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The Wash-Houses of Brest

Today, although 30 wash-houses remain in Brest, only five of them are used for their primary function: washing clothes.

While some are now no longer in use, others have been renovated and given a second life.
The wash-house in rue Conseil was renovated in June and is now intended as a place of life for residents and neighbourhood associations. As for the wash-house in rue Saint-Malo, it has been hosting a number of shows for the past few years.

Brest, a city destroyed during the Second World War and which heritage was lost during the Allied bombings?
Not at all! "Many people think that Brest has no heritage", says Christine Berthou-Ballo, head of the Heritage Department of Brest. "Yet, many buildings dating from before the war can be seen today." An example of this architectural trace of the town's history? The wash-houses, built at the end of the 19th century, like the one on rue Conseil or rue Saint-Malo.

30 wash-houses in Brest
Today, according to the latest census carried out by the city in 2009, 30 wash-houses are identified in Brest. "Five of them are still used as wash-houses", explains Hervé Séguineau, director of the city's sanitation department. "There is the wash-house of rue Jules-Lesven, but also those of Kerangoff, Kerraros, Pen Ar Rhun and rue Brigadier Le Cann". Closed to the public, they are accessible to all during daytime. You just need to ask for the key at the local town halls.

As Hervé Séguineau points out, "there are still people who come to wash their clothes, but it is on the fringe. The wash-house on rue Jules-Lesven is nonetheless frequently used. The regulars know that they are going to meet their friends there. This is also a part of the function of the wash-house, being a neighbourhood meeting place". And what about the other wash-houses in Brest? Some are unused, others, like those in Kervao in Lambézellec and in Hyppolite-Rolland square in Saint-Pierre, are incorporated into green spaces and converted into ponds.

Cultural spaces
There are also some whose function has been completely rethought. This is the case of the wash-houses in rue Saint-Malo, in Recouvrance and rue Conseil, in Saint-Martin. "At the washhouse in rue Saint-Malo, 80 women could wash their clothes simultaneously," says Mireille Cann, founder of the association Vivre la rue, which runs the wash-house. We've been organising shows here for 10 years now, and when we first started, the washerwomen still came here".

Today, the place is no longer used for its original function.
The wash-house now serves a strictly cultural function. Concerts of the famous "Petites Lessives" take place there during the summer, as well as dance and theatre performances. "This 400 m² space allows covered and contained shows. A stage, a bar and restrooms have been built to make the place a real cultural space. We are planning to carry out renovations to achieve a better sound quality and we are hoping to make dressing rooms in the house adjoining the wash-house.

The wash-house in rue Conseil renovated
As for the Conseil wash-house, the PL Guérin, the neighbourhood residents and the City have pushed the concept even further. In June, this wash-house, " abandoned for half a century ", according to Yann Roue, animator at the PL Guérin, was entirely renovated. Today, a basin still filled with water, has been vegetated. The second basin can also be refilled for shows. A parcel of the land has even been converted into a community garden.

"The idea was to make the place accessible to associations and residents who want to organise events. We have hosted the Foire aux croûtes, the association Vert le Jardin has organised Le bal des pépins and the place will be open every Saturday until All Saints' Day"."It's great to be able to rehabilitate a place steeped in history and give it a new purpose", concludes Christine Berthou-Ballot. "Heritage should not be static, it should be kept alive."
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