Deep in the elegant Ville d’Hiver district of Arcachon sits a quiet square: Place Fleming (originally Place des Palmiers). Landmark...

Arcachon’s Place Fleming, part 1: Reverend Radcliff’s paper chases and handbooks

Deep in the elegant Ville d’Hiver district of Arcachon sits a quiet square: Place Fleming (originally Place des Palmiers). Landmarks include its bandstand and a church that, since 1974, has belonged to the Église Réformée de France movement. However, the chapel was originally an Anglican church built to serve Arcachon’s British community and founded in 1878 by one Reverend Samuel Radcliff.

Rev. Radcliff enjoying
a round of golf (source).
Radcliff was a learned British clergyman with a ZZ Top-style beard (that’s not how it was known at the time) who had contracted pneumonia in England. As his condition worsened, he made the decision to leave his homeland in search of the pure ocean air of Arcachon, where he arrived in 1866. The decision was the right one as he gradually recovered. He chose to stay in Arcachon where he became one of the figureheads of a lively community of British expatriates.

Some of the expats formed an Anglican congregation who would gather in the  (original) Reformed Church of France temple in central Arcachon. Under the impetus of Radcliff, they funded the construction of this, their own Anglican chapel in the Ville d’Hiver. Saint Thomas church, as it became known, was officially inaugurated in October 1878 with the Right Reverend John Jackson, Bishop of London, travelling over especially for the occasion.


Samuel Radcliff’s influence continued to spread throughout the town. He would organise popular horseback paper chases, which would see him setting off from the Place des Palmiers bandstand ahead of the participants to scatter enigmas and clues around Arcachon.


In 1895, he was also one of the founders, with the Irish expatriate William Exshaw, of Arcachon’s golf course, not to mention one of the most regular of the Golf & Country Club Society golfers on the greens! The course was located in the Aiguillon district to the west of Arcachon. The municipality later acquired the course and operations were subsequently transferred to the heights above the town where it remains today: it is now known as Golf International d’Arcachon.

Radcliff became such an authority on Arcachon that he penned a guidebook for fellow Britons who might be thinking of visiting or even moving to the town. The book was released in 1883 by the London publisher Thomas Laurie and went by the title of “Handbook to Arcachon”, coupled with this snappy subtitle: “Arcachon, in the department of Gironde, France, its advantages as a health resort”.


The book’s 60 pages still make for a delightful read, as Radcliff tells all about Arcachon’s “geographical position and accessibility”, its “weather and influence of climate”, “education, society and amusements” and much more (there are ten short chapters in all). 

Radcliff’s hints on “housekeeping” are particularly interesting, as he details the wages of housemaids, cooks, butlers and “chefs de cuisine”: “In addition to their wages, servants expect to have their washing done; and also require half a litre of wine per diem… The cooks who go to market receive from the tradespeople a percentage on the amount of their bills. On this account people who wish to economize had better do their own marketing; not that they will buy things for less than the cooks can, but because they have not the temptation the cooks have to make the bills as high as possible.”

Happily, the book can still be purchased and, on Google’s Internet Archive, a scanned copy of the whole book (as stored at the Bodleian Library in Oxford) is available to read!

In all, Reverend Radcliff spent around 45 years in Arcachon up until his death around 1911, but his legacy lives on. However, his is not the only British tale to be told in Arcachon as can be seen in the second part of this post, along with an update on the more recent history of the church…

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