The quarries in this village, and in that of Allemagne, on the opposite side of the Orne, supply most of the free-stone, for which Caen has, during many centuries, been celebrated. Stone of the finest quality is found in strata of different thickness, at the depth of about sixty feet below the surface of the ground. If worked much lower, it ceases to be good. It is brought up in square blocks, about nine feet wide, and two feet thick, by means of vertical wheels, placed at the mouths of the pits. When first dug from the quarry, its color is a pure and glossy white, and its texture very soft; but as it hardens it takes a browner hue, and loses its lustre.
In former days this stone was exported in great quantity to our own country. Stow, in his Survey of London, states that London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, and several others of our public edifices were built with it. Extracts from sundry charters relative to the quarries are quoted by Ducarel, who adds that, in his time, though many cargoes of the stone were annually conveyed by water to the different provinces of the kingdom, the exportation of it out of France was strictly prohibited, insomuch that, when it was to be sent by sea, the owner of the stone, as well as the master of the vessel on board of which it was shipped, was obliged to give security that it should not be sold to foreigners.—We omitted to inquire how far the same prohibitions still continue in force.
At but a short distance from St. Germain de Blancherbe, stands the ruined abbey of Ardennes, now the residence of a farmer; but still preserving the features of a monastic building. The convent was founded in 1138, for canons of the Praemonstratensian order. Its Celtic name denotes its antiquity, as it also tends to prove that this part of the country was covered with timber. The word, arden, signified a forest, and was thence applied, with a slight variation in orthography, to the largest forest in England, and to the more celebrated forest in the vicinity of Liege. According to tradition, the Norman ardennes consisted: of chesnut-trees. De Bourgueville tells us that timber of this description is the principal material of most of the houses in the town. John Evelyn relates the same of those in London; and in our own counties wherever a village church has been so fortunate as to preserve its ancient timber cieling, the clerk is almost sure to state that the wood is chesnut. Either this tree therefore must formerly have abounded in places where it has now almost ceased to exist, or oak timber must have been commonly mistaken for it: and we may equally adopt both these conjectures. The yew and the service, as well as the chesnut, are occasionally mentioned in old charters, and are admitted by botanists to be indigenous in England. I should doubt, however, if any one of them could now be found in a wild state; and there is a fashion in planting as well as in every thing else, which renders peculiar trees more or less abundant at different times.