THE MARQUIS OF ORMEA
Perhaps not many Ormeesi are aware of the fact that the name of their city is associated with that of Carlo Francesco Vincenzo Ferrero, better known as the Marquis of Ormea. A great diplomat within the Savoy state at the beginning of the 1700s marks the beginning of a phase of undoubted prosperity for the Ormeese community. The fief of Ormea presented itself to him as an ideal place to set up a new textile manufacture, since it was not only located in an optimal position – relatively close to the sea, on one of the main roads connecting Turin and Imperia -, but it also had an excellent climate, good air and abundant and quality water resources. To carry out his project, Ferrero obtained specific exemptions (nobles were not, in fact, allowed to engage in commercial activities) and incentives from the government itself (such as a series of tax exemptions), resorted to the use of qualified English workers, directed by John Coward, a native of the county of Somerset and already active in the Italian peninsula, especially in the Vicenza area, and has a state-of-the-art structure built – also requesting the opinion of Gallo – capable of housing the approximately 30 looms and producing «cloths to the shape of England and excellent second quality cloths “(P. Chierici, The initiatives of Carlo Francesco Vincenzo Ferrero …, p. 415). All the preliminary and final stages of the manufacturing process were concentrated in the buildings of Ormea (today only the one corresponding to the town hall remains standing), while the spinning of the wool was also carried out outside the structure, in the city or in other countries of the Valley.
The activities of the woolen mill – destined to become, in a short time, one of the most important in the entire eighteenth-century Piedmont, supplier of the fabrics used for the construction of the uniforms of the Savoy army – guaranteed a sure advantage for the community, both for the local workforce that worked directly in the factory (about 206-210 workers at the beginning, almost 1130 in the seventies, before the crisis and fire at the factory during the French countryside in Italy), and, as just said, to the families of Ormea and neighboring countries who privately carried out some complementary work.
At the same time, however, it cannot fail to be noted that the Marquis’ fiscal and economic policies had not been slow in coming into conflict with the secular customs and rights of the Ormeesi, creating a series of discontents and public and formal complaints. We find an account of these episodes of real confrontation between the Ormeesi and Ferrero in the “Representation of the Community”, drawn up in 1778 to bring to the attention of the Marquis’ heirs all the questions left unresolved. In the pages of the document we read that the Marquis had immediately tried to exploit local resources for their own purposes, limiting their use for the community (rather well known are the cases of collecting wood and using water from the biale, which he wanted wholly convey to the factory for use in the manufacture of the fabrics), also claiming to assert ancient privileges of a noble nature, such as the right to receive the tenth and the fifth or to have a percentage in the successions of missing persons without leaving direct heirs, such as legitimate or natural parents or children.
For the entire duration of his direct management of the woolen mill – which will end in 1736, the year in which he decides to rent the structure to devote himself primarily to his government career – the Marquis will therefore be attentive to the technical progress and economic development of the Ormeasca company. , but without neglecting his interests as an entrepreneur!
For all those who want to know more, the invitation is to start reading the biography of Roberto Gaja, Il Marchese D’Ormea, Milan, Bompiani, 1988, Giuseppe Ricuperati, The Savoy State in the eighteenth century. From the triumph of bureaucracies to the crisis of the ancient regime, Turin, UTET Libreria, 2001, and the essays collected by Andrea Merlotti in the volume Nobiltà e Stato in Piemonte. I Ferrero D’Ormea, Conference Proceedings (Turin-Mondovì, 3rd-5th October 2001), Turin, Zamorani, 2003.