The Old Parish of Winterswijk

By Dirk Willem te Selle

If you want to know something about the Te Selles, then you must also understand the background of the East-Achterhoek municipality of Winterswijk. Winterswijk is a border municipality. It is surrounded on the north-west and the south-west by the municipalities of Eibergen, Lichtenvoorde and Aalten and in the north-east and south-east by the border with Germany.

In earlier times Winterswijk, together with Aalten and Dinxperlo, was part of the Heerlijkheidor het Ambt Bredevoort, named after the small fortified city with the same name. (An “Ambachtsheerlijkheid” is the proprietary estate of a local Lord) This area was for a long time the plaything of warring regional – and later – national and international powers. After having been under strong Westfalian (and Bishopric of Münster.) influence in the early Middle Ages, the Ambachtsheerlijkheid Bredevoort came more and more under control of a regional dynasty, which had a more western and southern base, namely the counts and dukes of Gelre. (Gelre is an ancient name for Gelderland, now a province of the Netherlands)

The Duchy of Gelre, in turn, was pulverized in the 16th century in the titanic battle between the Northern Netherlands and the Spanish Empire. After this battle, Bredevoort became, as a matter of law, a part of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. However, its separate status as an estate was maintained. As thanks for proven services, the States of Gelderland granted Bredevoort to the House of Orange at the beginning of the 17th century.

The centuries-long special position as an estate, with its own legal, administrative, and economic institutions, together with its geographic isolation, has influenced in a very important way the social and political development of the area. With the inception of the kingdom of the Netherlands at the beginning of the 19th century, Bredevoort was dismantled. Dinxperlo, Aalten, and Winterswijk attained the status of independent municipalities; there was no longer a place for the once so illustrious little city of Bredevoort. It became classified under the community of Aalten.

The present community of Winterswijk measures almost 14,000 hectares (34,600 acres), and with that surface area, it is among the largest communities of the Netherlands. In relation to its surface area, the community is sparsely populated. In 1998 more than 28,500 people lived in Winterswijk, of which about 5,400 in the countryside. Consequently, we are dealing with an area that is strongly influenced by agriculture. In fact, almost 10% of the working population still makes its living in agriculture. (The whole of the Netherlands is less than 5%.)

In spite of its agricultural bias, Winterswijk itself is a thriving village, even having some urban features here and there. About 23,000 people live there. Some quarters remind one of the industrial towns in Twente. That is not surprising. The growth of Winterswijk from a small village to a regional center was created by the same branch of industry that had previously given sleepy towns in Twente an industrial focus: the textiles industry, with all the features that come with it, such as a real “textile proletariat’. This gave Winterswijk the reputation (not incorrectly), even in the more orthodox (Calvinistic) Aalten, of a “red” village. The unfavorable tide for the textile industry also did not bypass Winterswijk. Presently the textile industry has almost vanished completely.

In spite of building up a new reputation as a regional center, it has not been easy to attract replacement industries, primarily because of the economic recession of the late sixties. In addition, the Achterhoek region is located somewhat outside the mainstream of industrial activity. At one time there were two railroads from Winterswijk, one to Borken and another to Bocholt. Both have been closed. Now there is very little traffic and commercial activity passing through Winterswijk, either from industrial areas of western Holland heading east toward Germany, or vice versa. This lack of traffic makes it difficult to resurrect the old ideal of Winterswijk as a commercial center for the German border region.

The village of Winterswijk somehow gives the impression of a village that has left behind its rural vitality and has become urbanized. The picturesque setting, which is an identifying mark for other Achterhoek villages, was forced to disappear. But this change stands in sharp contrast to the countryside surrounding it.

In this context, one can speak of the “two Winterswijks”. A person leaving the village behind and turning onto one of the many hardened or unhardened country roads perceives that this countryside also differs from the countryside found elsewhere in the Netherlands. Accustomed as one is to the right-angled, “industrialized” Dutch countryside, in Winterswijk the visitor comes across a small scale, broken, uneven landscape full of woods and dotted with characteristic farmsteads. Large-scale agriculture has had little effect on the Winterswijk landscape, while at the same time the mass tourism from surrounding Dutch cities also remains distinct in ‘het Gooi’ (near Amsterdam) and at the ‘Veluwe’ (near Arnhem). The natural variation and wrinkled character of the landscape have been influenced by the special geological composition of the soil. Geological forces in the distant past brought up earth strata in the region of Winterswijk, strata which remained deep under the surface in other areas of the Netherlands. Consequently, there are chalk formations which come to the surface close to the “Fökkink” farm, providing opportunities for exploitation (the well-known “quarry”) as well as an excellent biotope for a multitude of species of plants. Elsewhere deep ravines were formed through which flowed an extended system of brooks, creating the geological conditions necessary for the forming of peat. Examples of this are the “Wooldse Veen, the “Boerlose Veen”, and the “Korenburger Veen”. The Winterswijk countryside is above all, however, a cultural landscape. It would not look as it does without its human influence, an influence upon which its appearance has accentuated the physiographic diversity.

The Winterswijk rural population is scattered over 10 hamlets: Miste, Corle, Meddo, Ratum, Huppel, Henxel, Kotten, Brinkheurne, Woold, and Dorpbuurt. Originally the majority of the population lived in these villages.

About 1859 – the beginning of the rise of the textile industry – more than 70% of the population (5,477 people) lived in the countryside, compared to 30% (1,920 people) in the villages. By 1930 the relationships were practically reversed: 61% (11,000 souls) lived already in the ‘centrum’ (= center) compared to 39% (7,000) in the countryside. Since then the population of the countryside has hardly grown. In 1960 not even 8,000 “countrymen” were registered. The majority still earns living in farming, as always.

For a long time, the hamlets were strongly independent communes, protected from the outside world by an “oakwood curtain” formed by dense stands of oaks. If one compares the hamlets with each other, one could discover small differences in the pattern of the landscape, which correspond with old similarities in human inhabitation.

A distinction can be made between two types of landscape: the old farmstead landscape and the young reclamation landscape.

One might come across the “old farmstead landscape” especially in Woold, Miste, Ratum, Huppel and parts of Henxel and the Brinkheurne. In those areas, the natural circumstances were most favorable for practicing small but advanced agricultural techniques. There a centuries-old interaction between humankind and nature has created the most characteristic Winterswijk landscape, characterized by deciduous forest complexes in a varying pattern of ‘kampen’ (kamp = a piece of ground fenced off with a ditch or a fence) situated on high grounds with narrow brooks and valleys in the lower grounds and cleaved by winding small roads.

This is also the land of the farmsteads of the “Scholten” (see chapter 4) and of the small tenant farms covered with red roof tiles. The “young reclamation landscape” came into being on parts of the earlier heather-and-peat areas, which partly were planted with pine forests and partly were reclaimed as agricultural land.

This variation of the landscape with meadows, fields, and forest complexes, creates a more spacious, wide-open landscape.

It is no coincidence that the “Scholten farmsteads” converge with the “old farmstead landscape.” While in other areas the increase in the scale of agriculture caused an increasingly uniform countryside, the powerful Winterswijk “Scholten” (landed gentry) instead created and maintained a patchwork of farmland and forests, based on their traditional belief that the possession of forests and wooded areas was highly desirable. The implementation of this philosophy resulted in a truly remarkable rural landscape.