Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has made its way to Le Bouscat. This time we are headed for the leafy Parc de la Chêneraie to explore its...

Castel d’Andorte: ghosts of centuries past in Le Bouscat’s Parc de la Chêneraie

Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has made its way to Le Bouscat. This time we are headed for the leafy Parc de la Chêneraie to explore its centrepiece, a mysterious 18th-century mansion known as the Castel d’Andorte.

For many centuries the surrounding area had comprised of farmland and vineyards and regularly changed hands: it was the property of the chapitre of Bordeaux’s Saint-Seurin basilica for a number of years, then the legal counsel Arnaud de Ferron in the 16th century, followed by Étienne Duval, a knight who was also the Seigneur of Castets-en-Dorthe. In the 18th century Duval sold the land onto one Abbé (abbot) Laborde, a dean within the Saint-Seurin chapter.

It was Laborde who decided to construct the mansion house which remains to date, as well as adding a winery, a vat-house, a chapel, an orangerie, stables, gardens and rows of vines. Work was completed in 1785. The designs were handled by the architect François Lhote, who had built a solid reputation over previous years, delivering townhouses such as Hôtel Piganeau and Hôtel de Basquiat in Bordeaux, and Château Plaisance in Macau. He would also later go on to design Château la Louvière in Léognan.

Castel d'Andorte today.
As so often with endeavours that took place in the 1780s, everything was to change for good when the French Revolution occurred in 1789. Laborde fled overseas and the mansion became State property, only to be sold on to the first of a succession of new landlords. Come the 1840s, the estate belonged to Dr Pierre Desmaisons, whose main claim to fame was that he was the nephew of Dr Guillotin, the man who invented the guillotine.

Desmaisons was a failed artist who had switched career paths. Inspired by time spent working in a psychiatric hospital with an acquaintance, his plan was to open his own establishment, catering for wealthy patients who sadly suffered from mental disorders. In 1845 the “asylum” started out as a small concern, with a capacity of six patients, tended to by Desmaisons alone. Over time the institution expanded, welcoming more patients and additional staff. As well as offering activities such as reading, billiards, gardening and cookery, the abundant greenery was idyllic for patients. Its reputation was such that people even came from abroad to be treated in Le Bouscat.

The tiny chapel is located alongside the mansion.
Inside the courtyard.
In his 1848 essay Quelques considérations sur la folie, Dr Jean-Marc Dupuy filed a report of a visit to Castel d'Andorte. He refers to the “appartements fort beaux” (very beautiful apartments) where the patients resided. Dupuy also explains that the wings either side of the main building were given over to male and female patients respectively. He writes that the immediate courtyard was used by “aliénés paisibles” (the more gentle and manageable patients) for their exercise while a second closed section was dedicated to the livelier “aliénés agités ou furieux”. Finally, Dupuy mentions that “patients, when not agitated, can wander in the sumptuous alleys under the watchful eye of wardens, or else follow their doctor’s advice by picking up a hoe, and work on getting better by digging the soil”. (“Les malades, lorsqu’ils ne sont pas agités, viennent, sous la surveillance des gardiens, se promener dans de délicieuses allées, ou bien, prenant la pioche sur les conseils du médecin, travaillent à leur guérison en bêchant la terre.”)

Management duties were eventually handed on to Desmaisons’s successor, Dr Lalanne and later Dr Charonne, and the institution went on to operate until October 1968. The municipality subsequently acquired the domain and later the buildings, converting the area into a scenic park that they opened to the general public. And that is how things remain: the Parc de la Chêneraie site is now home to a children’s play area, the municipal music school, a crèche and holiday day-care centre, and small units in one of the mansion’s wings are used as community meeting rooms (salles du Carré).

Parts of the mansion are in need of some serious tender loving care.
The mansion itself has, since 1965, been listed as an historic monument but at present serves no purpose whatsoever. Many of its windows have been boarded up and the building looks like it would provide an ideal setting for a haunted house movie. But the town has called on locals to dream up its future: in 2015 an issue of the municipal magazine even included a form so that readers could submit their ideas. Whatever plans are rolled out will be done so in conjunction with architects from Bâtiments de France in order to deliver a project which is in keeping with the building’s legacy. 

Perhaps one day the ghostly mansion will therefore come back to life. Watch this space!

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