1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Deux-Sèvres

DEUX-SÈVRES, an inland department of western France, formed in 1790 mainly of the three districts of Poitou, Thouarsais, Gâtine and Niortais, added to a small portion of Saintonge and a still smaller portion of Aunis. Area, 2337 sq. m. Pop. (1906) 339,466. It is bounded N. by Maine-et-Loire, E. by Vienne, S.E. by Charente, S. by Charente-Inférieure and W. by Vendée. The department takes its name from two rivers—the Sèvre of Niort which traverses the southern portion, and the Sèvre of Nantes (an affluent of the Loire) which drains the north-west. There are three regions—the Gâtine, occupying the north and centre of the department, the Plaine in the south and the Marais,—distinguished by their geological character and their general physical appearance. The Gâtine, formed of primitive rocks (granite and schists), is the continuation of the “Bocage” of Vendée and Maine-et-Loire. Its surface is irregular and covered with hedges and clumps of wood or forests. The systematic application of lime has much improved the soil, which is naturally poor. The Plaine, resting on oolite limestone, is treeless but fertile. The Marais, a low-lying district in the extreme southwest, consists of alluvial clays which also are extremely productive when properly drained. The highest points, several of which exceed 700 ft., are found in a line of hills which begins in the centre of the department, to the south of Parthenay, and stretches north-west into the neighbouring department of Vendée. It divides the region drained by the Sèvre Nantaise and the Thouet (both affluents of the Loire) in the north from the basins of the Sèvre Niortaise and the Charente in the south. The climate is mild, the annual temperature at Niort being 54° Fahr., and the rainfall nearly 25 in. The winters are colder in the Gâtine, the summers warmer in the Plaine.

Three-quarters of the entire area of Deux-Sèvres, which is primarily an agricultural department, consists of arable land. Wheat and oats are the main cereals. Potatoes and mangold-wurzels are the chief root-crops. Niort is a centre for the growing Of vegetables (onions, asparagus, artichokes, &c.) and of angelica. Considerable quantities of beetroot are raised to supply the distilleries of Melle. Colza, hemp, rape and flax are also cultivated. Vineyards are numerous in the neighbourhood of Bressuire in the north, and of Niort and Melle in the south. The department is well known for the Parthenay breed of cattle and the Poitou breed of horses; and the mules reared in the southern arrondissements are much sought after both in France and in Spain. The system of co-operative dairying is practised in some localities. The apple-trees of the Gâtine and the walnut-trees of the Plaine bring a good return. Coal is mined, and the department produces building-stone and lime. A leading industry is the manufacture of textiles (serges, druggets, linen, handkerchiefs, flannels, swan-skins and knitted goods). Tanning and leather-dressing are carried on at Niort and other places, and gloves are made at Niort. Wool and cotton spinning, hat and shoe making, distilling, brewing, flour-milling and oil-refining are also main industries. The department exports cattle and sheep to Paris and Poitiers; also cereals, oils, wines, vegetables and its industrial products.

The Sèvre Niortaise and its tributary the Mignon furnish 19 m. of navigable waterway. The department is served by the Ouest-État railway. It contains a large proportion of Protestants, especially in the south-east. The four arrondissements are Niort, Bressuire, Melle and Parthenay; the cantons number 31, and the communes 356. Deux-Sèvres is part of the region of the IX. army corps, and of the diocese and the académie (educational circumscription) of Poitiers, where also is its court of appeal.

Niort (the capital), Bressuire, Melle, Parthenay, St Maixent, Thouars and Oiron are the principal places in the department. Several other towns contain features of interest. Among these are Airvault, where there is a church of the 12th and 14th centuries which once belonged to the abbey of St Pierre, and an ancient bridge built by the monks; Celles-sur-Belle, where there is an old church rebuilt by Louis XI., and again in the 17th century; and St Jouin-de-Marnes, with a fine Romanesque church with Gothic restoration, which belonged to one of the most ancient abbeys of Gaul.