On a quiet side street in the right-bank quarter of La Bastide, all the available space on the façade of an otherwise unassuming building...

Crèche de la Bastide: (still) helping youngsters to blossom

On a quiet side street in the right-bank quarter of La Bastide, all the available space on the façade of an otherwise unassuming building is filled with a host of inscriptions: welcome to the Crèche de la Bastide.

The Crèche was founded in 1891 by the local dignitary Charles Cazalet (1858-1933), at one time deputy mayor of Bordeaux. This successful wine trader was seeking to give something back to the district where he was born and brought up.

He had gone on to achieve great things in diverse areas: in 1884 Cazalet founded and chaired the sporting association Société de Gymnastique La Bastidienne, and was chairman of the Union des Sociétés de Gymnastique de France from 1896 to 1930. And, as secretary of a company that was founded in 1892 - Œuvre des Bains-Douches à Bon Marché -, he even played a key role in making public showering facilities available to the masses (the company’s slogan was “La propreté donne la santé”, good health through cleanliness!).

The creation of the La Bastide Crèche was part of a wider phenomenon that began in France earlier in the 19th century. Crèches aimed to relieve “ouvrières” (working mothers) of their daytime childcare commitments (although it was usually possible to return at mealtimes if the child was still being breastfed), thus freeing them up to remain in full-time employment - which at the time meant six days a week.

A crèche was a sensible alternative to leaving their child at home, whether alone or under the supervision of an elder sibling, and a cheaper alternative to hiring a nanny, which was well beyond the financial means of all but the wealthiest families. Many early crèches were funded by local industry entrepreneurs who thus sought to preserve their female workforce. In 1897, a nationwide decree established the precise rules and responsibilities of crèches throughout the land. The Bastide establishment met the criteria established by the State and was therefore officially approved as being "d'utilité publique" (a public-interest organisation), a fact which is proudly recorded on the façade.

There's nothing quite like a bit of Victor Hugo written on a wall is there? These lines are from the poem "Lorsque l'Enfant Paraît" which appeared in the 1831 collection "Les Feuilles d'Automne".
Initially, the Crèche de La Bastide had been located at number 139 on the busy thoroughfare that is the nearby Avenue Thiers. It remained there for 17 years, until 1908, before moving to these premises built on land generously donated by one Edmond Sursol, whose name was given to the building (Local Edmond Sursol, see top photo). Construction work was funded by the French State, the city of Bordeaux and the women’s society Comité des Dames.

Working mothers could leave their children with the Crèche in exchange for the princely sum of 0.10 franc per day. As well as watching over children up to the age of three, the institution provided free medical checkups. According to the inscription on the wall, either Dr Gautier or Dr Phelippot could be seen every Thursday at “precisely 3.30”.

The years have passed and more modern crèche facilities have opened elsewhere in the area, but the philosophy of this building remains the same. It is now a care institution known as the Foyer d'Accueil Montméjan (officially registered as a Maison d’Enfants à Caractère Social, or “MECS”).

The Foyer provides 24-hour sheltered accommodation for up to 11 youngsters, and provides daytime supervision and care for a further 27. It aims to offer “material, educational and pedagogical support” to teenagers and their families, as well as to young adults who “are faced with social difficulties that put their personal situations in jeopardy”. The words above the front door therefore still ring true: helping the little ones to grow and develop indeed…


  1. That is really interesting. I cannot imagine a creche at 0.10 franc per day, child care is so expensive nowadays. Diane

  2. The underlying philosophy has changed over the years, hasn't it...