Boulevard des Batignolles

Arrondissement 17

Louise Michel lived on the Boulevard just outside Paris proper for a few months in 1856 in a flat opposite the Farmers-General wall. It was then a low rent, strongly working-class district. It is now one of the circle of broad boulevards created when that wall was demolished. To the North-West of Batignolles lies Levallois-Perret where Michel is buried.

The word Batignolles comes either from ‘bastillole’ meaning little country house, or from ‘batagliona‘, the Latin for a battle. In medieval France the rural commune of Batignolles-Monceau belonged to the Benedictine nuns of Montmartre. It was used by the Bourbons for hunting.

The Farmers-General Wall of the Ancien Regime was built to tax Paris not to defend it as were the 13th and 14th century walls

Batignolles lay just to the North, outside the Farmers-General Wall around Paris built between 1784 and 1791 by the corporation of hugely wealthy tax farmers (paid by Louis XVI to collect taxes on goods entering Paris), 28 of whom were guillotined in 1793.

The 24km long wall with 64 toll barriers had boulevards on the outside. The Boulevard des Batignolles was one of these boulevards. Today the line of the wall is roughly followed by the Metro lines 2 and 6.

Anger at Paris being ‘put in jail’ by the wall was a big factor in making the Bourbon rule highly unpopular. The tolls were abolished on 1 May 1791, although restored by the Directorate in 1798.

In 1860 the Batignolles district was incorporated into Paris by the Paris Prefect, Baron Haussmann, and the remaining sections of the wall destroyed, leaving just a handful of the classical designed custom houses.

Boulevard des Batignolles photographed towards the end of the 19th century

A working-class area with low rents through the second half of the 19th century, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) lived here as a child. Édouard Manet lived at No. 34 from 1864 to 1866. Émile Zola (1840-1902) supported him when Manet’s paintings were rejected for the 1866 Salon.

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Avenue Carnot

Arrondissement 17

Number: 20

Postcard of Avenue Carnot in 1900

The shortest of the 12 roads leading like star bursts from the Arc de Triomphe, it was partly built in 1840 , added to in 1854 to provide symmetry around the Place de  l’Étoile, and extended to its present 300m length in 1867. It was named Carnot instead of the Avenue of Acacias in 1880.

Lazare Carnot was not only a mathematician and doctor. Crucially for the bourgeois politicians who ran the Third Republicand who wished to reaffirm their republicanism he was a regicide and the successful General at the Battle of Wattignies on October 15-16 1793 that finally ended the series of defeats for France’s revolutionary armies.

From 1899 to 1904 Aragon’s mother, Marguerite Toucas, ran a family boarding house at No. 20, providing her, her mother and the young Louis with an income. It is likely that it was Aragon’s father who purchased the small business on behalf of the much younger woman who had fathered his son.

It was only when he was 19 that Aragon was told that the woman he believed was his mother was actually his grandmother and the woman he thought was his sister his mother.

The photograph above was taken in 1900. It captures the wealth of the Avenue at the time Aragon lived there, with a motor car in the very wide street, and delivery routes just in front of the houses.


Rue de Courcelles

Arrondissements 8, 17

Numbers: 14, 48. 77, 80, 94

One of the arms dumps organised by the FTP-MOI resistance during the German occupation was at No. 14. After she was captured in November 1943, the Jewish Romanian communist Olga Bancic responsible for the dump and for up to 100 attacks on the occupying troops, was guillotined in Germany on May 10 1944.

Charles Dickens, not an early socialist but a good social realist author, stayed at No. 48 when he visited Paris in 1868, before the house was turned into a Chinese-style mansion in 1922

The tax office and barrier across the road at No. 77 was burnt down on 22 February 1848 in the uprising against Louis-Phillipe.

Fernard Pelloutier, the strategist of revolutionary syndicalism, was born at No. 80 in 1867, and lived there until 1879.

The Central Office of the 1848 National Workshops that organised work for up to 100,000 unemployed workers between March and June 1848 were in what is now No. 94 (at the time No. 6 Rue de Chartres).

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Avenue de Wagram

Arrondissements 8, 17

Number: 37/39

Looking up the Avenue to the Arc de Triomphe around 1900

One of 12 broad radial roads that leaves the Arc de Triomphe from what used to be called the ‘Square of the Star’ (Place de l’Étoile) and was renamed Place Charles-de-Gaulle in 1970. The road was first opened on January 16 1789 when the section of the Farmers’ tax wall was completed between the Etoile (Neuilly) and Roule (Ternes) customs posts. It became de Wagram on March 2 1864 during the Second Empire to honour Napoleon I’s significant victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram on July 6 1809.

The Salle Wagram at No. 37/39 witnessed some key meetings in the history of the Left in France. On the site of a guingette (open air café) run by a Napoleonic war veteran since 1812 on a country lane outside the city walls (and so providing cheap wine), under the restoration he developed it into dance hall, the Bal Dourlans.

In 1865 a new covered hall designed by Fleuret was inaugurated surrounded by two rings of seats. In 1899 the hall was given in a legacy to one of the five academies grouped within the Institut de France, which continued to run it as a dance hall, concert hal, exhibition halll and venue for political meetings.

Immediately after the 5th Congress of the Second Socialist International was held at the Salle Wagram from September 23 to 27 1900, leading to the establishment of a permanent international committee, an even more important development took place.

From September 28 to 30 1900 the Second Congress of French Socialist organisations took place at the Salle Wagram. Jules Guesde (P.O.F.), Jean Allemane, Jean Jaurès and Aristide Briand were all present. During it Guesde’s Parti Ouvrier de France decided to leave the unity meeting.

The entrance that led to the Salle Wagram around 1900

On March 28 1910 Vera Figner presided at a fund-raising concert at the Salle Wagram to support Russian revolutionaries escape from prison. Among those who attended were Lenin and Maxime Gorky, although Lenin avoided meeting Gorky since he didn’t wish to have a political argument with him.

Shortly before Lenin left Paris he attended an event at the Salle Wagram on April 15 1912 to honour the centenary of the birth of Alexander Herzen, the founder of Russian socialism.

On the third anniversary of the Russian Revolution, November 7 1920, Pierre Monatte, the anarchist Caroline Rémy and Boris Souvarine were among those who attended a celebration meeting at the Salle Wagram.

Caroline Remy, the anarchist journalist who joined the Communist Party in 1921 shown here painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

André Malraux attended at least two meetings organised by the Communist Party in the Salle Wagram. One in 1933 was support of ErnstThälmann, the jailed leader of the German Communist Party, and on December 23 1935 he spoke at the second anniversary of Dmitrov’s acquittal of setting fire to the Reichstag.

On July 30 1936 Malraux was given huge applause at the Salle Wagram when, returning from Spain, he spoke at the first major solidarity meeting with Republican Spain.

Under the Occupation the fascist French Popular Party mounted a ‘Bolshevism against Europe’ exhibition at the Salle Wagram that opened on March 1 1942. On March 8 three resistance fighters failed to set off a bomb in the exhibition. The Romanian-born Jew André Kirschen (aged 15 and a half), Karl Schoenhaar and Georges Tondelier were arrested. They were tortured and the two older men were executed. Kirschen was sent to a concentration camp because of his youth, and survived.

After the Second World War the Salle Wagram was hired by the extreme right on October 28 1948 to hold a meeting for ‘Peoples oppressed by the Bolsheviks’. A counter demonstration by 12,000 communists was attacked by the police, involving 1 death and 300 wounded.

After the war it was also the major Paris jazz venue, with musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Bud Powell and Django Reinhardt all playing there. Sidney Bechet performed his last concert there in 1958.

On September 1 1950 a communist meeting in support of the Vietnam liberation movement was held at the Salle Wagram. Its principal speaker was Léo Figuères, a resistance fighter who had visited Vietnam and whose arrest had been ordered by the military.

The Algerian liberation movement whose president was Messali Hadj, the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques, held huge meetings at No. 37 on June 13 1950 and, in protest against police violence on May Day, on May 5 1951.

The Algerian war for independence that began in 1954 saw a joint protest meeting of the SFIO and Marceau Pivert‘s recently founded (June 1955) Mouvement pour la justice et les libertés outre-mer (Movement for Justice and Freedom in the Colonies) taking place at the Salle Wagram on October 7 1955. The meeting called on the government to stop sending military reinforcements to Algeria.