Communal oven

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The four banal (English: common oven) was a common municipal institution in medieval France. Generally ovens were owned by the feudal lord of the municipality and operated by an ovenmaster or fournier; personal ovens were generally outlawed, requiring users of the communal oven to pay a fee to the fournier to cook their food. Such ovens were masonry ovens built on the Roman plan, and were large enough to hold an entire community's ration of bread. In the hamlet of Nan-sous-Thil (Côte d'Or, France) Lucien Logeat, Nan-sous-Thil Semur-en-Auxois, 1940, noted in a review by Albert Colombet, "Review: En feuilletant une monographie de village", Annales d’histoire sociale 3.1/2 (January - June 1941):78-80. the inhabitants were required to bake their bread at the four banal, as at home they were permitted only a petit four that fit under the hood of the chimneypiece, large enough only to bake "gâteau et flan". The dangers of a communal fire, where thatched cottages huddled together, the reason for the proscription, were not in vain: in 1848 a full quarter of the hamlet of Nan-sous-Thil was consumed by a fire that began from sparks when a housewife heated her oven.

The oven design, but not the feudal monopoly on oven operation, was carried to French colonies, particularly Quebec. The four banal system seems to have died out in France during the 18th century, though it was a time when some dormant seigneurial rights were being insisted upon...
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