1 rue Louis Berryer, 61700 Dompierre.
MAY to JUL Mon-Fri 9-12, 14:30-18.
AUG Mon-Fri 9-12, 14:30-18, Sun 14:30-18.
SEP Mon-Fri 9-12, 14:30-18.
Guided tours: Adults EUR 3.
|Mining Museum Iron Mine
|Incandescent Electric Light System
|self guided, D=30 min.
|Maison du Fer, 1 rue Louis Berryer, 61700 Dompierre, Tel: +33-233-38-03-25. 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.
|furnaces at La Ferrière-aux-Etangs.
|oldest traces of mining at La Ferrière-aux-Etangs.
|furnaces at Saint-Clair-de-Halouze.
|Saint-Clair-de-Halouze mine opened.
|iron mines of Orne opened.
|calcination furnaces of La Butte Rouge opened.
|calcination furnaces of La Butte Rouge closed.
|Saint-Clair-de-Halouze mine opened.
|last iron mines closed.
The Maison du Fer (House of Iron) is located at the tiny village Dompierre, and dedicated to the iron mines and forges of the Bocage Ornais. The main topics are the geological formation of iron ore, the steel industry in the Bocage from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, and the iron mines of the Département de l'Orne. Tools, helmets, miners' lamps, wagons, and other items are on display. There are scenes of working miners, but actually not a real mine replica. The exhibition has documents, historic photographs, maps, and a large model of the Saint-Clair-de-Halouze iron mine. It also explains the processing of the iron ore in furnaces. A film with testimonies of former miners and archive images of both the mines of Saint-Clair-de-Halouze and La Ferrière-aux-Etangs is shown.
The iron ore was processed by smelting in calcination furnaces. If you follow the road D21 north, you will reach La Butte Rouge, where nine of those rare furnaces were operated between 1901 and 1938. Two of them were lately restored, also the remains of the tunnels for loading iron ore are accessible. Calcination furnaces are quite rare and so this site is quite exceptional. It's only possible to visit the exterior of the site, so it is accessible without restrictions, although we strongly recommend daylight hours.
The newest addition is the restauration of the grounds of the Saint-Clair-de-Halouze mine. The main sight is obviously the 40 m high steel headframe of 360 m deep shaft n° 1. It was originally built in the Siegerland in Germany in 1917 for the Stahlberg mine. Then it was relocated to the Huth mine. In 1949, it was transferred to the Saint-Clair-de-Halouze mine as war reparation. The mine was built in this form around 1949 and was operated until 1978; it was among the last which were closed. Other buildings are the recipe building, crushing building, engine room, ore storage silos, miners' changing rooms and showers.
Mining of iron probably started in the iron age, aka Roman times, but there was definitely open casts mining during the Middle Ages. Peasant-miners cut down the ore using picks and large blocks of ore were broken with a sledgehammer. Several centuries of exploitation have led to immense trenches, sometimes several kilometers long and up to 15 m deep. The ore was transported on horseback to the forges where it was processed to produce iron. The furnaces were clay ovens one or two meters high, the ore was reduced to extract the iron. The burl was reworked on the anvil of a forge, to rid it of its impurities and obtain pure iron. The forests provided the charcoal for the smelting.
In the 16th century, a new process for producing iron was developed, which was called the procédé indirect (indirect process). In the first smelting of the ore, pig iron with a high carbon content was produced, in the second step the carbon was reduced and the iron became wrought iron. This method was developed in Belgium in the middle of the 14th century and was also called the Walloon process. It became widely used in the 16th century in France, in England, ande even in Sweden. Here in the Bocage Ornais, the first blast furnaces were Saint-Clair-de-Halouze (1530), Larchamp (1566) and Varenne (1586). The peak of the furnaces were Bagnoles-de-l'Orne (1612) and La Sauvagère (1646). The only remaining is Forge de Varenne in Champsecret, which is classified as a Historic Monument.
The mining went underground in the middle of the 19th century with the beginning of the industrial revolution. The need for cast iron and steel was colossal. With the use of coke instead of charcoal and the development of the steam engine and explosives for mining, the production increased. The iron deposits of the Bocage Ornais were exploited in three mining concessions:
The iron ores were between 100 m and 400 m below ground, and so the first shafts were sunk in the early 20th century. During the 1950s a depth of 400 m was reached. Normandy had a dozen iron mines, each employed nearly 500 miners and workers. And then there were the iron works. Half of the miners and workers came from foreign countries like Poland, Italy, Spain and others. This economic backbone of the region collapsed in the 1970s. In general, the reason was lower costs on the world market. In this case, it seems the iron mines of Mauritania in particular were the problem. This French colony had higher quality ore, much lower wages, and the mining was open cast and thus much cheaper. And so the iron age in the Bocage Ornais ended.
The Maison du Fer is actually a small museum, but it explains the local history and informs visitors about the other sites in the area. Many can be visited freely.