As we clear the ground in our southern Limousin property, we occasionally find quite large lumps of quartz, which we put to one side for use in rock gardens.
However, it looks as if we’d better take a closer look at it. We lie on the edge of a vein of gold-bearing quartz that passes through St Yrieix-la-Perche, famed for the clay that led to the start of the Limoges porcelain industry.
Today’s local newspaper reminds us that the Limousin has known two gold rushes. The first ended when the Romans took over from the Lemovices, a Gaulish tribe that used to make gold coins, and gave its name to Limoges.
The second covered the first half of the 20th century, and at its peak the mine at Chéni, near St Yrieix, employed 250 people. The biggest Limousin mine, at le Châtelet in the Creuse, employed 1,000! It closed in 1955, after producing 11 tonnes of gold.
More recently, a subsidiary of Areva produce 40 tonnes from a mine near St Yrieix between 1982 and 2002, when it closed because the gold price had dropped to €10,000 per kilo. Now it fetches four times as much, so people are getting interested again.