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Bennett's Hanley


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Hanbridge - Bennett's Hanley

In Arnold Bennett's "Five Town" novels, Hanley is known as Hanbridge.

Whilst Burslem - or Bursley as Bennett called it in his books - considers itself to be the Mother town of the Potteries, Hanley has, over the last 100 years, steadily grown as the centre of economic power. A reflection of which Bennett recognised in his narrative writings.

Hanley (Hanbridge) was looked upon as taking away Burslems (Bursleys) trade and position as the premier town in the Potteries......

"The confectionery half of Mr. Brindley's business was disappearing. People would not go to Hanbridge for their bread or for their groceries, but they would go for their cakes. These electric trams had simply carried to Hanbridge the cream, and much of the milk, of Bursley's retail trade. There were unprincipled tradesmen in Hanbridge ready to pay the car-fares of any customer who spent a crown in their establishments. Hanbridge was the geographical centre of the Five Towns, and it was alive to its situation. Useless for Bursley to compete! If Mrs. Critchlow had been a philosopher, if she had known that geography had always made history,..."

The Old Wives' Tale

City politics

"The streets were lively with the red and blue colours of politics. The Liberal member for the Parliamentary borough of Handbridge, which included Bursley, had died very suddenly, and the seat was being disputed by the previously defeated Conservative candidate and a new Labour candidate officially adopted by the Liberal party. The Tories has sworn not to be beaten again in the defence of the integrity of the Empire. And though they had the difficult and delicate task of persuading a large industrial constituency that an industrial representative would not further industrial interests, and that they alone were actuated by unselfish love for the people, yet they had made enormous progress in a very brief period, and publicans were jubilant and bars sloppy."

The aspect of the affair that did not quite please the Society for the prosecution of Felons, was that the polling had been fixed for the day after its annual dinner, instead of the day before. Powerful efforts had been made 'in the proper quarter' to get the date conveniently arranged, but without success; after all, the seat of authority was Hanbridge and not Bursley."

Hanbridge - the capital of the Potteries

Today the town's a lively mixture of shopping outlets, a modern shopping centre, law courts, a cultural quarter and a multitude of ingeniously created public parks. Over the last 200 years the district has become solidly built up and industrialised. As the town begins the new millennium Hanley lays a powerful claim to be the capital of the Potteries.

"And then Constance, from a passive figure of grief, became a menace. She overwhelmed Dick Povey with her anathema of Federation, for Dick was a citizen of Hanbridge, where this detestable movement for Federation had had its birth. All the misfortunes of St. Luke's Square were due to that great, busy, grasping, unscrupulous neighbour.

Had not Hanbridge done enough, without wanting to merge all the Five Towns into one town, of which of course itself would be the centre? For Constance, Hanbridge was a borough of unprincipled adventures, bent on running the ancient 'Mother of the Five Towns' for its own glory and aggrandizement. Let Constance hear no more of Federation! Her poor sister Sophia had been dead against Federation, and she had been quite right! All respectable people were against it."

Cauldon Bar Ironworks

By the late 1800's a huge iron working foundry had been established to the west of the Wedgwood Etruria works. The mill lying alongside the canal at the base of the Fowlea Valley would paint the night sky of Potteries a lurid orange and provide Bennett with a colourful reference point within the Five Town novels.

Bennett's "Cauldon Bar Ironworks"
The yellow glow of Shelton Bar (Sid Kirkham)
Bennett's "Cauldon Bar Ironworks"

"The bedroom was over the kitchen and faced south. The moon was hidden by clouds, but clear stretches of sky showed thick-studded clusters of stars brightly winking. To the far right across the fields the silhouette of Hillport Church could just be discerned on the ridge. In front, several miles away, the blast-furnaces of Cauldon Bar Ironworks shot up vast wreaths of yellow flame with canopies of tinted smoke.

Still more distant were a thousand other lights crowning chimney and kiln, and nearer, on the waste lands west of Bleakridge, long fields of burning ironstone glowed with all the strange colours of decadence. The entire landscape was illuminated and transformed by these unique pyrotechnics of labour atoning for its grime, and dull, weird sounds, as of the breathings and sighings of gigantic nocturnal creatures, filled the enchanting air. It was a romantic scene, a romantic summer night, balmy, delicate, and wrapped in meditation. But Anna saw nothing there save the repulsive evidences of manufacture, had never seen anything else."

"Grasping Hanbridge"

The six towns of Stoke-on-Trent federated to become a city in March 1910. Opposition was vocal in Fenton, Tunstall and Burslem - all fearing Hanley as an emerging power determined to rule the roost in the Potteries at the expense of their own ambitions. Indeed, before finally succeeding to federation, Burslem spent the last of its capital allowances building a second, and unrequired, town hall rather than see its money spread across the rest of the region, in particular Hanley. A spirit that was not lost on Bennett himself writing in The Old Wives Tale;

"The vast grievance of the Federation scheme weighed on her to the extremity of her power to bear. She was not a politician ; she had no general ideas ; she did not see the cosmic movement in large curves. She was incapable of perceiving the absurdity involved in perpetuating municipal divisions which the growth of the district had rendered artificial, vexatious, and harmful. She saw nothing but Bursley, and in Bursley nothing but the square.
She knew nothing except that the people of Bursley, who had once shopped in Bursley, now shopped in Handbridge, and that the square was a desert infested by cheap-jacks. And there were actually people who wished to bow the neck to the greedy humour of that pushing Chicago! She could not understand such people. Did they not know that poor Maria Critchlow was in a lunatic asylum because Handbridge was so grasping?"

'The Signal' Newspaper

The old Evening Sentinel offices in Hanley, were built in 1901. The daily newspaper, referred to in Bennett's novels as "The Signal", has held a powerful grip over the people of the Potteries throughout the last hundred years. Bennett himself contributed to the paper when he was a teenager and recognised its influence in the second of his Clayhanger trilogies "Hilda Lessways," saying 'Nothing has ever stood up to The Signal yet'

The paper consumed inch by inch each day by the population of the Potteries had many hopeful rivals. The Reporter, The Spice, The Potteries Daily Express, The Staffordshire Daily Times, The Staffordshire knot, The Weekly Star, The Staffordshire Courier and the Staffordshire Evening post are amongst the list of publications that have taken on the Evening Sentinel for a place in the hearts of the local population and failed.

Bennett's "The Signal"
The Sentinel Offices (Sid Kirkham)
Bennett's "The Signal"

"Then, once more in the drawing-room, they resumed the subject of newspapers. "You know," said Mr Myson, "it's really a very bad thing indeed for a district to have only one daily newspaper. I've nothing myself to say against The Staffordshire Signal, but you'd perhaps be astonished" - this in a confidential tone - " at the feeling there is against the signal in many quarters." "Really!" said Denry. "Of course its fault is that it isn't sufficiently interested in the great public questions of the district. And it can't be. Because it can't take a definite side. It must try to please all parties. At any rate it must offend none. That is the great evil of a journalistic monopoly. Two hundred and fifty thousand people - why! There is an ample public for two first class papers. Look at Nottingham! Look at Bristol! Look at Leeds! Look at Sheffield!.. and their newspapers."


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