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The creative process

Gaillac Quay was where?

We are looking for information dated to the 1850’s when the river traffic was at its height.

The museum would like to know; has little information and I am researching for a painting to be loosely in the style of the popular and very collectable ‘The Port of Chester 1863’.



Maybe some private sources of information, photos, paintings, plans and descriptions exist but where and with whom?

Would an article in Le depeche produce leads?


Today, or more especially this afternoon was full of surprises following a meeting started at the Abbey Michael, Gaillac in front of the Abbey at 14.00 with Bertrand de Vivies, Conservateur du Patrimone and Frank Baldock, Canadian journalist, wine and commerce specialist (see winexpress).  Bertrand___Frank_IMG_4557_wp.JPG

I was ably assisted with translations by Frank, with reading the land and our trying to visualise what was where and when as we searched and researched the quay and wine trade from Gaillac.


We had a wide ranging discussion and walked the land both sides of the Abbey.


Results were inconclusive.

4 Changes of my mind resulted re where the quay was thus changes of probable perspective, by as much as 180 degrees and no certain result.

Where was the old Quay or quays?


Further reading:


  • The quay
  • The watermill
  • The Abbey
  • The barges
  • Weir
  • Bridges
  • Summary of questions


The quay:

Bertrand de Vivies confirmed the quay was a busy place with a history as old as Gaillac; exports included wine, indigo, charcoal and wheat.

He said that by the mid 19th century Gaillac had a population of about 9,000 souls and has grown faster in the last 40 years than at any time in its history but then Midi Pyrenees is the fastest growing region of France…

However, the old town is nearest the old quay, the two are intimately linked.  Jacob__s_ladder__Gaillac_IMG_4568_wp.JPG


The Quai Saint Jacque where most people reasonably think the quay was on closer examination the land today, water depth and currents don’t fit the scenario well.

Goods and boats were probably handled from there but we doubt it was the principal quay.

Charles de Noblet first brought this to my attention. Rue du Quai IMG_4562 wp_1.JPG

He knows much of the history, the river, currents and fishing very well and after reading the currents I am sure he is right.


Could this be damage caused by The Great Flood of May 1930?  Gaillac_ariel__1930_d.jpg

Thus important enough to warrant an Ariel photo and post card…


Some what surprisingly he said neither the museum nor town archives have old photos or maps of the location and knows of none, not even military maps.

Many early records were burnt during the religious wars when Protestants over ran Gaillac but that does not explain the lack of 19 th century information.


I was very surprised; surely there are maps and photos, maybe in a private collection but who has them and where?


The plot thickened:

Having walked the terrain together and discussed the history we think there are 4 possible sites for the old quay.

By reading the river currents, terrain, looking for ‘artefacts’, allowing for commercial and historical pressures and listening to Bertrand the most likely 19 th century quay is immediately South of the abbey with an older quay north of the abbey hard by the watermill.

Where though is the proof?


The present watermill is most likely 19th century but when built?  Le_Tarn_a_Gaillac_IMG_4529_wp.JPG

The land and river suggests strongly a mill has existed on that site pre the weir for a very long time.

It is very likely an old quay existed beside the mill before the abbey expanded to its present size.

This quay most likely fell into disuse once the abbey expanded and besides that, the quay south of the abbey is nearer the olde bridge and late cable ferry.  Abbee_St_Michel_IMG_4469_d.JPG

According to Charles de Noblet there was an old quay on the opposite bank were the medieval bridge and later, a cable ferry crossed the river.

After our meeting on Bertrand’s advice, Frank and I found 3 illustrations of paintings in a couple of locally published books however again we were left with more questions than answers because while in there are many fascinating details it was clear much was inaccurate.

All in all inconclusive, not much to go on…

The nineteenth century quay remains my principal interest.


The Abbey:

The Abbey Michael was built while a cable ferry operated on the river, to present and imposing face to the Toulouse road Bertrand is if I understand correctly of the opinion the Abbey and fore shore changed little after the revolution (when some cloisters were destroyed).

It would be helpful to confirm this.


The barges:

Bertrand de Vivies said properties along the Quai Saint Jacques which used to be the main road from and to Toulouse were occupied by barge captains and used to store goods and for boat building.  Gaillac_warehouses_IMG_4490_d.JPG

There were a number of different types of barge.

Where are pictures and models?

We know most Tarn barges in common with many other European small craft set a square sail, were generally horse or man drawn (warped) up river and sailed or drifted down river.

Was a particular breed of horse used to pull the barges ?

The latter technique is understood by sea men, using a weight to brush the river bottom to keep the vessel head to current and the rudder to steer her in the current.


Gaillac museum has one model of a barge.

That barge worked from Albi to Bordeaux.

Bertrand de Vivies confirmed that until the mid 19 th century Gaillac was the navigable head of the Tarn after which over some 40 years a ‘canal’ or navigable, marked route was cleared between Gaillac and Albi.

This monumental work had a very brief life.

After 20 years a railway arrived rapidly ending the Albi barge traffic.



The present weir in more or less its present form appears in paintings that seem (unconfirmed) to be of the celebrations for the opening of the suspension bridge. When was the present weir built, has it been modified, what was there before it?



We know the present bridge was completed in 1938 replacing an earlier suspension bridge built approximately 1850.  Le Tarn a Gaillac IMG_4554 wp_1.JPG

We have a couple of illustrations of the suspension bridge, more would be very helpful.

The oldest bridge was built about 1350.

Remains and its defensive tower can still be seen in the old city wall about 200 meters south of the Abbey.  Gaillac_Oldest_bridge_IMG_4548_wp.JPG

On the opposite bank (in the next commune) the roadways that lead to it still exists on property owned by Charles de Noblet.

It was built on 2 stone piles with a wooden roadway and destroyed during the 100 years war by the Plantagenet armies (English).

That bridge was replaced by a cable ferry until the suspension bridge was built.


Thus if like The Port of Chester 1863 this proposed new painting is to be a ‘best historical guess we need much more information or it will be more guess than historical document!


Specifically information dated to the1850’s


  1. Where was the old Quay or quays; 4 possible sites for the old quay, which was the principal quay during the height of the river trade (mid 19th century)?
  2. Has the abbey and fore shore changed since 1850, if so how did it appear then?
    The present watermill is most likely 19th century but when built?
  3. Where are barge pictures and models?
  4. Was a particular breed of horse used to pull the barges ?
  5. When was the present weir built, has it been modified, what was there before it?


Ladies and gentlemen, tarts and sailors, Your answers please…