Potteries author Arnold Bennett is being honoured in a year that has been earmarked by VisitEngland as The Year of Literary Heroes.
Born on May 27 in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1867, Bennett eventually moved to London, but never lost sight of his native Potteries – despite becoming one of the most financially and socially successful writers of this century.
The Potteries became the setting for many of his novels and short stories as Bennett detected a “grim and original beauty” in the industrial landscape of the region where he spent his formative years. And his writings helped put The Potteries on the literary map of Great Britain.
Universally recognised as ranking alongside Thomas Hardy’s Wessex in the description and depiction of a specific region and the provincial life it embodies, Bennett’s novels of the ‘Five Towns’ have attracted an enormous world-wide following for well over a century.
A series of special events and exhibitions are being held across Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries during 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.
This starts with a free-to-visit exhibition at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery entitled ARNOLD BENNETT: IN LIFE AND ART, which is scheduled to run from February 18 to July 2 (http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/). It will draw on many of the artefacts, watercolours and other Bennett materials held in the Museum’s collection, many of which have not been on public display before.
One of Bennett’s best-known works, Anna of the Five Towns, meanwhile, has been adapted for the stage by Deborah McAndrew – the British playwright and actor, once better known for playing Angie Freeman in Coronation Street in the 1990s. This will be directed by Conrad Nelson, and performed at the theatre-in-the-round New Vic Theatre from between May 26 and June 17.
It’s a new adaptation of one of his most-loved novels, and tells the absorbing love story of a spirited young woman, set against the backdrop of life in The Potteries: “Anna Tellwright’s 21st birthday brings with it newfound responsibilities, wealth and a suitor for her heart. Courted by desirable bachelor Henry Mynors, Anna struggles to gain her independence. She finds herself torn between trying to please her tyrannical father and a desire to help young Willy Price and his family from the brink of ruin. As pressure mounts, tragedy strikes, and Anna must discover where her heart truly lies before it’s too late.”
For further details, visit http://www.newvictheatre.org.uk/productions/anna-five-towns/.
The City of Stoke-on-Trent is currently bidding to become the 2021 UK City of Culture, and Bennett’s literary legacy forms a part of that bid. A statue to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth will be unveiled in Hanley on May 27 – on the anniversary of his birthday. The two metre-high bronze statue will then stand outside The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery as a symbol of the city’s cultural heritage.
Commissioned by the Arnold Bennett Society, funded by the Denise Coates Foundation and gifted to the city, the statue is the work of local sculptors Michael Talbot and Carl Payne – and will now join a Sculpture Trail of around 40 other artworks across all six towns and communities of The Potteries.
The unveiling of the Arnold Bennett statue at 12 Noon on May 27 will be followed by a Commemoration Service on Sunday, May 28 at 10.30 at Swan Bank Methodist Church – with the laying of a wreath in the cemetery at 2.00pm.
Stoke Film Theatre (http://www.stokefilmtheatre.org.uk), meanwhile, will be hosting a season of Bennett movies, including a screening of Piccadilly on Wednesday, May 10 at 7.45pm, which is when a new adaptation of a book of that same title will be launched.
Other attractions in Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries that are currently planning their own events, Middleport Pottery in Burslem (the “home” of BBC TV’s Great Pottery Throw Down), for example, will be staging a new play by Mr Bill Ridgway, AB & Marguerite on Friday, July 14. For further details, visit http://www.middleportpottery.org/events/. And the award-winning Trentham Gardens (http://www.trentham.co.uk/trentham-gardens) will be holding a special, Picnic in honour of Arnold Bennett in August.
This year’s Stoke on Trent Literary Festival (http://www.stokeliteraryfestival.org) at the Emma Bridgewater Factory in Hanley will also doff its cap to Bennett when it is held this year between June 8 and 10.
Elsewhere, local scenes connected with Bennett’s work can still be explored on a self-guided Arnold Bennett’s Bursley Trail.
Full details of the Trail, and most of the other events and exhibitions taking place in Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries in the anniversary year can now be found at www.visitstoke.co.uk/Arnold-bennett.aspx.
For all further tourist information about Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries, visit www.visitstoke.co.uk.