View City Arques Industry Heritage Arc (1)Vue Ville Arques© Photo Carl Office De Tourisme De La Région De Saint Omer (1)
©Aerial view of the city of Arques|Photo Carl - Tourisme en Pays de Saint-Omer

Arques, industrial capital

Arques and its industries

It has more than one savoir-faire to its Arques. Arques, Saint-Omer’s neighboring town, is home to some remarkable factories and industries. The world’s largest glass and crystal factory, a boat elevator unique in France, a railroad unlike any other and a giant brewery: welcome to the town of industrial records


Water and wood

Why so much industry in Arques? Quite simply because the town is surrounded by water and wood (today’s Clairmarais forest), two precious resources for industry. Arques is crossed by the Neuffossé canal, built in 1774, which links the town of Aire-sur-la-Lys to the town of Saint-Omer and enables goods to be transported to the major regional ports.

At the heart of this paper-making valley shaped by water were to develop, from 1870, with the Freycinet plan and in the midst of industrialization, a railway line and a boat elevator. Spinning mills, distilleries, tile factories and the glass industry grew up around these infrastructures.

A rail of history

The railway line running through Arques dates back to 1874. So it was there before the construction of the boat elevator, built from 1881.

The line linked Saint-Omer to Boulogne-sur-Mer to supply and distribute the production of the Aa paper mills. It ceased operations in 1959. Since 1997, the rail line has been used by the Association du Chemin de Fer Touristique de la Vallée de l’Aa, which preserves the rolling stock and buildings (the stations) of the Audomarois railway heritage.

Trains like no other

The Chemin de Fer Touristique winds through the Aa valley between Arques and Lumbres on 15 km of track, always passing close to the Blendecques cardboard mills and cement works.

Thirty or so volunteers perpetuate the human genius of the 19th century by maintaining these magnificent mechanical machines and introducing visitors to the area’s industrial history. The journey begins at the Arques train station, aboard extraordinary machines with names that make you dream: Picasso railcars, Caravelle and other steam locomotives.

When boats took the elevator

The construction of the Fontinettes boat elevator, inaugurated in 1888, lasted 7 years. Unique in France, this system replaces a ladder of 5 locks on the Neuffossé canal. The barges crossed a 13-metre difference in height using water power alone. The ingenious idea was the brainchild of English engineer Edwin Clark.

The colossal task of diverting the canal, creating the feeder channel for the barges, and building this brick-steel colossus was a huge undertaking. Freycinet-gauge boats 38 meters long, 5 meters wide and weighing 350 tons take the elevator until 1967. Classified as a Historic Monument in 2014, it became a tourist attraction. The site, now closed, is being completely restored for a forthcoming reopening.

Arc, world leader in glass

What remains today of the innovative industrial spirit of the 19th century? The glass and crystal factory, founded in 1825. The company, which will soon celebrate its two-hundredth anniversary, has left its mark on national and global industry. Glass blowing, automation, mechanized crystal manufacturing, new types of glass, Arc has never stopped innovating.

The group’s five brands are sold in 160 countries. Arques is still the group’s leading production site with 3 million items per day, 10 furnaces, 4,500 employees and 50 production lines.

The Goudale brewery, a giant from Audomar

It was only built in Arques in 2017, but it too perpetuates the human genius and brewing know-how that characterize the Audomarois region. Created by André Pecqueur, head of the Brasserie de Saint-Omer, it covers 10 hectares and aims to produce 2.5 million hectolitres of beer a year, for over 70 references.

It has as many kilometers of stainless steel pipes as a trip between Lille and Marseille as the crow flies (over 800 km!). A giant to discover on guided tours.