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Leopoldsburg (Municipality, Province of Limburg, Belgium)


Last modified: 2019-09-07 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Leopoldsburg - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 14 April 2006

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Presentation of Leopoldsburg

The municipality of Leopoldsburg (in French, Bourg-Léopold; 14,472 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 2,248 ha) is located in the region of Kempen, 20 km north-west of Hasselt. The municipality was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Leopoldsburg and Heppen. A first merging plan, drafted in 1970, proposed to merge Leopoldsburg and Heppen with their mother municipality, Beverlo, but political reasons stopped the project. This would have been, however, more logical, since the barracks and headquarters of the camp of Beverlo have always been located in Leopoldsburg and not in Beverlo. Most of the former territory of Beverlo is now included in the municipality of Beringen.

The creation of the military camp in 1835 on the Great Moor of Beverlo attracted several people, who came from all over Belgium and even from France, and settled near the camp. There were 378 colonists (75 families) in 1844, including inn-keepers, blacksmiths, tailors, cobblers, bakers, butchers, carpenters, coppersmiths, roofers, wool spinners, glaziers, barbers... They lived near the camp in clay huts roofed with straw. In 1836, the colonists started growing vegetables, fertilized with abundant horse dung, which they sold to the camp. General Hurel (Baron François Alexandre Hurel, 1774-1847, a French soldier in the service of Belgium) tolerated the settlement of civilians on military grounds. His successors wanted to preserve discipline in the camp and negociated in 1842 with the municipal administration of Beverlo the foundation of a new village, located on the western border of the camp but out of it. A plot of 26 ha was allocated but it took up to 1848 to expel all civil settlements out of the camp. On the plot granted by Beverlo were built an inn (1838), a post office (1840) and the foundations of the today's Carmel chapel (1840-1843). A pastor and a school teacher were appointed in 1844. The new settlement was urbanized like a checkerboard, which was a common practice at that time, mostly for public health reasons. The ancient burgerterrein became known as "Bourg" and later "Le Bourg" (but other sources say that "Bourg" comes from the architect Victorien Bourg). The new town had rectilinear, wide streets, as well as large squares, such as the later renamed Astridplein (130 m x 90 m).
King Leopold I was closely involved with the evolution of the camp of Beverlo. He stayed often there in his "Royal palace" and was highly estimated by the local population, which was very Royalist. Therefore, the name of the town was changed in 1848 to Bourg-Léopold or Le Bourg Léopold. In 1849, the Municipal Council of Beverlo translated the new name in Dutch as Leopoldsboerg.
Due to the increase in the population, the formation of a municipality independent from Beverlo was asked. So did the inhabitants of Heppen, another component of Beverlo. By Royal Decree of 25 September 1839, Heppen was made an independent parish incorporating Heppen and Bourg-Léopold, excluding Bourg (center), which depended on the camp's parish. On 4 June 1850, Bourg-Léopold (Leopoldsburg) and Heppen were made two independent municipalities. In 1850, Bourg-Léopold had a mill, producing 400 t of floor per year, which was part of an agricultural complex including also a genever distillery, producing 32,760 1.5 L bottles per years, and a brewery, producing 125 hL per year. There were also a candle factory, a tobacco plant, a brickery and a port on the canal.
In the 1870s, several troops were moved from Beverlo to the region of Walcourt and the population of Leopoldsburg decreased from 1,871 (in 1870) to 1,581 (1883). New troops were reincoporated to Beverlo in 1889 and the population of the village increased to 3,512 the same year. The name of Leopoldsburg was officially fixed on 14 June 1932.

Heppen is much older than Leopoldsburg. It was already known as Hippen in 630. Eginhard, Charlemagne's chronicler, mentioned in 830 "the village of Heppen, located in Taxandria". The parish of Beverlo was formed with the domains of Beverlo, Heppen and Korspel. The region was later incorporated into the County of Loon. In 1365, the municipalities of Beverlo, Oostham and Kwaadmechelen formed the Country of Ham, ran by a lord and a municipal court (schepenbank) located in Oostham. Each of the three components of the Country kept its Mayor and some local rights. In 1366, the County of Loon was incorporated into the Principality of Liège.
On 1 October 1795, the French regime made of Beverlo an independent municipality. Heppen became a separate parish on 25 September 1839 but was put on the official list of the Belgian municipalities only in 1850, as was Bourg-Léopold.

The camp of Beverlo was originally planned to be a teaching camp and an observation post of the border with the Netherlands. The Great Moor of Beverlo was desert, located close to the border and rich in drinking water, and was therefore selected to build the new camp. In May 1835, Captain Renard and his 1,100 soldiers started the building site, rebuilding 420 huts taken from the camp of Diest, building 1,250 tents and straw huts and drilling 48 wells. At the end of July 1835, the camp was ready to house 20,000 infantry, cavalry and artillery soldiers. The camp was severely damaged by harsh weather in November 1837 and a new infantry camp made of nine "squares" (90 m x 90 m with a well in the center) was built. After the peace with the Netherlands signed in 1839, Ministry of War Pierre-Emmanuel Chazal decreed in 1845 that the camp of Beverlo should be made permanent and rebuilt with bricks. The military hospital achieved around 1848 was then considered as the most modern in Europe. The modernization of the camp was completed in 1913 with the introduction of electricity in the camp.
In 1914, the Germans invaded Belgium and most of the army withdrew beyond river Yser. Running after the Belgians, the Germans did not occupy the north of Limburg but with a few cavalry squadrons. General De Schepper, commander of the 11th line regiment in Hasselt, was appointed by the Germans Military Governor of Limburg; with a group of 300 volunteers, he carried on his "small war" against the German uhlans and hussars, mostly by guerilla actions. He set up his headquarters in Hotel Legentil and Leopoldsburg but had to give up the fight in October 1914; his troops were then demilitarized in the Netherlands. The Germans settled the camp of Beverlo, where they made the first experiments with chlorinated gas, which was later widely used on the Yser front.
Between the two World Wars, the camp of Beverlo, considered as the biggest and most modern in Europe, housed 40,000 soldiers and 4,000 horses. It received every year garrisons from all over Belgium, which paraded between Leopoldsburg and the camp. Beverlo was then one of the most renowned places in Belgium, since every Belgian family had at least one of his member who had been garrisoned for five weeks there, experienced the icy northern wind, the sand storms, and the comfortable pubs of Leopoldsburg.
The camp was bombed by the Germans on 10 May 1940. The Germans occupied the camp, which was fortunately no more bombed. From October 1942 to November 1943, 204 men, including 176 resistance fighters, were brought from the jails of all over Belgium and shot in the municipal wood. The allied troops bombed the camp on 12 May 1944; they mistakingly hit the Zuidstraat in Beverlo, killing 77 civilians. Another bombing on 28 May destroyed the infantry camp and killed hundreds of German soldiers. The cavalry camp was used by the Germans for politic prisoners, several of them being sent to deportation in Germany. The camp of Beverlo, as well as Leopoldsburg and Heppen, was liberated by the Piron Brigade on 11 September 1944. It was then used by General Brian Horrocks as his headquarters; from there, he gave on 15 September 1944 the order to start the Market Garden operation (see the movie "A Bridge Too Far"). Some parts of the infantry camp were rebuilt from 1947 to 1953. The 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade was garrisoned in the camp in 1970. In 1976, the Liberation Battalion, follower of the Piron Brigade, was moved to Beverlo. Since the suppression of draft and the return of most Belgian troops from Germany, the camp of Beverlo is the biggest garrison in Belgium.

Ivan Sache & Jan Martens, 14 April 2006

Flag of Leopoldsburg

The flag of Leopoldsburg is red with two mirrored yellow "L" letters surmounted by the Royal crown of Belgium.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 25 April 1989 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 20 July 1989 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 8 December 1990 in the Belgian official gazette.
The shade of the flag is madder red, which is the colour of the Order of Leopold, set up in 1832. The two mirrored "L"'s form Leopold's cypher.

The municipal arms of Leopoldsburg also show Leopold's cypher and crown, placed in a green canton. The main field of the arms shows the Belgian tricolor flag with two swords crossed in saltire.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 14 April 2006