Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Napoleon: The North West Tour

It hardly needs to be said that Napoleon never visited Manchester or the North West, although two of his nephews did, accompanied by a famous actress! (1) That aside, last weekend Albert Benhamou travelled north for his first visit, and accompanied me on a two day tour to explore what the region has to offer.

First stop was the Fusilier Museum at Bury, not far from the famous market.

Albert Benhamou at the Fusilier Museum.

Here we were met by Paul Dalton, a knowledgeable, friendly member of the museum staff who kindly showed us the very important items in the collection that are associated with the 20th Regiment and Napoleon's captivity on St Helena.

This proved to be a very exciting start to our trip, particularly because of the opportunity to examine the famous three volumes of Coxe's Life of Marlborough , which Napoleon wished to give to the 20th Regiment in the last few weeks of his life, a gesture that was to cause so much trouble for its recipients.

More on this and other items held in this excellent museum will hopefully follow in the next few days.

From Bury, and after a pleasant and rather too leisurely lunch in the Palace Hotel at Buxton, next on our list was Chatsworth, strictly perhaps not in the North West, but an easy drive from Manchester. The main reason for our visit was to look at the amazing collection of Canova sculptures assembled by the 6th Duke of Devonshire.

There is of course so much else to see at Chatsworth, even if you have been before, and for most people it would repay a full day to explore all that it has to offer.

William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858).

The Bachelor Duke, son of the now very famous Lady Georgiana Spencer, and a man whom one feels it would have been a pleasure to get to know.

A friend of the Czar of Russia and of members of the Bonaparte family; he entertained Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington at Chatsworth.

As it happens Chatsworth is currently holding an exhibition to commemorate the life of the 6th Duke, so this was an added bonus.

On day two we got up early and were first visitors at the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight, a place which I have blogged about some time ago. Here Lord Lever, a life long admirer of Napoleon, displayed his large collection of Napoleon memorabilia, not all of which turned out to be genuine!

Finally we made it to Congleton, a town rather off the tourist map and an unlikely place for Napoleonic associations, which happens to be the birthplace of Sir Thomas Reade.

Here we were kindly entertained to lunch by Sue Dale, a member of the Friends of St Helena whose husband once served on the island and knew Gilbert Martineau.

Among other things we were fascinated to be shown an impressive willow tree now in the grounds of a local garage, which local legend claims to have an association with Sir Thomas, St Helena and the captivity of Napoleon.

It really was a fascinating two days, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. I will try to provide a more detailed account of each location in the next week or so.


1. Louis Napoleon in fact made more than one visit to the area, including a stay at Arley Hall in 1847-1848, where the Emperor Room commemorates his stay. The story that he lived in Southport and was so impressed by Lord Street that he modelled Paris on it when he became Emperor seems to be fanciful at best. He arrived in London having escaped from the prison at Ham, and there he lived, albeit with a number of trips around the country, until he went to France after the 1848 Revolutions.

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