The inventor from Ons-en-Bray

Le Compte d'Ons-en-Bray

This scientist was no prima donna of his age. Apparently Compte Louis-Léon Pajot's life began 25 March 1678, basically, quite a few centuries before mine. It ended 22 février 1754, at the age of 76. That's just 20 years before our house was built in Ons-en-Bray. Académicien honoraire, premier titulaire de l'une des places créées, le 23 mars 1716...Scientific and all. Check it out!

Ons-en-Bray is a cute but dying village in France. That is, in the strict sense. Though still in the countryside, the village has become part of a growing commuting belt for large out-of-town stores and employees for Beauvais, which is 12 km away, and even Paris, which is about 90 km.

The French have major screwed up with their local economics, with tax and social charges and more. Little local businesses have been choked out of existence. Result: bar after bistro after butcher's has died, no proper shops except a pharmacy, few if any services: a complete cave in. They love blaming the large stores for this, but that's a scapegoat. They should blame themselves, their policies, their own-goals. They fear the American model in this country, but they have replicated it in the countryside.

Here is a great and ancient village, Ons-en-Bray, 11 hamlets in the Bray area. Old houses, piled close, friendly, but becoming more impersonal thanks to the collapse of the social fabric. It is inept. How can Ons fight on, fight off decline? Okay, they have lots of associations and clubs, which is great. But these attract the converted, like-minded, those with common interests. They co-habit with each other. The Bistro, the butcher shop, the Post Office: there, everyone met, bumped into each other, shared advice, news, life, a criss-cross of people and their stories. This is not a globalisation story, but simply a call for advice from the entire world.

Ons-en-Bray is rather unknown, yet it is distinguished; it virtually invented a wind-speed measuring machine or anemograph, one of the first anemometers:

"Louis-Léon Pajot, comte d’Ons-en-Bray, a tout juste 20 ans lorsqu’il décide de se constituer une collection d’histoire naturelle et de physique. Pajot n’a reçu aucune éducation scientifique ni technique, mais il est passionné par la mécanique et ses applications pratiques, qu’il a découvertes en Hollande. Nommé membre honoraire de l’Académie des Sciences en 1716, il s’intéresse tout particulièrement aux nouvelles machines soumises à l’appréciation de l’Académie pour lesquelles il fournit son avis, n’hésitant pas à l’occasion à proposer aux inventeurs des améliorations. Son cabinet, qu’il installe dans sa maison de Bercy, dans le faubourg Saint-Antoine à Paris, occupe une grande part de son temps, et il invente lui-même de nombreuses machines grâce à l’assistance permanente d’un secrétaire, d’un dessinateur, d’un chimiste et de plusieurs ouvriers. C’est dans cette maison qu’il s’éteindra en 1754, sans laisser de descendance."

So, it seems the Count of Ons was a fairly large chap in terms of what he knew for his time, and thereafter might I add.

Anyway, it puts Ons-en-Bray on the map. That's in Picardy, near Normandy, in northern France, for info; not quite the blue Azur, but France nonetheless. Do the people from Ons-en-Bray know that? Have they forgotten their great heritage? Sometimes I wonder, everytime I see a good "auberge" close down and the long lines of cars eagerly waiting to pick up their grease bag at McDonald's Drive-Thru in Beauvais.

Comte Pajot was surely more than just a Duke of Hazard. Ons-en-Bray's folk should step up and throw caution to the wind.

©RJ Doyle

NB: Article originally called Ons-en-Bray's duke of hazard, title modified 10 October 2007.


PS Note: December 2010: just found out that Francis Beaufort, who invented the Beaufort Wind Force Scale in 1806, as born in Meath in Ireland in 1774. The year our house was built. How extraordinary. From Pajot to Beaufort, quite a lot of wind. Beaufort was a Huguenot, just like John de Courcy Ireland, impassioned by the sea. He also left school at a young age, just like de Courcy Ireland, to go off to sea. For more on Beaufort, see here.

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