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Seraing (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-04-05 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Seraing]

Municipal flag of Seraing - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 1 November 2006

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Presentation of Seraing

The municipality of Seraing (61,237 inhabitants - Sérésiens - on 1 January 2007; 3,548 ha) is located in the valley of Meuse, 15 km west of Liège. The municipality of Seraing is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Boncelles, Jemeppe-sur-Meuse, Ougrée and Seraing. Seraing was once known as the "Iron City" because of the huge metallurgical complex built by the industrial John Cockerill.

The cartularium (a ledger of church or monastery property titles) of the abbey of Sint-Truiden reports the settlement on 9 March 969 of the "Villa Saran", located in the County of Huy. The name of Seraing therefore comes from Saran / Saring, the owner of the domain. This Carolingian domain was later shared and Seraing was transfered to Liège. However, the foundation year of the town is not known. The river Meuse is a natural and very strategic link between Wallonia, France and the Low Countries. A ferry (in French, bac) allowed the crossing of the river to the coal-mining area of Jemeppe-sur-Meuse, which explains the nickname of Séré à batch given to Seraing. The first bridge, made of wood, was built in 1381. Among the duties of the inhabitants of Seraing was the defence of the bridge of Avroy in case of war.
The Saint-Hubert Cantatorium relates the visit made in 1082 by Abbot Thierry I of Saint-Hubert to the Bishop of Liège Henri de Verdun "in his gracious estate in Seranus". The name of the town was later written Serang (1147), Serayng (1151), Sereng (1246), Serangne (1298) and Serey (1598). Documents from the XVII-XVIIIth century use the written form Seraing and Serain. On 2 Nivose of the Year IX (23 December 1800), the Municipal Council decided that the official name of the town would be Seraing.

Located close to coal mines and a navigable river, Seraing became in the XIXth century one of the centers of the Industrial Revolution, which made of Belgium the second industrial power in the world a century later.
In 1809, Quirini-Goreux founded in Ougrée an ironworks, which became later the Fabrique de Fer d'Ougrée. However, the boom of Seraing has to be credited to the English John Cockerill (1790-1840). In 1817, John Cockerill purchased the former castle of the Prince-Bishop of Liège in Seraing from the King of the Netherlands William of Orange. Cockerill originally produced weaving looms; he invented the upstream industrial integration by setting up his own iron factories, coal mines, shipyard and shipping lines in Antwerp. In 1823, Cockerill introduced the coke furnace in continental Europe, revolutioning iron metallurgy. The young Kingdom of Belgium decided in 1830 to develop railway, and the Cockerill factory produced the first locomotives, tracks, and cars; the company produced also iron bridges and ships. The famous railway bridge of Kanchanaburi, in Thailand (better known as "the bridge over the river Kwai"), built in 1942-1943, has tracks labelled "Made by John Cockerill, Ougrée, 1911).
In Le Rhin (1834), Victor Hugo gives a terrifying description of the Cockrill complex:

The whole valley seems to be punched with erupting craters. Some of them discharge behind the coppice swirls of scarlet sparkling steam; other outline gloomily in black villages on a red backround; otherwise, the flames appear between the cracks of a group of buildings.[...]

In the XXth century, the Cockerill company purchased or incorporate the smaller companies involved in metallurgy, forming the Cockerill-Ougrée group in 1955, Cockerill-Ougrée-Providence in 1966 and Cockerill-Ougrée-Providence et Espérance-Longdoz in 1970; the group was renamed simply Cockerill in 1979. In 1981, it was merged with Hainaut-Sambre to form Cockerill-Sambre, which was transferred in 1998 to Usinor (France) by the Walloon Region, its main shareholder. Since 2002, Cockerill-Sambre is part of the group Arcelor, made of the merging of Usinor, Aceralia (Spain) and Arbed (Luxembourg).
Cockerill-Sambre is made of the "hot line" factories located in Ougrée-Seraing and Chertal (municipality of Oupeye). The Centre Opérationnel d'Exploitation Coke-Fonte of Ougrée-Seraing produces liquid smelting for the steelworks of Chertal; it is made of a cokery with 139 ovens groupes in four batteries, producing 800,000 tons of coke per year, of an ore conglomerating chain producing 5 millions tons of ore per year, and of two smelting furnaces located in Ougrée (furnace B) and Seraing (furnace 6) with a heart of 9.75 m in diameter and a production of 117 million ton of liquid smelting per year.
In 1950, Cockerill employed more than 25,000 in Seraing. In the late XXth century, Seraing was severely hit by the steel crisis; some 100,000 industrial jobs have been lost in the region since 1970 and Cockerill-Sambre employed only 6,700 in 2002. In January 2003, Arcelor decided to close its steelworks deemed non profitable, including Eisenhüttenstadt (Germany), Florange (France) and Seraing. This will cause the firing of 9,500 workers and the end of the industrial tradition in Seraing.

The sad fate of Seraing has been depicted by the movie directors Jean-Pierre (b. 1951) and Luc Dardenne (b. 1954), who have used their childhood town as the "natural scenery" for their films, which are a tribute to the inhabitants of Seraing and are expected to help them to overcome the suppression of Cockerill-Sambre and the destruction of their collective industrial heritage. The main movies of the Dardenne brothers are La Promesse (1996), Rosetta (1999, Golden Palm at Cannes Festival, bringing to fame the actress Emilie Dequenne, awarded Best Actress at the Cannes Festival), Le Fils (2002, with Oliver Gourmet awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Festival) and L'Enfant (2006, Golden Palm at Cannes Festival). The Dardennes' style is very crude and realistic, relying on close-ups rather than on sophisticated effects, but extremely empathic and powerful. This is very close to the style used by the Belgian school of documentary, famous for the TV series Strip-Tease.

Seraing was logically one of the hotspots of the workers' movements in Belgium (and deserved the nickname of Seraing la Rouge, the Red Seraing). The factory worker Julien Lahaut (1884-1950) was fired after the 1902 strikes; he founded in 1905 with Bondas a new workers' union called Relève-toi (Stand up!), later renamed Centrale des Métallurgistes. During the First World War, Lahaut faught on the Russian front, where he lived the Revolution. Back to Belgium in 1918, he led the social movements and promoted the joining of his party, the Parti Ouvrier Belge (POB), to Lenin's IIIrd International. Excluded from the POB and its union in 1921, Lahaut founded the Chevaliers du Travail, the core of the later Centrale révolutionnaire des Mineurs and joined the Parti Communiste Belge (PCB) in 1923. He was Deputee from 1932 to 1950, Secretary General of the PCB and editor of the newspaper La Voix du Peuple.
Lahaut opposed also to the Rexist movement led by Léon Degrelle, who admired Hitler and later promoted the collaboration with Germany. In May 1933, Lahaut waved a Nazi German flag in the Chamber and torn it to pieces, saying: "Here is the Nazi flag taken in Liège by the united Communist and Socialist workers. Whatever you say, they will carry on in this country the fight against the acts of the traitors and Hitler's lackeys!" The flag had indeed been stolen from the facade of the German consulate in Liège by Françoise Longchamp during the 1st May demonstration. During the Second War, Lahaut still faught the Rexists, both underground and openly; on 5 January 1942, the Rexists marched against Liège, where they met 7,000 demonstrators led by Lahaut. There was a big riot and on 16 May, the "strike of the 100,000" totally paralyzed the basin of Liège and defied the Germans.
Lahaut was arrested and eventually deported to Mauthausen in 1944. Back to Belgium, he was elected President of the PCB on 11 August 1945. During the so-called "Royal affair", he led the Walloon opposition to the return of King Leopold III. On 11 August 1950, just before Crown Prince Baudouin took the oath in front of the Chambers, someone screamed Vive la République !. It was believed that the screamer was Lahaut. On 18 August, Lahaut was murdered in front of his house by two hitmen. The case was never elucidated and is still a matter of controversy in Belgium.

Seraing is also famous for the crystal glassworks of Val-Saint-Lambert, official supplier of the Royal Court of Belgium and of several other royalties and heads of state. In 1202, Bishop of Liège Hugues de Pierpont gave a piece of land to the Cistercian monks from Signy. The abbey was completely rebuilt in the second half of the XVIIIth century but the monks were expelled by the French revolutionaries in 1796. In 1826, the chemist François Kemlin and the glassworker Auguste Lelièvre, two former directors of the famous glassworks of Vônèche (today in the municipality of Beauraing), founded the Société des Verreries du Val-Saint-Lambert.
In 1894, for the Universal Exhibition of Antwerp, the Val-Saint-Lambert glassworkers worked more than 2,000 hours to design a vase, made of 82 pieces, 2,20 m in height and 200 kg in weight, representing the coat of arms of the (then) nine Belgian provinces.


Ivan Sache, 1 November 2006

Municipal flag of Seraing

The municipal flag of Seraing is white with a red saltire and a black lion in each quarter.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 17 February 1992 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 8 December 1992, as Blanc au sautoir rouge cantonné de quatre lions noirs.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms.

According to Servais, the arms of Seraing were granted by Royal Decree on 21 July 1923. They belonged to the oldest known lord of Seraing, Thiri [Thierry] Huston (XIIth century).

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 1 November 2006