In the Saint-Genès district of Bordeaux stands a mansion house with Victorian traits which wouldn’t look out of place in the UK. Today it...

Exshaw’s mansions: little Britain in Bordeaux and Cussac-Fort-Médoc

In the Saint-Genès district of Bordeaux stands a mansion house with Victorian traits which wouldn’t look out of place in the UK. Today it is the regional head office of a trade union but the building is still known to many as Hôtel Exshaw, in reference to the man who commissioned its construction: the original owner Frédérick Exshaw. And the mansion has a virtual twin in the Médoc!

The Exshaw family were wealthy traders in cognacs and “eaux de vie” spirits who had permanently relocated from their native Ireland to Bordeaux in 1805. Frédérick was born in 1826 and, around the early 1880s, he commissioned architect Louis Michel Garros (best-known in Bordeaux as the man behind the 1865 fountain on Place du Parlement) to design a mansion inspired by the houses that were all the rage in Britain during this Victorian era.

Frédérick Exshaw,
At the time the Saint-Genès mansion was surrounded by extensive grounds which have since given way to smaller residential properties. Indeed, access to Hôtel Exshaw would have been via a long driveway that led from Rue Saint-Genès, while it now lies on Rue Théodore-Gardère (which cuts right through what would have been the mansion’s gardens). But Hôtel Exshaw still stands apart from its less illustrious neighbours with its bow windows, stone mullions and gables that do make it resemble a little piece of England in Bordeaux. (As Louis-Michel Garros had never crossed the Channel, he had looked to literature about architecture for inspiration.)

The original grounds were the work of landscape gardener Eugène Bühler. To maintain the British feel, the garden’s most prominent feature was its grass, intercut with Alpine forget-me-nots, rhododendrons, pansies and azaleas. More exotic plants were cultivated in a heated greenhouse. One observer described it all as a “véritable tapis de verdure”. The “veritable carpet of greenery” is long gone for the most part, although it is said that two conifers and an oak tree from the Exshaw era can still be seen in some of the now-private gardens on Rue Théodore-Gardère.
Hôtel Exshaw as it looks today in its trade union HQ incarnation.
It would appear that the mansion’s existence in that form was short-lived and that following Frédérick Exshaw’s death in 1902 the mansion became State property, spending much of the 20th century as an educational establishment. It initially became an annex of Lycée Camille-Jullian and remained so until 1961, when it was transferred to Lycée Magendie and later Collège Alain-Fournier. The latter was spread out over three separate locations until brought together on a single site on Rue Saint-Genès. In recent years the mansion has been loaned out by the Mairie de Bordeaux to the local branch of the CFDT trade union movement.

That, then, is Bordeaux, but how about the Médoc connection? The house where Frédérick Exshaw died on June 18th 1902 was his family’s country residence, 48 kilometres to the north, in Cussac-Fort-Médoc. He had purchased the land in 1880 from the Caupène family, who had inherited it from local dignitary Sire de La Chesnaye. Delivered in 1882, the mansion house had been built around the same time as the Saint-Genès residence, had also been executed to the designs of Louis-Michel Garros, and too incorporated a number of features reminiscent of the British architecture of the time (which had also inspired the design of the neighbouring Château Lanessan).

Château Lachesnaye, the Médoc residence where Exshaw died.
The château seemingly remained in the Exshaw family until 1961 when it was taken over by Jean Bouteiller, father to the current owners. Bouteiller set about reviving the château’s wine production which had been halted by the financial crash of 1929 subsequently combined with the harsh winters of 1945 and 1956. Vines were replanted en masse and by 1971 Château Lachesnaye was back up to full steam – and has reportedly flourished ever since.

And, unlike its Saint-Genès counterpart, Château Lachesnaye still enjoys the luxury of wide open spaces all around, enabling its distinctive silhouette to clearly stand out on the horizon!

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