Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hemp, or chanvre, as it is known in 'L'Hexagone', has been around for a long time and has played a large role in French history. In 1719, there were laws for the encouragement of its growth and free trade in France, with demands for imports to be restricted. Naturally, the merchants published a lengthy rebuttal to this proposed isolationism.
With government backing, hemp stores were set up in Bretagne, Nantes, Port Louis, Rouen, Guyenne & Langdoc, Valence, Clermont, Auxonne, Charite, Moulins and Saumur.
In 1758, M. Marcandier, a magistrate for Bourges, published his Traite du Chanvre, a book in much demand then, reprinted recently by John Hanson in 1996 (the 6th edition).
The importance of hemp led Napoleon to try to restrict Russian supplies to the British, a ploy which was none too successful.
An 1841 record noted of hemp in many departments as follows:
Anjou: provided the most, classed according to locations, with the deisgnations of No. 1,2,3. Daguenieres produced the coarsest, used only for maritime purposes, which was what most of the hemp in Anjou and all of Loire was used for; hemp gorwn in Saumur, Bourgueil and Chinon were all used this way.
The best qaulity was to be found in the valley, past Ce bridge and upto Chalonnes, where textile grade hemp was produced. On the Briolay coast, there were more grades, No. 1 being the best.
Maine and Normandie: both principally produced fine fibre for cloth in great quantity. Buyer beware, however, as there was also a lot around with the hurds not properly skutched out..
Picardy: a large quantity, with varying degress of quality, generally fine, but not the strongest.
Champagne: mostly of very good quality, classed as chanvre fin femelle, demi-fin, 1er moyen, 2e moyen and marin.
Alsace: much produced here, and in Lorraine as well, the majority of which is used for fabric and fishing nets; one of the qualities noted for the hemp of this region was its ability to withstand water. The author noted that it could be difficult to work on mechanical processes.
Vendee, Aunis, Saintange: all produced a like quality, citing of very good quality at Cote de Marans, which was of a good white colour and great fineness, handmade threads attaining over No. 20-25 anglais (12,000 - 15,000
It was noted that many other areas produced hemp but mainly for local consumption at that time, and that some amount of hemp was bought in from Russia and Italy.
In 1861 French manufacturers were interested in American claims that hemp, and other long fibres could be 'cottonised', but this never materialised for either country.
The changes in shipping lessened the demand for hemp over the years, with production in 1936 being restrained almost entirely to Bretagne and Anjou, with the retting done then in running water. It was interesting to find that at that time, the hurds were sold to paper manufacturers who made with them papier mi-fin.
Today France produces hemp for a number of products, from insulation, to paper, to hemp seed oil. Hemp for paper is often produced in the south, then shipped to the northeasternmost province of Spain, where it is pulped.
France is the leading grower of hemp in Europe, and it is expected that cultivation will continue to increase. As with many western nations, the infrastructure for textile production has long since disappeared, thus the chance of hemp textile production is slim. However, the plethora of other products made with hemp will give the French farmers a ready market.

No comments: