Walking down rue des Francs Bourgeois this morning I overheard one woman saying to another ‘je sais il y a un jardin caché près d’ici, mais je ne sais pas ou c’est caché’. They were standing within 20m of the entrance to Jardin Franc Bourgeois-Rosiers but I wasn’t sure that my eavesdropper’s intervention in bad French would be welcome. They might prefer to find the hidden garden for themselves.
Once you recognise the pattern of the seventeenth and eighteenth century streets in the Marais, a hidden garden is a delightful discovery but not so surprising. The blank, front walls of the hôtels particuliers were built to enclose a courtyard between the wings of the house. Generally the main rooms of the house were in the central block, set back from the street, and overlooked a garden court behind. Some of these gardens were lost to infill development in later centuries, some are still highly desirable, private gardens and others are now public green space, open to anyone who manages to find them.
Stepping through a shady passageway into this sunny, scented rose garden is a delight, even if it’s not a surprise. Like many small Paris parks it is blessed with an unmanageable name, in this case Square Saint-Gilles Grand Veneur-Pauline Roland. Take your pick. It’s a lovely garden, simply laid out around two small lawns, listed on the Ville de Paris website as a place for picnicking. Each lawn is enclosed on three sides by a trellis, generously planted with rambling roses. Low stone benches offer a resting place in the centre of the garden and there are more comfortable, wooden benches at intervals all round the perimeter path.
This green space was first enclosed in the gardens of two grand hôtels particuliers, numbers 60 and 62 rue de Turenne. It is an eighteenth century owner of number 62 who is commemorated in the name of the square. Augustin-Vincent Hennequin, marquis d’Equevilly, was captain general of the hunt to Louis XV, responsible for tents, pavilions and the équipage de sanglier – I think that means the team needed to support a boar hunt, rather than a team of wild boar… His formal job title was Capitaine général de la Vénerie du roi, abbreviated to Grand Veneur. I’m not sure that was a compliment.
The name of the square also honours Pauline Roland, a nineteenth century teacher and writer, remembered as an activist for socialist and feminist causes. As a member of the central committee of the French cooperative movement, she was arrested in 1850 when that movement was banned by the republican government. Found guilty of ‘socialism, feminism and debauchery’, she was sentenced to seven months in prison but returned to activism immediately on her release. In 1851 Pauline Roland’s part in the Parisian resistance to Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état earned her a sentence of ten years exile in Algeria. She was released from jail after appeals for clemency from the novelist George Sand and the popular chansonnier Pierre-Jean de Béranger, but died the following year.
I don’t know whether Pauline Roland ever had time to enjoy in a rose garden. The lines dedicated to her by Victor Hugo, suggest that she might have appreciated this simple but beautiful place.
Elle ne connaissait ni l’orgueil ni la haine; Elle aimait ; elle était pauvre, simple et sereine
(Roughly, ‘she knew neither pride nor hate; she loved; she was poor, uncomplicated and serene.’)