Façade of the Château Woolsack at Mimizan
|Alternative names||The Woolsack|
|Location||Mimizan, Landes, France|
|Town or city||Mimizan|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Detmar Blow and Fernand Billerey|
|Other designers||Based on design of Sir Herbert Baker|
The Château Woolsack or Château de Woolsack or The Woolsack is a former hunting lodge located in the commune of Mimizan in the department of Landes in the Aquitaine region of south-western France. Built in 1911 on the shores of Lake Aureilhan by Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, it is a replica in the Tudor style of the home of Rudyard Kipling - the author of The Jungle Book. It is on a site which has been classified since 18 July 1978.
Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster
The 2nd Duke of Westminster, born in 1879, came from one of the richest and most prestigious families of Great Britain and he was reputed to be the richest man in England. The young aristocrat soon became the most brilliant gentleman in the UK thanks to his lavish receptions, great hunts, and travels.
Origins of the castle
Shortly after this first visit the Duke purchased a wooded area of over 10 hectares on the banks of Lake Aureilhan to build a hunting lodge. It was offered to him by the British Crown in recognition of the courage he showed during the Second Boer War and for services rendered.
Construction work began in 1911. The architects Detmar Blow and Fernand Billerey used plans made by Sir Herbert Baker for the property "Woolsack" in South Africa which was built by Cecil Rhodes for Rudyard Kipling, and which also inspired the name of the property in Mimizan.
Life at the château
The Duke of Westminster regularly stayed in his new Tudor style of Cape Town property until 1940 and for some time beyond for official obligations. In the absence at the time of any land access, the Duke used a boat to access his property, where he organized hunts and receptions. His coming was an important event for the region: many inhabitants of the town were in his service.
An English quarter was built next to the castle: a dozen bungalows, all in white and black lacquered wood. They accommodated the grooms alongside the stables. This area was also occupied by the staff who organised hunting parties, the steward, the head housekeeper, the dog handlers, the mule-drivers, the chauffeur, and the Duke's friends. There were thirty horses occupying the stables and no less than sixty dogs in the kennels.
In his memoirs, Loelia Ponsonby, the third wife of the Duke, wrote about Woolsack: "There I cut down trees to reveal the view of the lake, I arranged the steps to go down to the water".
From 1924 to 1930 Coco Chanel was a close friend of the Duke and a privileged visitor to the castle where she came to revitalise herself. She was sometimes in the company of the seamstresses of her workshop to whom she offered a dream holiday in Le Pylon villa, years before the introduction of paid holidays.
Other personalities of the interwar period followed such as: Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dalí, Suzanne Lenglen, Lloyd George, Georges Carpentier, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the designer Sem, and Sir Anthony Eden. Winston Churchill, who had been an intimate friend of the Duke since the Boer War, made frequent visits to Woolsack - alone or with his family. He liked to walk on the shores of the lake and sometimes set up his easel to paint. He produced twenty canvases depicting Mimizan and its surroundings.
The area is rich in game. Wild boar and deer are present in excellent areas for the chasse à courre (hunting with hounds) which is the reason for the chateau. Pigeons, thrushes, ortolans, and woodcocks were also highly sought after by the Duke.
During his time the Duke wanted a wild hunting lodge and to limit access to the Lake of Aureilhan. To this end he built a pontoon which was always visible and made the crossing by motorboat.
After the Duke
Nazi Troops occupied Mimizan on 28 June 1940. The chateau was requisitioned to house officers. On Liberation the house was returned to its owner.
On 7 February 1947 the Duke married for the fourth time to Nancy Anne Winifred Sullivan. When the couple were about to come for a honeymoon in Woolsack, the house caught fire on the night of 23 February 1947 and a large part was burnt. The Duke returned to Woolsack only once before his death in 1953 to decide the sale of his property. Restored by Mr. Sargos, the chateau then became the property of Groupe Gascogne in the 1980s who intended it for seminars and receptions. It is now privately owned by individuals.
- Presentation panel of the monument onsite
- Exposition ASEM Archeology at Mimizan, July 2009
- Mimizan, Woolsack, Coco Chanel, and Le Pylone, Georges Cassagne, imprimerie Andres à Labouheyre, June 2011 (in French)
- Mimizan, a nod at the past, Georges Cassagne, édition Atlantica, 2007, p 91 (in French)
- Mimizan, Pearl of the Silver Coast, d'Hervé Foglia (in French)
- A Guesthouse located at the end of the Rue de la Poste at Mimizan beach