Beautiful BursleyArticle Written:
There are two current projects highlighting the cultural heritage of Burslem – Arnold Bennett’s ‘Bursley’. Burslem is known as the ‘Mother Town’ in Stoke-on-Trent because of its primacy in the history of the pottery industry. It is home to some of the city’s architectural gems, such as the Wedgwood Institute.
The first is a Bennett Society project, led by Carol Gorton and Ray Johnson, to revamp the Bursley Trail – replacing and adding to the Bennett plaques in the town. Two plaques have already been produced by Shropshire-based tile maker Craven Dunnill Jackfield Ltd. The first of these is installed on the George Hotel – Bennett’s ‘Dragon’, setting for the glee-singing, clog-dancing scene in Clayhanger.
The second is installed on the Leopard – Bennett’s ‘Tiger’, visited by Loring in one of Bennett’s finest Five Towns stories, ‘The Death of Simon Fuge’:
I followed the bold Mr Brindley into the private bar of the Tiger.
It was a small and low room. I instinctively stooped, though there was no necessity for me to stoop. The bar had no peculiarity. It can be described in a breath: Three perpendicular planes. Back plane, bottles arranged exactly like books on bookshelves; middle plane, the upper halves of two women dressed in tight black; front plane, a counter, dotted with glasses, and having strange areas of zinc.
The Society hopes to hold an unveiling of the plaques in the near future.
The second project, Mothertown Marvels, is commissioned by community group Our Burslem and comprises a series of window displays and artwork throughout the town. Locations include Bennett’s printer and bookbinder, Warwick Savage (above), and the house in St John’s Square where Bennett’s grandparents (the Longsons) lived and had a draper’s shop – Baines’s in The Old Wives’ Tale (below). The shop, home of Constance and Sophia, is initially distinguished by Mr Baines’s refusal to advertise with anything so vulgar as a sign!
Bennett says in the preface to the 1911 Doubleday edition of the novel: ‘I had lived in the actual draper’s shop of the Baines’s, and knew it as only a child could know it’ (viii).