The Birth of a Village

A new village is born in 1614. A story in three acts.

River Scheldt from Rupelmonde to the North Sea (1505)Original Source: Felix Archive

Act I: The island of Doel in 13th - 16th century

The history of Doel is closely linked to the tidal river Scheldt. The renewed embankment of the polder of Doel in 1614 is a turningpoint. The lives of the pioneers exploiting these polders concentrated on the founding of a brand-new village: Doel.

River Scheldt from Rupelmonde to the North Sea (1505)Original Source: Felix Archive

Between the 13th and 16th century the island of 'De Doolen' was used intensively.

Not so much as agricultural land or for habitation but mainly for grazing, fishing and bird catching as is symbolised by the sheep barn on the island.

Figurative map of Doelpolder (1575) by unknownGemeente Beveren

From 1567 on summer dykes were replaced by hard dykes to withstand winter storms in order to allow a durable reconversion to arable land and permanent habitation.

The map nicely shows the scattered habitation in the region around 1570.

Up untill today the Western and Eastern 'lanchen wech' or long road still structure the polder of Doel.

Dijken doorgestoken bij Antwerpen, 1585 (1585) by Hogenberg, FransRijksmuseum

The Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) meant much of the polder land was inundated by insurgents for strategic military reasons. In the lower right corner 'Den Doel' is again almost completely seperated from the mainland.

Stranded whale in the ScheldtOriginal Source: Rijksmuseum

Did you know that on 2 July 1577 three whales drifted ashore along the river Scheldt? One of them nearby Doel.

The island of Doel and the flooded polders (1602) by Pierre de BersaquesOriginal Source: ARA, LA4413

When Antwerp finally signed the surrender to the Spaniards on 17 August 1585 in Beveren, a devastated polder area was left behind.

Yet we must not be blinded by the masses of water on most of the 17th century maps.

The Lords of Beveren had every interest in presenting the area as desolate as possible. Because those who failed to reclaim their land in the event of flooding lost this land to the lord of this area.

Map of the village of Doel (1632/1799) by UnknownGemeente Beveren

Act II: A new village is born in 1614.

Twaalfjarig Bestand (1613) by Simon FisiusGemeente Beveren

During the Twelve Years' Truce (1609-1621), the first patents for re-embankment soon followed everywhere along the Westerschelde. This was the case in the Doelpolder as well.

Figurative map of the Doel Polder (1750) by Peter StijnenGemeente Beveren

The dike works were mostly financed by Antwerp investors. Some of them fled to the North after the city fell in Spanish hands in 1585. Jan Brant is perhaps the best known. He was the father of Isabella Brant, first wife of painter Pieter Paul Rubens.

At the same time, the construction of the village Doel was started. This on the basis of a rational and straightforward plan that fitted with the geometrical parcel pattern of the polder.

Map of the village of Doel (1632/1799) by UnknownGemeente Beveren

On 17th century maps the village shows its characteristic geometric pattern. The street layout has barely changed between the 17th and early 21st century. Mind the norh-south-axes and streets build in a right angle.The historical core of the town can be traced back to the axis between the church and the port.

Photograph of the Camermanstreet by UnknownGemeente Beveren

The origins of Doel can be explained by various factors. A first reason was the housing shortage for labourers. Because the polders around Doel were far away from the main towns, the new village easily attracted workers to settle.

Pastorijstraat in DoelGemeente Beveren

A second reason for the success of the village was the flourishing trade in agricultural goods with the port and direct connection to the river Scheldt as a major asset. This resulted in a well-developed artisan and tertiary sector with several hotels.

Veltboek Doelpolder (1733) by RicquierGemeente Beveren

Act III: Sightseeing
Join us on a visit of the most important sites of the village in the early 17th century.

Map of the village of Doel (1632/1799) by UnknownGemeente Beveren

The Port

The port was quintessential in transporting the grain harvest to urban markets such as Antwerp. The 1567 dyking authorization already projected the construction of a port, but it was untill 1614 that a quay between the acces bridge to the walled-in Polder Hall and the Scheldt dyke was constructed. These construction works were awarded to Leiden contractor Bastiaen Cornelis on the 8th of April 1614.

Port of DoelGemeente Beveren

Overview of the Scheldt from Fort Bath to Antwerp (1832/1833) by J. B. ClermansOriginal Source: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The Mill

Everything indicates that the Doel mill - on top of the Scheldt dike - is the oldest building in the village. Duke Charles III of Croy, Lord of Beveren, granted permission in 1611 to build this windmill. Three years later it was known as the 'windmill of the Kerckengat', erected on the spot where shortly before the fortress Kerckengat was located. However, the mill remains a mystery. As the dike is built around the foot of the mill, there must have been a mill hill before 1611...

Picture postcard of the windmill in DoelGemeente Beveren

Veltboek Doelpolder (1733) by RicquierGemeente Beveren

The Church

It is only in 1672, after the Tractaet van Limietscheydinghe of 1664, that the catholic inhabitants of Doel were allowed to build a chapel. Atypically the first Roman catholic chapel is not built in the center of the villlage, but at the southern border, next to the Hooghuis. A hundred years later the chapel was expanded.

Church of DoelGemeente Beveren

Many extensions and renovations followed.

The street grid and buildingd still structure the village of Doel today. Can you spot them?

Credits: Story

Algemeen Rijksarchief Brussel
Rijksarchief Gent
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Felixarchief Antwerpen
Gemeentearchief Beveren

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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