We find the name Waerscote for the first time in 1244, the first of a series of Germanic names ending in "skauta" which meant a forested sandy corner jutting out into mashy terrain. And the first part was "wado" meaning guard, care, protection.
Waarschoot came into being on some higher lying ground and was completely surrounded by vast marshes and forests. A 1253 document mentions "le muer de Warscote", the marsh of Waerscote. Later this was called the Westmoer and extended west all the way to Eeklo. "Moer" is short for "moeras" meaning marsh, swamp. And to the east there was the"Oostmoer" (Eastmarsh). There is still a street here with that name.
Forests covered about a third of the area now called Waarschoot throughout the Middle Ages. But from the 13th Century on land was brought into cultivation and we soon find the names of several big farms being mentioned. And perhaps now there was a need for transport and two rivers, the Lieve and the "Burggravenstroom" (a "stroom" is a river) were made navigable. Both led from Waarschoot to Ghent. In 1244 Waarschoot became a parish in its own right and from now on separate from Zomergem.
In 1444 the bishop of Doornik (Tournai) gave permission to Simon Utenhove, a patrician from Ghent and bailiff of Eeklo to found a Cistercian priory at the out-of-the-way "Jagerpad" (Hunters Path) at Waarschoot. In 1448 the chapel of the new priory was consecrated and now the monks started to clear the forests and cultivate the marsh land to the north of their abbey. But the priory never flourished: first there were conflicts with neighbouring parishes and during the 16th Century it was twice burned to the ground by French troops. Reconstruction was difficult and in 1662 the religious community left for good to be resettled at Ghent. Their property was then let to local farmers.
In fact the 16th and 17th Centuries were far from rosy for the whole of Waarschoot. There were for instance the religious troubles which led to the destruction of the parish church in 1580. What exactly happened is not clear. Occupying soldiers regularly used churches as their barracks and/or to stable their horses. In that same year the locals here gave battle against Spanish soldiers and 43 of them, the locals, died in this engagement. In 1683 French troops put the whole town to the torch.
The six hundred year old church and with it the old pulpit and several valuable paintings were destroyed by a deliberately lit fire on the very last day of 2002.
The destruction of the old priory went on for many many years. The Rats Castle as it is popularly known was simply crumbling away and dying of neglect even though it was one of the oldest buildings of our Meetjesland. Then, according to some, even worse was to come when it was restored: there is something new there now, fenced off and apparently of use to no one. Not much of the old building remains.
The "Priorij van Onze Lieve Vrouw ten Hove" the Priory of Notre Dame of the Farm was a considerable affair in its heyday.
Simoen Utenhove was an influential patrician from Ghent. From 1423 to 1438 he was also bailiff in Eeklo. He hoped to save his soul by founding a convent. His donation was intended to keep body and soul together for 12 to 18 monks. This was to be a Cistercian Abbey. The friars were to take care of the sick and do some educating in exchange for tax exemption.
At the end of the 15th Century the priory was burned down by French troops on their way to more mischief elsewhere. The priory was sacked and burned down a second time in 1581. It would never again be completely rebuilt.
Joannes Watervliet who was the prior from 1645 to 1671 transferred the convent to Ghent where he hoped his community would be able to live in greater safety. And now the priory in Waarschoot became a countryseat and administrative center for the management of their still considerable properties in the region.
In November 1796 the godless French state in the throes of its awful revolution expelled the monks from their convent and a year later all their possessions were sold in public auctions for the benefit of the French treasury. (Vast sums and great amounts of cannon fodder were required for military campaigns of conquest for the glory of France and to export the dubious benefits of this revolution to places as far away as Moscow.) These public auctions were held everywhere in France and in the countries she conquered. Many God fearing people wouldn't dream of buying what in their opinion belonged to the Church which is why many properties changed hands for a song to make other not so pious individuals quite rich. As is so often the case, what some of them then did with their ill-gotten gains is anybody's business.
The source of most of the above is the excellent "Streekgids Meetjesland", 1998, pp. 67-70 by Paul Van den Bossche. See also: Our Sources.
A Waarschoot company was in the Belgian financial press on 17 February 2006: Ter Beke, we were informed, took over a company called Pluma. This made the new Ter Beke Group the Belgian market leader in meat products with 17% of the market and a turnover of 230 million euro. It all started in 1948 with Mr. Frans Coopman, who established a small meat processing plant in Waarschoot. Now Ter Beke is a leading international food group selling its products all over Europe.
Waarschoot with its 21.91 square kilometers (5,414 acres) is rather flat and lies 7 to 8 yards above sea level. It is in the heart of our Meetjesland. Its northern neighbours are Eeklo and Lembeke. On its eastern side we have Sleidinge, to the south we have Lovendegem and Zomergem and on its western side, Zomergem, Oostwinkel and Eeklo. According to its official website there were on 23/1/2006 exactly 7871 registered inhabitants. On 1 January 2014 the population of Waarschoot stood at 7,878; there were 3,911 men and 3,967 women.
Unlike most other towns in Flanders Waarschoot was left alone when the politicians decided mergers were good for something or other. Why was Waarschoot not merged with its neighbours? Party politics as usual I'm afraid.
A word here about Basiel De Craene who was born in Waarschoot on 15 April 1880. He was the son of Petrus Josephus De Craene (Waarschoot 26/5/1839 - Waarschoot 10/9/1882) en Maria Emerentia Daugimont (Waarschoot 24/5/1847 - Waarschoot 24/12/1917). He was a priest and a poet. He was the founder of the Flemish Poetry Days. In 1938 he became the village priest of Merendree and that is where he died on 10 May 1956.
|At last the new church was open to the public.|
On 15 July 2007 we went to have a look.
Here you can find a few pictures.