The Five Towns
Why the ‘The Five Towns’?
Arnold Bennett was born and raised in the Potteries which consisted of the six towns of Tunstall, Burslem (where Bennett spent most of his childhood and youth), Hanley (where he was born), Fenton, Stoke and Longton. The six towns amalgamated in 1910 to become the county borough of Stoke-on-Trent. In 1925 it was granted city status. Locally it is still known as ‘the Potteries’ and every ‘Stokie’ will tell you that it consists of six towns.
Bennett’s original success was based primarily on the novels and short stories based on the life and history of his birthplace but after 1916 the focus of many of his novels was on London and he still continued to produce both popular and critically acclaimed novels.
In his Five Towns novels and stories, Bennett changed the names of the towns but he omitted Fenton (sometimes known as ‘the town that Bennett forgot’).
Many regional novelists changed the names of the places and locations they wrote about. Thomas Hardy represented Oxford as Christminster. George Eliot’s study of provincial life was based on Coventry but she called it Middlemarch. Dickens renamed Preston Coketown. So Bennett was in good and noble company. His own explanation was that, phonetically, ‘Five Towns’ falls more pleasantly on the ear than ‘Six Towns’. Try it.
As for ‘Forgotten Fenton’, Bennett penned a letter in its defence after the Rector, Leonard Trywhitt, publically denounced the town for its immorality from his pulpit in December 1903. Bennett’s letter was published on Boxing Day in the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel.