429Colonel Sir Thomas Reade, Napoleon's jailer on St. Helena.
- Aug 22, 2006
Telegraph | News | Secrets of a Victorian affair are unlocked at lastHi List,I found this interesting article about Victorian love letters found in a writing desk. There is a mention of a Colonel Sir Thomas Reade, Napoleon's jailor on St. Helena,and I've sent this article just in case someone is looking for information on Thomas Reade of St. Helena.Regards,Lynn WestSEFTON, HUBBARD, HARRIS of St. Helena Island
Secrets of a Victorian affair are unlocked at last
By Nigel Bunyan and Stephanie Condron(Filed: 19/08/2006)
Their very English romance was fuelled by the heat of two Victorian summers.
Throughout that time he would write at least two letters a month, usually on gold-edged paper, sometimes on cheaper blue paper for which, in immaculate copper plate writing, he offered his profuse apologies.
Each letter was read only once or twice before being placed in a secret compartment in her cherished rosewood writing slope.advertisement
By the time Fanny Reade's love letters came to a halt in 1856 she had collected almost 60 of them, each returned unsullied to its envelope.
There they remained until 50 years ago, when a relative sold the now faded piece of furniture for 10 shillings (50p) at a local auction at Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria.
Even then Miss Reade's secret lay undiscovered. Only when a furniture restorer identified the mechanism that exposed the compartment did her affair emerge.
But, with few clues to Miss Reade's background and even fewer to her lover, George, the details of the secret romance seemed likely to remain lost.
The young lady lived at several addresses, among them West Street in Congleton, Cheshire, and at 30 Dorset Street, London.
George, whose surname is unknown, wrote to his "dearest Fanny" mostly from his home in Hyde, Cheshire. He begins one: "It is with very great pleasure indeed, my very own dearest Fan, that I now sit down to have another little talk with you through the post."
In his series of letters he refers at length to arduous journeys by train or coach and horses. At one point he speaks in amused tones about a friend's attempts to ingratiate himself with some ladies. The "Miss Reade" letters were discovered by John Griffiths, a furniture restorer from Staveley, near Kendal.
His employers, Peter Hall and Son, had been asked to do some conservation work on the writing slope but Mr Griffiths realised there was a hollow area he could not reach. He suspected a secret compartment, but he could not find the mechanism to expose it.
Eventually, after sleeping on the problem, he tried pressing down a screw. To his delight this released a cover and thereafter not one but three secret compartments.
"The initial mechanism is the most devious I have ever come across," said Mr Griffiths. The slope was bought at auction by the present owner's grandmother. Neither she nor the grandson had any idea of its romantic history.
Jeremy Hall, the head of the family restoration firm, said: "This lady was clearly anxious that no one uncover her letters and I'd be fascinated to know why. I'd also be fascinated to learn anything more about either her or George.
"There are just so many questions. Why were they apart? Why were the letters so secret? Had he perhaps had the slope built for her? Did they end up together?"
Last night Jean Squires, from Congleton, shed light on the mystery. The 64-year-old is an expert on the Reades of Congleton having researched the history of Colonel Sir Thomas Reade who was Napoleon's jailer on St Helena, where he was exiled after Waterloo.
One George Reade was a silk merchant, magistrate and three times major of Congleton in the early 19th century.
Mrs Squires believes that Fanny was Fanny Rosa Reade, the youngest of seven children born to a later George Reade, a solicitor, and his wife, Elizabeth, of West Street. So it appears the Fanny of the love letters had five brothers and a sister and was living in the family home on West Street during her courtship with George.
And she did go on to marry a George. He was George John Miller Ridehalgh, a magistrate, and she lived with him in Staveley-in-Cartmel.
Fanny died in 1875, childless, at the age of 39. It is unclear what killed her, but she and George are buried together in the Lake District.