And so, in dreadful weather, at the end of our tour of the Napoleonic associations in the North West of England, we arrived in Congleton, birth place of Sir Thomas Reade, whose splendid memorial in Congleton Church (click to enlarge image) indicates how his widow wished him to be remembered.
Modern scholars might question whether Sir Thomas was quite as instrumental in ridding Tunisia of slavery as the memorial claims.
The eighteenth century Anglican church of St Peter's, its internal layout and furnishing reminiscent of Congregational and Lutheran churches I have visited, contains a number of memorials to the Reade family, obviously of some importance in Congleton, and Sir Thomas's mother, who died in his childhood, is buried in a family vault beneath the church floor.
Sir Thomas Reade (1782- 1849).
The portrait, previously shown in black and white, is in the keeping of a descendant.
My thanks to Sue Dale for allowing me to copy her image of it.
Since our visit Albert has published a comprehensive and very fair account of the life of Sir Thomas which perhaps, taken in isolation, might suggest an importance in the annals of the British Empire that is I think not strictly merited!
Local legend has it that the willow was grown from a cutting brought back by Sir Thomas Reade from the site of Napoleon's grave on St Helena.
Since our visit a local expert has now confirmed that the tree is indeed a salix babylonica, very rare in the United Kingdom, taken presumably from Asia by the Honourable East India Company to St Helena, where it now no longer exists.
Albert has informed me that as well as in France other trees claiming to have been rooted from St Helena cuttings exist in New Zealand, and formerly even in the Duke of Wellington's garden at Grafton in Kent.
There was also such a tree in Kirkconnel Hall, Dumfries (close to Lockerbie), the house of Dr Arnott, with whom we began our tour of the northwest. This tree had to be destroyed to make way for a new road, but the owner of the house, now a hotel, took a cutting and has planted it in his garden.
With all the cuttings taken from it, it is no wonder perhaps that the original tree on St Helena no longer exists.
All that remains to satisy the most sceptical is for a comparison of the DNA of all the trees claimed to have descended from cuttings of the one at Sane Valley on St Helena! For my part I am as satisfied as I need to be that local legend is correct, and that for whatever reason, the intrepid Sir Thomas, a Loyalist to the last, brought a cutting from Sane Valley, the site of the grave of Napoleon, that "miserable outlaw" whom he affected to despise.
My thanks again to Sue Dale and Albert Benhamou for providing so much information and for leading me to a place I might never have visited. Despite the weather it was a fascinating end to our tour.