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Saint-Pol-sur-Mer (Municipality, Nord, France)

Last modified: 2006-12-23 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Saint-Pol]

Flag of Saint-Pol-sur-Mer - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 3 July 2005

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Presentation of Saint-Pol-sur-Mer

The municipality of Saint-Pol-sur-Mer (23,832 inhabitants) is located in the western suburbs of Dunkirk, in the north of France, close to the border with Belgium. The city is named after a pub (locally called estaminet, itself named after a famous local corsair!).
In the XVIIIth century, the western side of the port of Dunkirk, that is the place where Saint-Pol would be later built, was nothing but a desert land covered by dunes and swamps, bordered by the North Sea in the north and the canal of Mardyck in the south.
In 1820, Saint-Pol was a hamlet of the municipality of Petite-Synthe, with some 200 inhabitants, then known as Dornegat (the thorns' hole). The population os the hamlet increased up to 1,500 in 1869.
On 29 September 1877, the municipality of Saint-Pol-sur-Mer was created by a Decree signed by Marshal Mac-Mahon, President of the Republic. The new municipality was named after the estaminet located at the entrance of the hamlet and named Le Saint-Pol. The name of the pub was a tribute to Knight Marc-Antoine de Saint-Pol Hercourt, a lieutenant of the famous corsair from Dunkirk Jean Bart (1650-1702). People used to say "I go to Saint-Pol's" or "I go to Saint-Pol" and the name of Saint-Pol progressively replaced Dornegat.

On 13 September 1889, "sur-Mer" (on the sea) was officially added to the name of the municipality. Saint-Pol-sur-Mer was mostly inhabited by dockers working in the port of Dunkirk, the third most important port of commerce in France since 1890. There were 10,258 inhabitants in Saint-Pol in 1911. In 1912, the municipality of Dunkirk purchased from Saint-Pol the land bordering the sea in order to increase the port.
Saint-Pol-sur-Mer was no longer located on the sea, but the name of the municipality was not changed. An airfield was built in 1913 near the sea in Saint-Pol. British and French flight squadrons were stationed there during the First World War. The city was bombed several times in 1915-1918. The famous airman Georges Guynemer (1894-1917) stayed in Saint-Pol in 1917. Guynemer commanded the Cigognes (Storks) fight squadron of the French Air Force during the First World War. He is credited 53 victories and was shot down near Poelkapelle, in Belgian Flanders.

Like many towns in the north of France and Belgium, Saint-Pol-sur-Mer has a belfry, housing a jacquemart. Some 50 cities in France have kept a jacquemart, half of them being still in use. A jacquemart is an automaton striking the hour, often representing a man with a stick. Originally, a jacquemart was a spring part of the pendulum device used to mint coins and medals. The origin of the jacquemart is disputed. Some say the clocks with a striking automaton were brought back from Orient by the Crusaders; an Italian jacquemart dated 1351 wears a Turkish costume. Other say that these clocks are of Flemish origin; the oldest French jacquemart shows a prisoner captured in Kortrijk in 1382. The account of the St. Peter's chapter in London from 1298 lists the repairing of a striking automaton; a book of hours from an English abbey dating back to the XIIIth century describes an automaton hitting bells with hammers. Accordingly, the jacquemart would have been invented in England in the XIIIth century; jacquemarts seem to have disappeared from England in the XVIIIth century, with a few exceptions. At that time, grandfather clocks, personal watches and public clocks with big dials were invented: visual perception of time replaced auditive perception.
In most towns, the jacquemart was considered as a personification of the town and its glorious history, which explains why several of them were kept in spite of being of little practical use.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 3 July 2005

Flag of Saint-Pol-sur-Mer

The flag of Saint-Pol-sur-Mer, as reported by Ludovic Leu, is horizontally divided into six horizontal white and green stripes. Neither the colours nor the design of the flag have anything to do with the municipal arms, which are (GASO):
De gueules aux trois pals de vair, au chef d'or chargé d'un lambel de sable (Gules three pales vair a chief or a label sable).
This flag is strikingly similar to the historical flag of the neighbouring city of Dunkirk (six horizontal white and blue stripes).

Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 3 July 2005