1,000 years of history
From the powerful Lords of Deols to the Barons of Chateauroux, this region has left very few people indifferent to its charms. Three kings: Richard-the-Lionheart and Philip II, the Chauvigny and Conde families and Louis XV all inputted in their own way to the rise and rise of Chateauroux; the history of this town is certainly intertwined with the history of France. How about that! During the revolution Chateauroux was renamed Indre-Libre (Free-Indre) and two royal manufacturing businesses contributed to the prosperity of the town, leading to the building of Saint Andrew’s Church in Market Square and a tramway in the town during the XIXth century...So let’s find out more about Chateauroux and the surrounding region.
Deols at Raoul Castle
The Deols family precede the story of the town of Chateauroux. The Gallo-Roman presence is attested by stone sculptures, coins, ceramics, urns and the most recent discovery of a bread oven on a construction site in Saint-Christopher’s Square. Around 937, Lord Raoul Le Large abandoned his palace at Deols either for security reasons or to build an abbey which was founded in 917. He built a fortress on a hill on the left bank of the Indre River. From 1112 onwards the castle was called Raoul Castle because Raoul was a Christian name frequently chosen by the Lords of Deols for their sons. The feudal period saw a village of artisans and merchants spring up in the foothills of this fortified castle.
Hundred Years War, Barony, County and Duchy-Peerage
By the end of the XIIIth Century the castle was being squabbled over by King Philip II and the King of England, Richard-the-Lionheart. The last Lord of Deols died in 1176 on his way back from the Crusades. The principality of Deols which extended from the Cher to Gartempe fell to a little girl of five called Denise who was taken to England. In 1188, King Philip seized Raoul Castle by surprise and it wasn’t until the year 1200 that a treaty was signed recognising the suzerainty of the land of the Deols. Denise and her husband subsequently made their solemn entry back to their castle. The Hundred Years War brought considerable insecurity to the region. In 1356, the Black Prince, the son of the King of England, failed to take Raoul Castle and in a fit of pique razed the town. Looting took place a little later in 1374. The town had to be fortified and this was authorised by royal decree in 1447. Castle Raoul was rebuilt at that time. The Barony of Chateauroux became a County in 1498. Succession after the death of Andrew III of Chauvigny came to a head in 1519 with Castle Raoul being passed over to the House of Maille, and Park Castle (Balsan Castle) to the Aumont family. Heated disputes between the two families dragged on until 1612 when Henry Bourbon, the Prince of Conde bought both parcels of land. In 1627 the Seigneury became a Duchy-Peerage. His son, the Grand Conde, was not interested at all in his inheritance, other than as a convenient place to place his wife under house arrest for 24 years…
Royal boom years
Louis XV acquired the Dukedom in 1737 and a few years later in 1743 gifted it to the Marquise de Tournelle. The Lady of Chateauroux died the following year before having made her solemn entrance in the town. Royal authority was beneficial to Chateauroux with the founding of a cloth mill in 1751 (the future Balsan factory) and the new Paris-Toulouse road. Orleans and Artois promenades were designed (currently at Gambetta Square and at La Fayette). Some impressive mansions sprang up. The revolution renamed Chateauroux "Free-Indre"; the town had 8,000 inhabitants and became the county seat of the Indre department, accessible from anywhere in the region ‘within a day on horseback’.
From one revolution to another, one war to another
At the beginning of the XIXth century, work at the cloth mill picked up speed and the launch of a factory making military weapons brought employment opportunities to the working and military population. By 1847 the railway came along, bringing more prosperity to the town. In 1872 the population had exceeded 18,000 inhabitants. A tobacco factory sprang up in 1863; and with two breweries, two foundries, and cloth factories Chateauroux was now pretty well established as an industrial town. The last two wars also helped develop the Castelroussin area. An air force base was built in 1936 at Deols. This echoed the installation of the 3rd Fighter Aviation Regiment in 1920 at La Martinerie Airbase, originally founded in 1917. After the August 1944 bombings which destroyed the railway station and blew in the stained-glass windows of Saint Andrew’s Church, the town officially celebrated its liberation on 12th September 1944. By 1951 the town had 36,000 inhabitants.
1957, American glory days at "Chateauwoo"
During the Cold War the Americans decided to strengthen their military presence in Europe and Chateauroux was one of the sites selected for a NATO base, which was installed at La Martinerie in 1951. Operational within a year, its function was to redistribute spare parts for all the air forces in the Atlantic Pact. This mission and the importance of these installations made it one of the most essential NATO sites. Suddenly the town of Berry became one of the most buzzing towns in the region. The arrival of American troops in the capital of the Berry region turned the local economy upside down, both in a positive and negative way (renting crisis, prices, rural exodus…). It marked the collective memory of Castelroussins in a big way. In 1953, 7,000 people worked alongside 6,000 Americans and their families. By 1959 the stationing of American troops on the continent was reviewed. Gradually core staff was reduced until 1966. For 15 years Chateauroux had experienced its American heyday. The return to reality was painful. The departure of the Americans left a bitter taste in the mouth despite the fact that 4,000 jobs came up for grabs in the new industrial zone. All that was left was a nostalgic and superficial memory of a carefree time with dollar notes, young Americans in shiny cars and brand new products from overseas in town, all of which created the American myth which impacted on a generation of Castelroussins, including Gerard Depardieu.
Wake-up call before the new Millennium
The town changed the most in the last 50 years running up to the Millennium. This was the period of major achievements: the development of the Saint Denis and Beaulieu neighbourhoods, the subdivisions of Brassioux and Touvent, the growth of the first private real estate agencies, high schools, development of industrial zones and the first commercial centres on the edges of town…and the consequences thereof on town-centre life, pedestrianised streets, a new town hall, the beginning of plans to turn the Valley of the Indre into a place for walking and recreational activities. In 1975 the economic recession hit and there was a significant decrease in housing and many industrial zones hit a black spot. This was also the period however when initiatives were put in place to reboot the town centre: Moliere Island, Cours Saint Luc mall and the Equinoxe Cultural Centre, as well as the University Institute of Technology, and the development of the Balsan site in the immediate vicinity….
During the Noughties, Chateauroux has undergone a new development phase: brownfield development at Balsan Ecocampus, and the turning of the SEITA factory into the Colbert business centre. Bus travel became free in 2001 throughout the town and the historical centre was renovated (Monestier Square, La Fayette Square, Rue des Pavillons, etc.). Chateauroux acquired new amenities: Margotiere Athletics Stadium, and the icing on the cake, MACH 36. Things started to look rosier for the castle and key real estate operations are about to be completed with the Exelmans residence, part of the ‘Coeur d’Agglo’ municipal project.