Open air exhibition: 750 years Blankenberge

1. Lighthouse

Blankenberge already had a lighthouse in 1337. At first it stood on the eastern side of the city and from 1817 to 1872 at Fort Napoleon (site casino). The construction of the harbour (1861-1871) caused the lighthouse to relocate to the western side of Blankenberge. Today’s lighthouse is 32.40 m high and has 122 stairs. It dates from 1950-51 and replaced the lighthouse which the Germans had completely destroyed during their retreat at the end of WWII. While the other lighthouses in our country were automated, the lighthouse lamp at Blankenberge was still manually lit every day by watchman Theophiel De Graeve until 1984. This former fisherman was not just the last lighthouse watchman at Blankenberge, but also the last one in our country.

Statute of Helmsman or Sterken Dries

There has been a statue of the helmsman standing at the lighthouse since 1960. It is a casting of a plaster statue that was made by Guillaume Charlier in 1900. “The Helmsman” actually depicts the 19th century Blankenberge fisherman Andries Jurrewitz, better known by his nickname ‘Sterken Dries’. This statue is a tribute to both the rich life of fisheries in the city as well as to all the Blankenberge fishermen who died at sea.

Did you know:

Reportedly the mighty seaman Sterken Dries feared no one but … his wife Blondina Van Heetvelde.

2. Paravang

This imposing wind break dates from 1908. It was initially built to protect the foot traffic in the harbour area against bad weather conditions, including primarily the wind. Its name is a combination of the French ‘parer’ and ‘vent’ or ‘wind catchers’, very quickly bastardized in the vernacular to ‘paravang’. During the Belle Epoque two conflicting worlds collided here. From the benches of the paravang it was possible for the elite and well-dressed bathers to gaze in wonder at the bustle of the rough and unpolished fisher folk in the harbour quarter. 

Blankenberge caeye

In the northeast corner of the Leopoldpark (corner of Franchommelaan - Leopoldstraat) the so-called Blankenberge caeye was probably located starting from the beginning of the 15th century. Via the ‘Blanckenberge water course’, a waterway approximately 1.2 km long, this interior harbour was connected with the Blankenberge way. Before the construction of the Brugse Steenweg in 1723, the transport of fish and personnel to Bruges proceeded primarily via the caeye and the related ‘waterway’. The “Brugse Steenweg” made the interior harbour superfluous. Very quickly this came into disuse and silted shut. A century and a half later, around 1870, Blankenberge once again had a harbour (this time both a sea harbour in place of an interior harbour).

Did you know:

At the end of WWI, some deserting German soldiers hid themselves in the ridge of the paravang because they were too exhausted to fight?

3. The Grote Markt

Because the former market squares (the market square next to the Old City Hall, the covered market halls in Kerkstraat and the “Butter Market”) had gotten too small, the municipal council decided at the end of the 19th century to build a new market. The location they chose was the western quarter of the city that at that moment had been recently constructed and was thus still in mid-development. The new market was finally put into operation on the 21st of July, 1899. Its dimensions, ca. 200 m long and 75 m wide, make the square extremely well-suited as a venue for public events (circuses, parades, gymnastics exhibitions, and so forth). After WWII the market place was also used as a parking lot.

Lost Monument to the Victims of WWI

On the northwest corner of the “Grote Markt”, a monument was erected in 1921 in memory of the fallen from Blankenberge in WW1. This war monument by the Antwerp sculptor Simon Goossens depicted a kneeling soldier who is grieving for a fallen comrade while also being consoled and shielded by a woman. The text on the plinth read as follows: “The country that honours its heroes, honours itself”. During the reconstruction of the “Grote Markt” in September 1986, it was decided to tear down the monument. In 1987 the City Council had a new military monument erected on the Langeplein, a statue of a soldier– nicknamed “Rambo” by locals– which was made by Irénée Duriez.

Did you know:

The place where the “Grote Markt” now lies, was once a morass and consequently an undeveloped area. This lasted through the end of the 19th century before the first houses were built here.

4. Manitobaplein

Butter Market

This open terrain between Molenstraat and Langestraat was constructed in 1882 after the demolition and expropriation of the Gendarmerie Station with its attached ‘yard’. The space opened up by this was soon used as a market place. Here it was mainly dairy products more specifically butter, cheese and eggs, sold by local farmers. This is why the market is referred to by the locals as the “botermarktje”, the “Butter Market”. Markets have long since ceased to be held on Manitobaplein. The function was taken over by the “Grote Markt”. The Manitobaplein has become a pleasant and enjoyable place in the inner city since 1974, when it was converted into a pedestrian-only zone. 

From monastery to police station

On north corner of the square, there was a police station belonging to the Belgian National Gendarmerie from 1796 to 1881, which was located in what had once been the monastery of the “Recoletten”, founded in 1540 by the order of the Friars Minor from Bruges. These monks had then settled at the request of the City Council in Blankenberge in order to help care for those afflicted with the plague. The friars also provided pastoral care and care for the sick among our citizens. In 1796, the occupying French converted the monastery into a station for the Gendarmerie. During the Dutch period (1815-1830) it remained in service as a station for the Gendarmerie and after Belgian independence, the Belgian Gendarmerie also moved in. The dilapidated police station was torn down in 1881. In 1887, the Gendarmerie moved into the brand-new police station on the corner of Kerkstraat and Scarphoutstraat (now the “Sociaal Huis”).

Did you know:

The Butter Market was renamed Manitoba Square in 1945 as an homage to the XII Manitoba Dragoons, the Canadian Unit which had liberated Blankenberge in 1944.

5. Kerkstraat (Old City Hall)

Old City Hall

The “Oud Stadhuis”, the Old City Hall, which dates from 1679-1680 is the oldest preserved civil structure in Blankenberge. Over the centuries it has undergone multiple alterations but the current general structure is that from 1680. It was used as City Hall until 1894. After that, the charming building functioned during swimming season as a cultural centre. In 1937, it was protected by the Flemish government. Since the 1980’s the “Oud Stadhuis” acted as an exhibition hall.

Old Market (Oud Markt)

The small square next to the City Hall (the corner of Langestraat and Kerkstraat) has been used since the end of the 17th century as a public square or “marct”. From the 2nd half of the 19th century, they began holding a market here several times a week. Thanks to its location, in the middle of the City Centre, this market square has been very successful and right next to the tourists. Very soon the “Oud Markt” got too small and market merchants began to set up their stalls in the neighbouring streets. For a while the City Council considered expanding the market square by ...tearing down the “Oud Stadhuis”! Fortunately, this was rejected by the Royal Commission for Monuments. With the construction and inauguration of the Butter Market in 1882 and the “Grote Markt” in 1899, the need to expand the “Oud Markt” vanished.

Did you know:

The “Oud Stadhuis” is for the most part built of bricks that had been recovered from the Spanish Fort (located at the mouth of Blankenberge canal) that was torn down in 1680.

6. Kerkstraattrap staircase

Kerkstraattrap staircase

The first Kerkstraattrap was made of wood and was constructed around 1840. Thanks to the increase in tourism, the need for a more durable staircase also increased. For that reason, the wooden staircase was replaced in 1855 with a Belgian bluestone straight-flight staircase. Today’s Kerkstraattrap was built in 1900 by the Blankenberge contractor Anselm Vernieuwe based on the design from Emiel Hellemans, an architect from Brussels. Distinctive for the structure are the two impressive lions at the base at the bottom of this monumental staircase. The Kerkstraattrap was originally decorated with four wrought-iron columns (just like the Bakkersstraattrap) which is no longer there. One of the columns has been preserved and has been set up at the corner of Graaf Jansdijk and Malecotstraat.

Kerkstraat

Kerkstraat is one of the oldest and most important streets in Blankenberge. It is the main route to the Sint-Antonius Church which was located on Uitkerke’s territory until 1788. It was also in this street that the 17th-century City Hall was built. Since the merger with Uitkerke in 1970, Kerkstraat continues on to the Sint-Amandus Church of Uitkerke. Kerkstraat was already paved in the 15th century. In the 19th century, this street was the most important street along which tourism developed by the establishment of hotels, hostels and shops, but also because it formed the connecting route between the train station and the Zeedijk.

Did you know:

Blankenberge is the only seaside town on the Belgian coast where the Zeedijk can be reached from the inner city via stairs. 

7. Lippens and De Bruyne

Statue Lippens and De Bruyne

This statue, designed by Guillaume Charlier, was erected in 1900 in memorial of Sergeant Henri De Bruyne from Blankenberge who was murdered in the Congo Free State, later the Belgian Congo, in 1892 together with his superior officer, Lieutenant Lippens. There are two versions of this statue: the original version which included a nude figure of an African woman, and the amended version without the female nude Charlier’s original design was refused in 1900 by the then-mayor, Catholic Karel Deswert for being immoral. Then the statute was re-cast in 1922 after the Germans had requisitioned it during WWI and melted it into war material. This time, the liberal mayor Arthur Pauwels opted to the great delight of the artist on the original version with the female nude.

Henri De Bruyne

Sergeant De Bruyne has been buried a good four times. Shortly after their deaths, the bodies of Lippens and De Bruyne were buried in a simple grave with a wooden cross. After that, the remains of both men were brought to the European Cemetery van Vieux Kasongo where they were buried together with the mortal remains of three other fallen Belgian military officers. In 1952 the remains were re-interred yet again, this time in an impressive Memorial in Vieux Kasongo that was erected to honour these five military officers. When the Belgian Congo became independent on the 1st of July, 1960, people feared that the Congolese might “desecrate” the funerary monument. For that reason, the Belgian military then dismantled the memorial and then repatriated the bodies to the cemetery of the Belgian Army base in Kamina, where they are now finally buried next to a chapel which the Belgian Army built especially in their honour.

Did you know:

The first Congolese who ever studied in Belgium, namely Paul Panda Fernana M’fumu (1888-1930), the fervent human rights activist and renowned scientist from the interbellum period, served as the model for the African boy in the statue when he was 12 years old.

8. Casinoplein

Iron bridge

In 1865, the 20m-wide promenade was already 800 m. The brand-new promenade was built in brick and had slope in natural stone. Just to the west of the current Malecothelling next to the prestigious Hotel Des Bains et des Familles, this was interrupted by an iron bridge which the City Council had built over the dunes in 1866. The bridge was referred to by the locals as ‘d’iezeren rampe’. Thanks to this iron bridge there was from that point on a direct gangway to the beach. In 1879 the City Council had the old bridge replaced with a new one that was 8 m wide.

Illustration: Litho of the first iron bridge 1865. Collection Kunstpatrimonium Blankenberge

Hotel des Bains et des Familles

Between the iron bridge and Fort Napoleon the Grand Hotel des Bains et des Familles was built in 1864. This was then one of the most luxurious hotels on the Belgian coast. During the belle-époque period a great number of distinguished national and international guests.

On the current casino square there used to be a park built with a kiosk, the so-called pleasure garden, and also called the square or ‘botanical garden’, where tourists could stroll and relax amid the green. After WWII the City Council bought this hotel with the intent of putting the City Hall there. Ultimately, they choose to erect a new building at the current location behind the Sint-Antonius Church and then a nearly-century-old hotel was torn down in 1957.

Did you know:

When the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand spent his vacation in Blankenberge in the years before WWI, he always stayed in a wing of the Hotel des Bains et des Familles which was hired out entirely especially for him and his entourage.

9. Sint-Rochus Square

Sint-Rochus Church

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Sint-Antonius Church was consistently too small during tourist season to receive both the faithful residents as well as the many tourists. The building of a new church became a pressing matter. A neo-Romanesque church was built following the plans of architect Josef Hoste in 1885 in the extension of Molenstraat. This brand new ‘seasonal church’ with a capacity of at most 1800 seats was put into operation in 1889. On the first of June, 1896, the church was formally dedicated by Bishop Waffelaert, who was the auxiliary pastor between 1871 and 1875 of the Sint-Antonius Church and was assigned in 1895 as the 22nd Bishop of Bruges.

Sint-Rochuswijk

The parcelling of the Sint-Rochuswijk dates from the last quarter of the 19th century. This expansion of the city in an easterly direction was shortly thereafter followed by an expansion in the westerly direction with the construction of the “Grote Markt” in 1899. Both parcels illustrate how people gradually began to build outward from the limits of the Medieval city core (the area between the current Weststraat, Onderwijsstraat, Zeedijk and Steenstraat). Iconic for the Sint-Rochuswijk are the many vacation apartments which at the time were erected for and by wealthy tourists e.g. the 3 belle-époque-villas from 1894 in Elisabethstraat 24. These magnificent middle-class residences were restored in 2008 and converted into a visitor’s centre where you are submerged in the carefree and festive atmosphere which Blankenberge radiated during the time of the Belle Epoque.

Did you know:

The tower spires of the Sint-Rochus Church dates just from 1903 and was designed by the architect Marcel Hoste, the nephew of the architecture expert Josef Hoste who died in 1899.

10. Descamps Square

Descampsstraat and Descampsplein

This square and this city are named after Gustave Descamps. This wealthy man owned, just like Michel Van Mons, a whole lot of land to the north of Jules de Troozlaan which was parcelled at the end of the 19th century and provided with streets (the current Descampsstraat and Van Monsstraat) which allows the city to continue expanding in an easterly direction. The development of Descampsstraat dates from the start of the 20th century. The distinctive thing about the houses in this street, a great portion of which was designed by the local architect Felix Cosman, is that the many tile panels and paraments of glazed brick and tiles which are among the most beautiful in Blankenberge.

Descamps square

On this square that lies in the extended Descampsstraat there used to be tennis courts belonging to a lawn-tennis club. The presence of these tennis courts contributed to continued development of this new district of the city. Both the owners of the many vacation apartments which were then built during the period when the more well-heeled and athletic Blankenberge citizens, made eager use of these tennis courts. On the13th of September, 1936, under the mayoral tenure of Arthur Pauwels, a monument or memorial was erected in memory of the Blankenberge citizens who were killed before 1908 in Congo on this square (then still the private property of King Leopold II).

Illustration: Detail from a city map from 1910 with marking for the location of the lawn-tennis-club on the current Descamps square.

Did you know:

The Oostpoort waterway, a water way which formed the eastern limit from the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century between the parish of Blankenberge and the fiefdom of Uitkerke, ran along the Descampsplein square and followed approximately the trajectory of the current Jules de Troozlaan and A. Ruzettelaan to the last slope of the sea dike. 

11. Roundabout pier

The Pier: a turbulent history

This unique structure (the only pier on the Belgian coast) has a turbulent history behind it. Since the building of the first pier there have been three versions of the main structure. The first pier, a cast-iron structure from 1893-94, did not enjoy a long operational life because the Germans blew it up at the start of WWI. It took until 1933 before a new pier could be built, this time out of concrete. The concrete pier survived WWII but appeared unable to withstand the inclement sea climate and sea water and already showed signs of concrete decay. After various half-hearted attempts to patch it up, it was decided at the end of the 1990s to completely renovate the main structure. The renovated main structure was completed in 2003. The renovation of the 350-meter long promenade will start in 2020.

The Pier, a must for Blankenberge

The promenade pier is a typical British phenomenon that crossed over to the European mainland in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Piers formed a promenade into the sea from which one could safely enjoy the healthy sea air and naturally also provided a unique panoramic view of the sea and the bathing resort. Of course, such a structure could not be absent in a typical bathing resort like Blankenberge at the end of the 19th century. Initially, the thought was to erect the first pier in the extension of Kerkstraat, an idea that was just as quickly swept off the table because it would “split the bathing resort into two pieces”. Ultimately, it was decided that the pier would be built on the east end of the sea dike. With the palisade on the west side and the pier on the east side, the bathing resort had from that point on a dike promenade which was extended at both ends.

Did you know:

The ‘rescuer’ of our pier was the German non-commissioned officer Karl-Heinz Keseberg, who disregarded the order to blow up the pier in the summer of 1944. This decision resulted in the pier surviving the war unscathed. He returned to Blankenberge in 1994, 50 years after the events, where he was formally received and thanked by the City Council. 

12. Sealife Centre

North Sea Swimming Pool

As early as 1945 the liberal politician and founding chairman of the Blankenberge Swimming Club, Eugeen Vandermarliere, requested that a full-fledged swimming pool be built in Blankenberge. Disagreement about a suitable location (Franchommelaan, De Smet de Naeyerlaan, site of the Waterkasteel, Leopoldpark, and so on, …) meant that this dossier remained dormant for decades. Ultimately it was decided to construct a brand-new swimming pool in the eastern quarter of the city. The city swimming and recreation centre North Sea Swimming Pool opened its doors in 1976. The use of filtered and heated sea water was unique. The swimming pool complex did not just have an indoor swimming pool, but also a real outdoor Olympic swimming pool of 50 m x 21 m. This outdoor swimming pool was closed in 1991. At the location of the former outdoor swimming pool with its attached lawns and platform, the Sea Life Centre was constructed and opened in 1995 and since then has grown into one of Blankenberge’s most important all-weather attractions.

Controversial camp sites in the eastern quarter

Beginning in the interbellum period, and certainly after WWII, the eastern quarter of Blankenberge already hosted of a great number of camp sites. The first camping sites were very primitive and the hygienic conditions left a lot to be desired. Generally, these camp sites did not yet have any reliable sanitary facilities, lighting, dustbins, and so forth. Very soon they were causing noise pollution and nuisance to the neighbours, a problem which became especially bad in the 1960s, during the whole hippie era, when campers were not too strict with public morals. Neither was the local hotel sector happy with these camping sites and readily agreed when the City Council decided at the end of the 1960’s to have the poorly regulated camping sites removed. A new camping zone along the Polderlaan was provided for in the zoning plan. During the removal of the camp sites in the triangle between Koning Albertlaan and A. Ruzettelaan, the City Council finally succeeded after nearly three decades of attempts, in finding a suitable location for the construction of the swimming pool.

Did you know:

Near the current North Sea Swimming Pool, there was a horse racing track during the peak days of the belle-époque period or hippodrome with a sand track of around 1300 m which was only briefly in use from 1893 to 1896 due to the scant interest and shortage of horses.

Illustration: The hippodrome from 1893 to 1896 near the North Sea Swimming Pool, Collection City Archive-De Benne.

13. Round Point Zeebruggelaan

Zeebruggelaan (between the rail line and Zeebrugge)

This connecting route from the current Kerkstraat to Zeebrugge lies for the most part on a dike, the so-called second Evendijk or Evendijk B, which was probably erected around 1100 in order to protect the surrounding area against flooding. Thanks to the construction of the Evendijk B it was possible for the various villages along this dike to grow into parishes including Lissewege, Dudzele, Oostkerke, Westkapelle, but also Uitkerke. During a heavy storm flood in 1134, the Evendijk B was breached by the sea at various points, among others at the historic farm Raaswalle. There are still visible traces of it in today’s landscape: the so-called fingerlings or arched dikes which were designed to replace the dike break or breach. Evendijk B runs on through to the Zwin and then turns off in the direction of Damme. The piece of this dike between Blankenberge and Zeebrugge was named Zeebruggelaan in 1961. Before 1900, when Zeebrugge did not yet exist, Evendijk B was an important connecting route between Uitkerke and Heist.

Zeebruggelaan (between the rail line and Kerkstraat)

The section of Zeebruggelaan between the railway and the current Kerkstraat was constructed shortly before WWII and used to be called Statiestraat, but due to the construction of the station at Uitkerke in 1957, on the one hand, and to prevent confusion between the existing Stationsstraat in Blankenberge, on the other, it was decided after the merger of the towns in 1970 to re-name this plot of land Zeebruggelaan as well. This street does not, however, lie on the track of the original Evendijk B. The dike namely ran at the height of this round point in a direct line via the Colombus onward to the current Evendijk Oost and Evendijk West up to the Oostdijk (on which i.a. the current Willem Tellstraat is found). Where the Evendijk B crosses the current Kerkstraat, there once stood a mill, the so-called Oostmolen of Uitkerke which belonged to the lords of Uitkerke. This mill was relocated to the west after 1400, more specifically to the site on the corner of the Scharebrugstraat and the Blankenbergse Dijk what a mill stood into the 19th century. The neighbourhood around this former mill is still called the Molenhoek to this day.

Did you know:

The oldest still extant farm in Blankenberge, the farm ‘Raaswalle’, located in Zeebruggelaan 163, dates from approximately 1200 and is built on a mound or hillock behind the second Evendijk.

14. Castle Uitkerke

Castle Uitkerke

The castle of Uitkerke dates to approximately 1070. It was constructed on a mound (hillock) and lay safely protected behind Evendijk B. There was a moat around it. It was the residence of the Lord of Uitkerke who controlled his fiefdom, namely the Lordship of Uitkerke (which also included the parish of Blankenberge). The oldest known Lord of Uitkerke is Jan van Uitkerke. In 1270, when Blankenberge had obtained the title of autonomous city, he was compensated by the Flemish count for the loss of this parish from his jurisdiction. In the 14th century the Fiefdom of Uitkerke came into the hands of the Halewijn family. Consequently, the fief transferred in the 16th century to the family van Claerhout and in the 18th century the de Croÿ family supplied the Lords of Uitkerke. In the end of 18th century, the French occupier dissolved all fiefdoms, including the one of Uitkerke. Anne Emmanuel de Croÿ was the last Lord of Uitkerke. In its long history, the castle of Uitkerke had been regularly destroyed and rebuilt. What still remains of this castle is a portion of the rampart and the residential structure with an imposing facade from1763. Since 2003, the castle of Uitkerke has been protected.

Parc De Craene

This park bears the name of the Schaarbeek Alderman for Education Alexandre De Craene (1860-1924) who had a school colony with attached farm for Schaarbeek children of ill health built here in a former hotel in 1919. In the school that accommodated 65 school children, the Ecole De Craene lay at walking distance of the beach. The school children often took excursions to the sea to breathe the healthy sea air. Along with the normal lessons and gymnastic exercises, the school children also helped with the everyday chores on the farm, the laundry and the kitchen. The boy’s dormitories were on the second floor. The girls slept on the ground floor. The school closed its doors 1965. The school building disappeared under the demolition hammer in 1980. On the site of this former school colony, a park was then constructed.

Did you know: ‘Le Pavillon de chasse’, a romantic story from 1867 from ‘Récits et legendes des Flandres’ by writer Caroline Popp, is set in the castle of Uitkerke and is about the impossible love between the son of the Lord of Uitkerke and the daughter of the dean of the fishing trade of Blankenberge.

15. Sint-Amandus Church

Parish of Uitkerke

The first settlements on Uitkerk’s territory date to the 8th century. The oldest record of Uitkerke (Utkerkca) goes back to 1058. The fiefdom of Uitkerke must have been founded around 1070, when the castle of Uitkerke was built. The first permanent habitation was concentrated mainly between the parish church which was built in 1089 on the one side and the castle of Uitkerke on the other. The territory of Uitkerke was then greatly extended and consisted of the parishes of Wenduine, Sint-Jan-op-den-dijk and Scarphout (later called Blankenberge). In 1270 Blankenberge was elevated to a city and thereby removed from the territory of the Lord of Uitkerke. As compensation for this loss, the Lord of Uitkerke received among other things the so-called mill right. This right obligated the citizens of Blankenberge to mill their grain in the mill(s) owned by the Lord of Uitkerke and to give him a portion of the milled grain in perpetuity (1/14th). This milling right continued until approximately 1800. Since 1970-71, the extended rural community of Uitkerke was merged with the municipality of Blankenberge which effectively meant that Blankenberge increased both its population and area.

Sint-Amandus Church

The parish church of Uitkerke is dedicated to Saint Amandus, patron saint of brewers, wine merchants, barkeepers, innkeepers, pharmacists and chemists. The residents of Uitkerke likely already had a parish church in 1089. It was constructed on one of the 4 hillocks or mounds in the landscape behind the Evendijk B and to the north of the Dulleweg(dijk). The existing church structure likely goes back to the 14th century and has known various ravages, renovations and restorations. Through the construction of the Brugse Steenweg in 1723, a portion of the cemetery around the church had to be cleared and the sacristy came to stand on this paved road, whether on the bare earth and not on the cobbled part of it. In the 19th century, the church was so dilapidated that it was decided the old church had to be torn down and a new and larger church was built in the neo-gothic style around the existing church. This parish church is the only church north of Bruges which is dedicated to Saint Amandus. What further distinguishes this church from most other churches is the insertion of the tower in a side aisle instead of the nave.

Did you know: 

Until the borders were changed in 1901, Uitkerke had a stretch of beach approximately 2.5 km long on its territory along the east side of the current Blankenberge that was also used in the last decade of the 19th century as a bathing beach.

16. Rotonde cemetery

History of the Blankenberge cemetery

The former cemetery of Blankenberge was situated around the Sint-Antonius church. The land around this church was however very marshy which meant that the coffins would often float to the surface. The sight of a cemetery when tourists got out of the trains arriving in Blankenberge when they really began to come en masse in the second half of the 19th century, was very disconcerting and the proximity to the slaughterhouse was also thought bothersome (it was on the site of the current City Hall). In the last quarter of the 19th century, the City Council began to look for a new location on the periphery of Blankenberge. Ultimately, they bought a piece of ground in Scharebrugstraat from the neighbouring municipality of Uitkerke. The consecration of the new cemetery took place on the 11th of May, 1911 and one year later it could be put into operation. A great number of the grave markers from the old cemetery were transferred to the new cemetery. Once the old cemetery had been cleared, a park was constructed around the Sint-Antonius Church in 1924. The cemetery in de Scharebrugstraat has since seen several expansions and currently encompasses an area of nearly 50,000 m2.

Memorial garden

Along with thousands of individual grave monuments, the city cemetery in Scharebrugstraat also has a number of remarkable memorial gardens. In the British memorial garden memorial garden lie the British fallen from WWI, primarily those fallen in the failed raid on Zeebrugge on the 23rd of April, 1918 (Saint George’s Day). In the memorial garden for the fallen of WWII there are 80 British and 3 allied military. Most of them were crew members of a British transport ship that was sunk on the 7th of November, 1944 in front of the harbour of Oostende after it struck a mine. In the monumental memorial garden Moederssmart, named after the eponymous picture by artist Guillaume Charlier, lie the military and political prisoners from Blankenberge who died during WWI, WWII and the Korean War. Finally, in the memorial garden De Plicht, lie the Blankenberge citizens who died while carrying out their duties among the five rescuers who drowned during the rescue operation on the French ship Nominoë in 1889.

Did you know:

The son of Karel Deswert, major of Blankenberge from 1896 to 1906, insisted in 1958 on a name change of Karel Deswertlaan because he did not find it suitable that a street leading to a cemetery was named after his.

Illustration: Portrait of Major Karel Deswert. Collection from City Archive-De Benne

17. City Hall

City Hall

The current City Hall dates from 1952 and is built on the site of the former slaughter house from 1876 designed by architect Josef Hoste. For the reason that the street to the west of the City Hall used to be called Slachthuisstraat. In 1947 the name of the street was changed to Ontmijnersstraat in memory of the 18 mine removal officers of the Belgian army who died when removing the mines from our city shortly after WWII. The fallen of WWII are also memoralized in the downstairs hall of the City Hall on a plaque with the names of the deceased or executed citizens of Blankenberge, resistance fighters and political prisoners.

Between 1909 and the commissioning of this City Hall, the city administrative services were settled in an outbuilding of the Rijksmiddelbare school because the Old City Hall in Kerkstraat had then grown too small.

The area behind the new City Hall was beautified with the construction of a park (Albert I-park) with various sculptures by among other things Hubert Minnebo, Fernand Vonck and Gerard Holmens and in the park on the front side a work of art with a fountain, the “7 sailors” was added in 1968 by sculptor Henri Lannoye.

Since 1952, the police directorate has also been housed in the City Hall. A decade ago, the police directorate had to be significantly expanded by the construction of a new wing at the rear of the City Hall.

City Hall = museum

In the public spaces on the first floor of the City Hall one can admire many works of art of renown artists. There is a room dedicated to Belgium’s most famous graphic artist Frans Masereel, who was born in our city in 1889 and by whom there are a dozen or more woodcuts and 1 oil painting hanging in the City Hall. The major’s gallery in the monumental festival hall is also impressive, a gallery of 17 life-sized portraits from the hands of among others Edmond Vander Haeghen, Armand Van Reck, Leo van Paemel, and so on. The immense artworks ‘Fishers’ and the ‘Benniseed carriers’ by Alexander Verhaeghe hang on both sides of the imposing display of the Festival Hall. The eyecatchers are undoubtedly the ‘Battle of Sluis’ of François Musin and the ‘Panoramic view of a beach’ by Louis van Engelen, a painting of 14 meters length depicting a very true-to-life depiction of the Zeedijk and the beach of Blankenberge anno 1897. Likewise, the bas relief ‘The boat drawers’ by Guillaume Charlier is certainly worth a look, as is the approximately 2-meter-long scale model of the Blankenberge barge B1 that is displayed is on a beautifully decorated plinth made by the local sculpture Georges Riemaker.

All of the aforementioned artworks can be viewed free of charge during the regular business of the City Hall.

Did you know:

The architect of City Hall had originally designed a City Hall with towers but he was not able to execute this design because a former alderman was also a fervent pigeon fancier and reported to have not wanted any towers out of fear that this would possibly disturb the flight patterns of his competitive pigeons.

18. Sint-Antonius Church

The chapel of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw of Scarphout

The first church which the residents of Blankenberge had at their disposal was the chapel of Onze-Lieve- Vrouw of Scarphout. Scarphout was the name of a piece of ground around this chapel on which this chapel was to be situated, it was located at the current corner of Bakkersstraat and Breydelstraat. Likely the name “Scarphout” means ‘sharp wood’ and was a reference to the sea buckthorn, a thorny plant which was (also) one that commonly grew in the dunes. The chapel played a key role in the lives of the devout fisher folk. When the citizens of Blankenberge rose up in revolt against high taxes in 1328, the Flemish count punished the rebel residents by closing their chapel. Only in 1330, after the Blankenberge citizens had agreed with the Act of Reconciliation in which they swore total subjugation and obedience to the Flemish count was the chapel re-opened. Barely four years later, the pious residents lost their chapel forever. During a severe storm flood on the 23rd of November, 1334 (the so-called Sint-Clemens Flood) it was namely irreparably damaged which made the construction of a new church, located further inland and therefore better protected against the danger of flooding, necessary. 

A new church for Blankenberge in …. Uitkerke

In 1335, after the loss of the OLV-chapel of Scarphout, the Flemish count released a parcel of ground from all count’s rights on which the citizens of Blankenberge were allowed to build a new church, the later Sint-Antonius Church. It was remarkable that this parcel, called Ghentele, a couple of hundred meters beyond the former city limit and this one on the territory of Uitkerke. This meant that the citizens of Blankenberge always had to traverse a piece of ground outside of the city limits which they called the ‘Keure’, a piece of ground which belonged to another jurisdiction, namely that of the Brugse Vrijde. This unusual situation regularly led to border incidents. So, for example, beer and wine are taxed at a higher rate in Blankenberge than in the Brugse Vrije, which soon meant that various inns were built on the Keure in order to steal clientele from the innkeepers of Blankenberge. The ‘Keure’ also became the perfect place for the law enforcement officials of the Brugse Vrije to arrest any Blankenbergers who had fallen afoul of the law in light of the fact that they were not authorised to make arrests Blankenberge. Only in 1788 did the ‘Keure’ become part of Blankenberge’s territory because then Uitkerke had traded this area for two areas with an equivalent area to the east and west of Blankenberge.

Did you know:

The Sint-Antonius Church was originally twice as large, but after the thorough destruction of this church by the “Watergeuzen” in 1572 was ultimately rebuilt half of it.