Sabbe Rettery closed down in the 1970s and has a slightly neglected appearance, but in reality it is one of the best-preserved retteries along the River Lys. The site, including the steam engine and chimney, was listed as a monument in 2005.
Sabbe Rettery is located in Bondgenotenlaan, but you can also see the site from the towpath along the River Lys. If you continue along the towpath, you arrive at the Verschaeve flax company, another very important site – it is discussed under a separate item.
Together, both sites give a good picture of the flax industry in the 1920-1960 period: you can see the typical retting pits, the steam engines and corresponding chimneys, a couple of flax barns and possibly a scutching mill. The buildings are surrounded by bleach greens where the flax ‘chapels’ were set up to dry.
The doors under the concrete building gave access to the retting pits. They were filled with flax and subsequently filled up with water of about 32°C. This initiated a rotting process which separated the textile fibres from the woody core of the flax stalks.
This core was subsequently broken in the scutching mill, upon which the resulting woody tubes were removed from the textile fibres. These wooden tubes were used by the flax manufacturers to fuel their steam engines. This explains why the flax industry used steam engines for such a long time: the fuel costs were minimal. Sabbe Rettery also operated on steam until the 1970s.
You can learn more about the Sabbe flax family under the item 'Sabbe House'.
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