Walloons

By Karin Monié. Translation: Aidan Allen

The development of Lövstabruk into a major ironworks was closely related to an influx of Walloons in the 17th century. Their numbers, by modern standards, were not large. In total these labour migrants consisted of around a thousand people. Most were recruited when the Dutch industrialist Louis De Geer established himself in Sweden and present-day Finland. At his works in northern Uppland, Norrköping and Finspång, and the Nyköping area, they made their mark on society in various ways. Lövstabruk became one of the most important industrial works associated with Walloons.

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Large amounts of charcoal were needed to make bar iron. Walloons introduced the resmila charcoal pile. The image shows a resmila in Uppland, 1940. photo: Uppland Museum.

The migrants – forge workers, charcoal makers, woodcutters, drivers and others – brought new techniques for producing charcoal and working iron. Many settled in Lövstabruk and made their mark on the working culture of the area. In the 18th century this part of the population contributed to the Golden Age of the works.

Lövstabruk. Liten bok. Foto kolutrivning

Opening a charcoal pile. Leufsta bruk archive.

Walloons did not belong to the local middle class. The priest, schoolteacher, organist, works surgeon, clerks, accountant, innkeeper and the works director were seldom of Walloon background. The owning family had its roots in the Netherlands, yet they regarded themselves, first and foremost, as part of an age-old European aristocracy.

Among the workers, the forgemen comprised the upper class. The well-being of Lövstabruk depended entirely on their professional skill and hard work. For some time they continued to speak Walloon, a French dialect. The same language was used at work too, and the terminology of the forge maintained a Walloon flavour into the 20th century.
Some people are still familiar with words such as housette, goujar and tourneij.

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Forge workers’ homes at Stora Gatan. photo: Gabriel Hildebrand, 2018.

The De Geer family, in common with most other Walloons, were members of the Reformed Church. When Lövstabruk church was rebuilt, having been destroyed by the Russians in 1719, Reformed ideas influenced the new design, the way the building merges with its surroundings, for example. The reconstruction was carried out quickly
and efficiently. The church’s greatest treasure, the well-preserved organ built by Johan Niclas Cahman was completed in 1728. The church interior features an area of pews located at right angles to the altar, and people sitting here face the pulpit. Known as the forgemen’s area, it reflects the Reformed notion of the importance of the spoken Word of God in worship, more significant than the altar itself. However, the Lutheran Church of Sweden never allowed Reformed services to be held here.

Descendants of Lövstabruk Walloons include the Uppland bard and artist Olof Thunman. His grandfather hailed from Lövstabruk and Olof himself spent much time here, in a little cottage by Skälsjön lake. Thunman wrote in a melancholy, romantic style when describing the last of the Lövstabruk forgemen in his poems “Walloner” (Walloons) (Pan spelar, 1919), “Där hammarn tystnat” (Where the hammer fell silent), and “De sista” (The last ones) (Olandssånger, 1927).

Vallonsmedjan Lövstabruk. Hoppes målning

Interiör från Vallonsmedjan i Lövstabruk år 1912. Målning av Bruno Hoppe. Jernkontoret.