Raoul Warocqué, industrialist, philanthropist and patron
Raoul Warocqué, (born in Brussels on 4 February 1873 and died in the same city on 28 May 1971) was a business man whose family held a prominent position in the Belgian coal industry from the early 19th century. He embodied the social and philanthropic trend, sometimes described as paternalist, of some of the bosses of this era.
When he turned 18, Raoul, whose father died when he was ten, found himself at the head of a considerable fortune, the fruit of the exhausting labours of hundreds of miners. He decided to extend his business to other coal mines such as Courcelles-Nord, Ressaix and Grand-Hornu. However, he was more than an industrialist, he was also a philanthropist concerned about the education of the popular masses.
In a letter dated 22 November 1901, Raoul Warocqué, then Mayor of Morlanwelz, wrote: "Struck by the inadequacy of education in the workshops and the bad habits that workers adopt in the factories, we thought that we could remedy this state of affairs, to a certain degree at least, by organising vocational courses for boys. We put this idea into effect and, since 1st June, fitting and carpentry lessons have been given at Morlanwelz... There is nothing to say that we will not extend these lessons to other trades if it proves necessary... In order to be admitted to the lessons, you must be aged between 13 and 16, have finished your primary school education and pay an admission fee of twenty francs. A fifty percent reduction is granted to trainees whose parents live in the municipality or who work at the coal mines of Mariemont and Bascoup".
Of liberal beliefs, he was part of the opposition. He founded several educational, social assistance and charitable establishments. In the early 1890s, Ernest Solvay and Paul Héger wanted to build a City of Sciences at Leopold Park. They proposed this project to the young industrialist and, in 1893, he financed an institute of anatomy and histology for the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), which included all the equipment needed for practical work. Raoul Warocqué financially supported the Brussels university throughout his life.
At the turn of the last century, several "upstanding and free" men of the Centre, tired of the school policy of the Catholic government which had ruled Belgium since 1884, considered opening a secular establishment for secondary education in the region. Indeed, they noted that many of them were forced to send their children to the Institut Saint Joseph "because there was nothing else". All these children, they said, "had to endure a terrible struggle against their reason and sensibility and, while reason often prevails, if the religious myth appears to them to be no more than some legend, it is undeniably true that there is always a struggle from which they emerge weakened and depressed".
A great traveller and shrewd collector, on his death Raoul Warocqué gifted his property at Morlanwelz to the Belgian state. This became the estate of Mariemont where, after a fire at the château, a modern building was constructed to house the diverse collections of the Walloon patron: the Royal Museum of Mariemont. Among the museum's artistic treasures is a rich and unique collection of Tournai porcelain, an important collection of objects from China, together with vases and statues from the Hellenic civilisation and bindings and precious books. For more information about this museum, please go to: http://www.musee-mariemont.be.