also worth a visit is the headframe of the Mine de la Découverte, which is only a few hundred meters to the south.