What is the difference between Over-Heembeek, Neder-Heembeek and Neder-Over-Heembeek?
The toponym “Neder-Over-Heembeek” has the particularity of being made up of three distinct names. However, the simple name “Heembeek” would nevertheless have been sufficient. This specificity is explained by the fact that the municipality is a relatively recent creation, resulting from the merger of two old entities whose memory has been preserved in the new name.
The first references to the name 'Heembeek' date back to the second and third quarters of the 11th century at the earliest (a falsum claiming to be a diploma from the end of the 7th century and a private charter dated 1057).
There are numerous hypotheses put forward to explain the origins of this toponym, the most common referring to the idea of a habitat (“heem”) located near a stream (“beek”). However, we should be careful not to give credence to this theory, which has been repeated many times, according to which this spelling testifies to the existence of a colony from the Merovingian period: rarely prior to the 11th century, do place names containing the word “beek” in fact give any indication to a settlement during the High Middle Ages.
In this regard, the archaeological remains discovered in 1959 under the foundations of the old Saint-Pierre church in Neder-Heembeek are a much more convincing indication, testifying to an early settlement which can probably be dated back to the 8th-9th centuries.
The existence of two distinct parishes has been documented from the middle of the 12th century (Neder-Heembeek, dedicated to Saint-Pierre and Over-Heembeek, dedicated to Saint-Nicolas). These were, more than likely, two separate settlement areas, which had emerged and developed independently of each other before being each promoted to the rank of parish seat, at an unspecified period between the 8th and 11th century (a period of religious normalisation measures).
The specific terminology devolved to each of the two parishes refers, for its part, to the distinction which had been made no later than the middle of the 12th century between the settlement located “upstream” of the stream (Over-Heembeek) and the one situated “downstream” (Neder-Heembeek).
The merger of the two municipalities did not take place until much later. Under the French regime (1794-1815), the question of strengthening local administration led a number of departmental prefects to unite some of the municipalities they considered "too small". In the case of Over- and Neder-Heembeek, however, the initiative for the merger was taken by the local authorities themselves, due to the small size of the two territories (so close together that they actually merged in many locations) and their demographic situation (neither of the two municipalities was sufficiently populated to justify the existence of a specific administration). The territory was home to merely 444 inhabitants in an area of 617 hectares, i.e. 193 residents in Over- (278 hectares) and 251 in Neder-Heembeek (339 hectares).
These difficulties were further accentuated by the "limited, or rather the insufficiency of the income" necessary for the proper functioning of a municipality and by "the impossibility of being able to find in this area people capable of fulfilling, through their knowledge, the various functions of the administration”.
To remedy this situation, the mayors of Over- and Neder-Heembeek made a request in August 1812 to the deputy prefect of the district of Brussels, explaining the advantages of a municipal merger and asking the prefect of the Department of Dyle to convene their city councils to discuss this matter. Invited to deliberate on the question of their merger, the representatives of the two municipalities voted unanimously in favour of the project, considered “beneficial” in order to simplify administrative relations and reduce staff costs.
The only condition was set by the municipality of Over-Heembeek, who consented to the merger “in all respects, provided its church is set up as a branch”. Indeed, although worship services had already been provided jointly for some time, the local representatives considered “prejudicial” that the reunification of the two territories at civil level involved the removal of their church, even though it was "the older of the two".
The imperial decree of 31 January 1813, which took effect on 15 May 1813, formalised the abolition of the municipality of Over-Heembeek and merged its territory with the territory of Neder-Heembeek in order to create a new municipal entity.
The implementing decrees issued later by the Ministers of the Interior, Worship and Finance required the local authorities to hand over their duties to the new representatives put forward by the prefect of the Brussels district to the General Administration Office (a mayor, a deputy mayor, ten municipal councillors and dispatchers), to draw up an inventory of their titles and registers and, finally, to transfer all the Over-Heembeek archives to Neder-Heembeek. With regard to civil registers, it was decided that they would be kept jointly for the two former communes from 1 January 1814 only, as the year 1813 had already been begun in separate volumes.
When did this new municipality, which in the decrees of the Napoleonic era united “the municipality of Over-Heembeek with that of Neder-Heembeek under the name of the latter”, officially receive the somewhat over-elaborate name of 'Neder-Over-Heembeek'? It remains difficult to answer this question despite the research carried out in the archival records available for this period.
Civil registry records show that, as early as 1814, the local representatives began to refer to their municipality by a name that combined the names of the two former municipalities (“Over-et-Neder-Heembeek”, “Neer-en-Over-Heembeek”, etc.), whereas the documents produced by the French administration stuck to the name recommended by the imperial decree of 1813 (“Neder-Heembeek”).
It seems that the Dutch regime kept the French name for a while. However, according to civil status records in 1817 and minutes of the town council in 1821, the local authorities already seemed to have definitively opted for “Neder-Over-Heembeek”.
However, the reunification of the two communes does not seem to have satisfied the entire local population. In October 1830, a group of inhabitants of the former Over-Heembeek petitioned their local council to postpone the elections until they had “obtained from the Provisional Government the separation of the two communes (...) reunited in 1811 [sic]”.
Nevertheless, as with most administrative and territorial reorganisations under the French system, the decision of the Prefect of the Dyle was final and the municipality of Neder-Over-Heembeek remained a separate entity until it was annexed by the City of Brussels in 1921.
Arras, Departmental Archives, Old Archives, 1 h 4, piece 1 (= Diplomata spuria, ed. Georges H. pertz, mgh dd Merov., Hanover, 1872, no. 76, p. 192).
Brussels, State Archives (ae) in Anderlecht, Archives of the Provincial Government of Brabant, series a (= years 1753-1867), 1167.
Brussels, Archives of the City of Brussels (avb), acts of annexed municipalities - Neder-Over-Heembeek, registers 24-25 and registers of birth, marriage and death certificates from the civil status.
Opera Diplomatica, ed. Aubert Miraeus and Jean-Francois Foppens, Brussels, 1723, t. 1, no. 39, p. 662.
Paris, National Archives, Archives after 1789, series f2 (i) (= Departmental administration, General objects), 851.
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Mertens, Jozef, “De Sint-Pieterskerk te Neder-Heembeek. Een korte bijdrage tot de kennis van de vroegmiddeleeuwse houtbouw”, in Miscellanea in memoriam Paul Coremans, 1908-1965, Brussels, irpa, 1975 (Bulletin de l’Institut royal du Patrimoine Artistique, 15), pp. 231-239.
Tihon, André, “La fusion des communes dans le département de la Dyle sous le régime napoléonien”, Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, 43|2, 1965, pp. 515-551.
Van Nieuwenhuysen, Rock, Historische toponymie van Laken, Brussels, Editions Safran, 2009, t. 1, pp. 228-229, 399, 402 and 427.