The Eperlecques blockhaus – learning to like doilies

I’ve always had a dislike for fuss. I didn’t want to be fussed around as a kid and never liked any of the signs of fuss like lacework, frills, chintz – in fact, all the things that my grandparent’s generation seemed so enamoured by.

The paper doily seemed to sum it up. Being offered a slice of Victoria sponge cake by an old aunt is nice enough. Cake isn’t my thing, but it’s the thought that counts. Similarly, the floral patterned plate it comes on is fine. Again, not my choice, but each to their own. What used to get me was that little bit of frilly paper with holes in it sandwiched between the two. What’s the point? It’s just unnecessary fuss.

At least that was how I felt until I visited the Blockhaus at Eperlecques.

The Blockhaus was built in 1943 to provide a massive bunker to assemble and unleash the V1 and V2 revenge weapons against Britain.

It was made to a simple and practical design in the shape of a cuboid. 120,000 cubic metres of concrete was to be used to create an impenetrable factory. Thousands of slave labourers were drafted in and worked remorselessly to build it. But it was all for nothing. Germany no longer had air superiority and the allies were able to bomb it before the concrete had dried.

So it remains a memorial, a folly and also a lesson in architecture.

It is a perfect expression of form and function using the Brutalists’ favourite material – concrete.

Walking around the outside, it is hard not to feel both awestruck and belittled. But stepping inside was chilling. It is cold, even in summer, thanks to its size and dampness. But the real chill comes from being within such a vast unforgiving structure designed to annihilate cities full of people and build by people literally worked to death.

Later on, whilst looking for somewhere to eat in nearby Saint Omer, I noticed something different. The frowzy places with checked tablecloths, lace curtains, menus offering traditional home cooking now seemed appealing. It was an overt display of humanity and care. That fussiness was nice.

My doily-phobia is now cured.


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