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City Chronicle

Prehistoric Times

a dense jungle of oaks and beeches with thick underbrush in the higher parts of the landscape; impassable moors with floodplain forests of willows, poplars and alders in the lowlands, deep green meadows in-between with quietly meandering creeks: That's what the land looked like where later Vorst and St. Tönis were to develop. In this landscape with creeks rich in fish lived grazing wild horses, aurochs and red deer as well as lurking bears and wolves. A mighty shield of ice had created this fertile, rolling plain and during one of the last cold stages, about 200,000 years ago, it made its way all the way to Krefeld (Saale-Cold Stage). Thus the Hüls Mountain was created, really being an end moraine. The gigantic body of ice pushed the Rhine all the way to today's Niers Valley, leaving in its wake a Pleistocene watercourse. the huge water masses modelled island areas in the Niers valley, later called "donks", which were highly sought after places of safety for the Franks. In the higher regions – such as the Kempen Plate – the icy winds deposited rocks, fine as dust, called loess, which developed into fertile ground.

The New Stone Age

The first signs of settlements were left by human beings in the New Stone Age about 5,000 years ago. They lived in clans on the fertile soil in typical longhouses together with their livestock and seeds – prehistoric versions of today's wheat – under one roof. Aside from einkorn and emmer as forms of wheat, grains from wild grass were cultivated along with peas, lentils, poppies and flax. The New Stone Age, also called Neolithic, was a special epoch, replacing the hunting and gathering lifestyle with a sedentary one based on agriculture. That's why there is often talk of a Neolithic revolution. This process of profound change – away from a gathering to a producing way of life – initially began in the Orient and spread from there to Europe. Typical for the New Stone Age are ground (not just roughly cut) stone artefacts such as were found during excavations in the brickyard "Duffeskuhl" near today's Gotthardusweg. Today, these artefacts are kept in the Kramer Museum in Kempen.

Iron Age

Traces of a settlement during the Iron Age (800 B.C. until around the time of Christ's birth) were found by the Butzenstrasse in the Stieger Moorland. This settlement was said to have been situated near a creek connected to the Niers and which was to have sprung up in the Tack area (near today's Water Tower). During those times, Central Europe was settled by the Celts which were well-versed in agriculture and were said to have already mastered the art of brewing beer.

The Romans

in Central Europe, the Celts were followed by the Romans. After Cesar had conquered the left Lower Rhine (58 – 51 B.C.), a Germanic tribe called the Tungerer (or Cugerner) settled here in Tönisvorst as Roman federates. They are said to have established the first closed settlement in Tönisvorst. Testimony to this is a burial ground with around 200 cremation graves by "Hinkes Weißhof". Articles such as perfume vials, colourful glass pearls and decorated bronze clasps were found there. Today, photos of these artefacts may be viewed in Vorst's City Hall. It is assumed that the Germanic tribes worshipped their gods there where a church stands even today: That of St. Gotthardus in Vorst.

The Franks

During the 5th century A.D., the Romans left Lower Germania and the Franks (a conglomeration of Germanic tribes) conquered the land. Upon covering the region, the preferred settlement form was the single farm settlement. Many of today's farms located by the edges of the low lands and near former creek beds have their origins in a Frankish farm.

Later, throughout the 9th century, the Franks were said to have withdrawn into the moorlands which were difficult to access. Here – on natural donks or on man-made motten (artificial earth mounds surrounded by water) they erected living and defence towers made of wattle and daub or of wood. Since the wood decomposed throughout the years, they began making these defensive works out of stone and constructed castles. These, similar to the farms, often had a "Berfes", or "Bergfried", a defensive tower which offered protection for life and property in case of danger. Examples of Berfes are the Berfes of the Gelles Farm, at Haus Donk and at the Koitz Farm in the Huverheide.

The Middle Ages and Early Modern Age

As referenced above, with the conquest by the Franks, the land where Vorst and St. Tönis were yet to develop became part of the Frankish empire with its focal point around Cologne at about 500 A.D. The Franks divided their land into districts called "Gaus". For the Rhineland and its surrounding area, these were specifically Jülichgau, Zülpichgau and Kölngau. Together with Kempen, Viersen and Nettetal, Tönisvorst is said to have belonged to Mülgau (or Mühlgau). The Gaus themselves were divided into Honschafts, agricultural administrative units which were managed by the Hönne or Mayor responsible for the jurisdiction. Kempen, which subsequently changed into the hands of the Cologne Archbishops and was called Amt Kempen, consisted of the six Honschafts Schmalbroich, Broich, Orbroich, Benrad, Grosse ("big") Honschaft and Kleine ("little") Honschaft. Vorst developed in the area of the "Grosse Honschaft". The point of origin for the middle-aged Vorst is the Brempt Manor – said to have been based on a motte surrounded by water. The village got its name by the forests surrounding the Brempt Manor. In those times, such privately maintained forests were written as "Vorst" as opposed to natural woods, the "Boosch".

St. Tönis on the other hand developed in the "Kleine Honschaft" and owes its name to the moorlands. Legend tells of a shepherd who one morning heard singing coming out of a juniper bush and found the picture of Saint Antonius. A chapel was erected on the same spot where today the St. Cornelius Church is located. Other interpretations state that the land on which St. Tönis stands today was part ("Allmende") of the Amt Kempen where mainly pigs grazed. St. Antonius, patron saint of all livestock and often depicted with pigs may also have been the one to give St. Tönis its name. It is assumed that a chapel was built to facilitate access for the surrounding farms. In time, the church became the origin of all further developments.

Concerning the development of the church, Vorst, as opposed to St. Tönis, already received relics of St. Godehard in 1131 by Friedrich I., Archbishop of Cologne, to incorporate into its own church, while St. Tönis only received permission to construct a chapel in 1380 by Friedrich von Saarwerden. With the development into legal parishes (St. Tönis in 1528 and Vorst in 1559) both villages received more leniencies to initiate developmental measures.

As in the early times, the people in the region lived off the land. Aside from farming and animal husbandry, it was especially the flax which delivered the basic material for linen, thus becoming an important source for the subsequent development of the textile industry. During those times, farming was conducted in form of two-field crop rotation: While one half of the land was farmed, the other half rested, resulting in severe soil depletion. The subsequent three-field crop rotation introduced in the later middle ages – along with technical modernisation such as an iron plough instead of a wood plough – led to an increase in agricultural production. In use was a rotation system whereby one field was cultivated with summer grain, one with winter grain and one rested. This three-field crop rotation was widely distributed throughout many parts of Central Northern and Eastern Europe before agricultural modernisation.

Modern Age and Reformation

The end of the Middle Ages had come and the Modern Age began. Germany was still not a joint state such as Spain or France, but rather consisted of seven different electors, both religious (Archbishops of Cologne, Trier and Mainz) as well as secular (for example King of Bohemia, Palsgrave by Rhine), a "patchwork" of administrative units. These electors selected the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, who was crowned by the Pope. Until 1806, Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was the official name of Germany.

The existing catholic church no longer did justice to the image the followers had of the simple life led by Jesus Christ. The reformation, among others initiated by the theses of Martin Luther, began. The unity of belief throughout the Middle Ages disintegrated, resulting in differences between Catholics and reformers and culminating in religious wars. Due to the reformation movement, the Northern Provinces of the Netherlands became protestant, declared their independence and began a revolutionary war against the catholic Spain.

The reformation movements also reached faraway Cologne. The Manorial Lord of Vorst and St. Tönis, the Archbishop of Cologne and elector Gebhard von Truchsess professed himself reformer, which had severe consequences for the archdiocese Cologne. Gebhard von Truchsess was deposed from all offices by the Pope and the German Emperor. He then joined forces with The Netherlands as well as the reformed Count of Moers. Meanwhile in Cologne, Ernst of Bavaria was installed as elector of Cologne, resulting in a war between the protestant troops around the former Cologne elector Truchsess and the new governor of Cologne, Ernst of Bavaria – and this, of all things, in the near vicinity of Tönisvorst:

Near Hüls is where Truchsess with Adolfs von Moers defeated the newly appointed elector of Cologne, Ernst of Bavaria. As a consequence, mercenary soldiers controlled the unprotected land of the Amt Kempen, pillaged Vorst and set fire to the gothic church built in 1482. After the Truchsessi War (1582 – 1589) pillages continued for years throughout Vorst and St. Tönis through Dutch troops and troop settlements.

1618 – The 30 years' War Took its Course

1618 marks the beginning of religious wars between catholics and protestants throughout the course of the reformation under the leadership of Martin Luther. Tönisvorst, however, remained relatively quiet for some time – until 1642, the "Hessian Year". This is the year when the 30 years' war reached Tönisvorst with all its violence, resulting in the battle by the Landwehr between Krefeld and St. Tönis (Hückelsmay), a Landwehr which had already been built in the 15th century to protect the Amt Kempen. The protestant side with its French, Hessian and Weimar Troops moved into their winter quarters in the Cologne Electorate, behind the Landwehr of the "Große Honschaft". In answer to this outrageous provocation, the Archbishop of Cologne asked imperial troops for help in driving out the foreigners. The imperial troops settled in what today is Forstwald, i.e. north of the Landwehr. The French and Hessians, however, defeated the Catholic imperial troops and subsequently destroyed farms and villages of the Amt Kempen, including Vorst and St. Tönis. In St. Tönis, the church fell prey to the flames. The region did not come to rest until six years later when the Westphalian Peace was enacted and The Netherlands became independent.

1756 – 1763 The Seven Years' War

Throughout the patchwork that was former Germany, new alliances were continuously formed. The Cologne Electors sought closeness to France. Ultimately, the Cologne Elector Clemens formed ties with Hungary, Austria and Bohemia against the increasingly stronger Prussia, until 1756 when France and Austria declared war on Prussia. By way of background: Friedrich II, known as The Great, conquered Silesia in 1740 (today Poland), resulting in a conflict with Austria and, by virtue of varying alliance systems, with other European powers such as France or Great Britain (the three so-called Silesian wars ensued). In order to preclude another attack, Friedrich II invaded Saxony in 1756: The beginning of the Seven Years' War (1756 – 1763). Prussia won one of the decisive battles on Tönisvorst soil near the Hückelsmay on the St. Tönis Moorland. There, in the spring of 1758, Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, his 30,000 soldiers outnumbered almost 2:1 defeated the French army under Count Clermont. The French retreated to Cologne, Vorst and St. Tönis fell to the Prussians.

The French Revolution (1789) and Napoleon Conquered the Left Lower Rhine (1794)

It was the time after the French Revolution, Napoleon ruled France. In 1794 Napoleon's troops conquered the left bank of the Rhine River and incorporated Vorst – formerly belonging to the Electorate of Cologne –into St. Tönis in 1798. From now on, both were considered part of the Arrondissement (administrative unit) Krefeld. Vorst and St. Tönis became Mairie (office of the Mayor). In 1801 the German emperor recognized the French conquests in the Peace of Lunéville and relinquished the left Rhineland to France. Profound reforms were introduced. The Mairie received a new code of law in 1804, the "code civil". Official language was now French, as can still be seen in old civil status books in the Tönisvorst Civil Registry Office.

The French rule lasted fourteen years until Napoleon was banned in 1813. After that, the need for a European reorganisation with the goal of recreating the pre-revolutionary order was recognized and took place on the Vienna Congress in 1815. The territorial restructuring set forth that the Rhineland goes to the Prussians. The Prussian administrative system dismantled the Honschaft and formed the District of Kempen, which included Vorst and St. Tönis.

Gerhard Seulen, retired Major (1796-1865) - One Mayor for Vorst and St. Tönis

Almost everyone knows the Seulenstrasse in Vorst or the Seulen Farm in St. Tönis. A little-known fact: Already before the communal restructuring in 1970, Vorst and St. Tönis had a common administration. First from 1823 to 1851 and later again from 1863 to 1865, Mayor Gerhard Seulen, a retired Major (1796-1865), used the Koitz Farm (Seulen Farm) in the Huverheide as his office to lead all administrative activities for Vorst and St. Tönis. He led the city district of St. Tönis from 1823 to 1865, and even if Gerhard Seulen was simultaneously District Representative of the District of Kempen as well as Member of the General Assembly in Berlin: The office of Mayor was his favourite "stomping ground".

Seulen was often called the "terror of all evil-doers". Seulen was Mayor at a time when the industrial age began. Two thirds of the population worked as silk weavers in nearby Krefeld. Mayor Gerhard Seulen was said to have kept a close eye on everyone's general well-being. When a crisis in the textile industry ensued in the mid-19th century due to mechanisation of processes and sales problems, St. Tönis was in trouble. In this time, a supportive society was established to "prevent the working class from unemployment and poverty!". By completing infrastructure projects such as the completion of waterways and roadways, everyone was given the chance to earn their keep. These work creation programs were paid out of public coffers.

The Seulen family remained loyal to both communities by virtue of the fact that both sons, Jacob and Franz, assumed the respective positions of Mayor in St. Tönis and Vorst. Today, a memorial stone on the Seulen Farm honours Gerhard Seulen. There is also a monument in his honour at the Hückelsmay, said to have been erected on his own initiative.

Milling Tradition

Only a few cities can point to a mill as one of their landmarks, even though surely each village must have had its own mill. milling a large quantity of grain simply required a mill. Around the year 1000, water mills, once introduced into the Germanic Rhine provinces by the Romans, were widely-used. A good 500 years later, the windmills started coming on strong, however only in places where there was sufficient wind available. In Tönisvorst, the Streuff Mill is testimony to a 500 year windmill tradition. It stands before the former Lower Gate near the erstwhile milling path and was owned by the Cologne Archbishop as Manorial Lord, who owned the milling rights and leased the building for an appropriate fee. At the time, it was a relatively lucrative source of income for the lord, since in addition to the leasing fee, the farmers of the Honschaft had to pay to let their grain be milled. Only when the French assumed power over the left Lower Rhine area, thereby introducing secularisation (division of State and Church), most mills came into private ownership.

The first certified mention of a windmill in the St. Tönis Moorland is in 1479. It is said to have stood on the Ühlen-Mountain along the way to Vorst. It was a post mill which, after its owner, the Elector of Cologne obviously failed to have it reconstructed into a more high-capacity mill, is said to have burned down in the 18th century.

The second mill is the previously mentioned tower wind mill by the Gelderner Strasse, the Streuff Mill, which milled grains for the population's daily bread all the way until 1945. In 1865, another wind mill was built by today's Mühlenstrasse, which remained there until the end of World War II.

There were also small, privately-owned mills to mill rape seed. It is assumed that the thatched, octagonal building by Gross Lind is just such a mill. It was said to have been a horse-gin, a mill powered by horses, a construction which has served to mill grains for thousands of years long before the discovery of the water mill. According to other reports, the round barn at Gross Lind is supposed to have been a storage cellar for beets. The Meer Farm is to have had a horse-gin as well.

The time of the wind mills in Tönisvorst came to an end as the industrial revolution in the 19th century brought forth the steam engine, the combustion engine and the electrical engine. Large mills with their significantly higher capacity represent an overpowering competition. Heinrich Mertens built a large steam mill in 1873/1874 on the Wilhelmplatz which extracted oil and milled grains and even had its own railroad connection.

The 19th Century – Dawn of a Modern Era of Industry

For the people of the middle ages an unimaginable dream: Having animal and human work be completely replaced by machines – and even more efficiently. Inventions such as the steam engine by James Watt or the "Spinning Jenny" in the 18th century enabled a reorganisation of work and production processes. The industrial revolution took its course. Originating in England, it soon spread throughout Europe and eventually changed the face of the world and of society.

The "Spinning Jenny", invented in 1746, a spinning machine which could spin several cotton threads in parallel as well as the first mechanical loom (1823) fell onto fertile ground in Tönisvorst and the entire Lower Rhine region. The cultivation of flax and the weaving of linen had already been part of agricultural activities in Central Europe. Now the weaving of linen developed in some regions – such as the Lower Rhine – into an important source of income. Thus the weaving of linen as well as wool increasingly characterized economic life in Tönisvorst from the 16th century on. Flax, which grew well on local soil, was harvested, drawn onto combs, lain into water basins (to separate the fibre from the hard outer bark), then dried, broken down, drawn into individual strings and ultimately spun.

With the introduction of silk weaving in Krefeld, pre-industrial types of production began to form: In form of house weaving for the Krefeld silk industry. The weavers mostly worked for one principal, from whom they had either leased or bought a loom along with the raw materials and were paid by piece rate. In St. Tönis, weaving ultimately became the population's largest source of income and St. Tönis became largely dependent on the silk industry. With the introduction of the mechanical loom, however, the days of house weavers were numbered. Through the creation of factories with mechanical looms, the private weavers were increasingly replaced by machines.

In the 19th century, another modern technical achievement found its way into Tönisvorst: The railroad, of which there is even a small piece of railway still in existence today (Schluff). Even though the first locomotive was put into operation in 1804, the connection to the railroad network came for Tönisvorst only in 1870/71. The "Crefeld-Kreis-Kempener-Industrie-Eisenbahn" was lovingly called "Schluff" since the sound of the steam exiting was supposed to have sounded like someone shuffling their slippers. Of the formerly 50 km railway network, only the connection St. Tönis – Hülser Berg (app. 13.6 km) remains to this day. The former industrial transport vehicle (which ceased operations in 1951) is used today largely for recreational activities.

The Last Century

The two world wars shaped life in the first half of the last century. Both communities were occupied and beleaguered by attacks during World War II, especially towards the end. After the occupancy through American and later British allies, the Rhineland and Westphalia were combined into North Rhine-Westphalia in 1946.

The union of the two communities in 1970 resulted in city rights, so Tönisvorst is really a relatively young city.

With Vorst and St. Tönis, two communities were united whose respective history already had many things in common. St. Tönis however was subject to more rapid growth, especially in the beginning of the 20th century, whereas Vorst was able to maintain its country charm with its relaxing recreational value.

Even though combined out of two individual communities, Tönisvorst today offers a homogeneous picture and invites you to experience a lively piece of the Lower Rhine, whether by bicycle or with the historic Schluff train.

For more information on the city's history, we recommend a visit with our experts, the Heritage Society Vorst and the Heritage Association St. Tönis.