The Contenders

John Wain’s novel of the post-war ambition and careers of two men, The Contenders (1958) was made into a 1969 ITV drama “set in the Potteries”. 4 x 60-minute episodes according to IMDB. It seems likely that the tapes have not survived, but I wonder if the scripts are still around?

Charles Dickens in Staffordshire

Charles Dickens visits the Potteries in the early 1850s…

PUTTING up for the night in one of the chiefest towns of Staffordshire, I find it to be by no means a lively town.

I have paced the streets and stared at the houses, and am come back to the blank bow window of the Dodo [Inn]; and the town clocks strike seven. I have my dinner and the waiter clears the table, leaves me by the fire with my pint decanter, and a little thin funnel-shaped wine-glass and a plate of pale biscuits – in themselves engendering desperation.

No book, no newspaper! What am I to do?

The Dodo Inn was actually a lightly disguised name for the Swan in Green inn, Gate St., Stafford. He merely visited a small bit of the Potteries for part of a day, taking the train from Stafford. The tradition obviously started early, of a London journalist spending a few hours here and becoming an ‘instant expert’ on the district, and then writing a ‘knocking’ newspaper article.

Portraits of Erasmus Darwin

The three best portraits of Erasmus Darwin, that aren’t cloistered away in some obscure museum. Large size, two of them newly colourised.

The last not ideally colorised, but perhaps “reading by moonlight”.

With thanks to the Wellcome Library.

Found: three more novels set in Stoke

I’ve found another three novels set on Stoke-on-Trent.

1) Annie Keary’s children’s novel Sidney Grey: A Tale of School Life (1857), written while raising her children in Trent Vale. Her fiction was well regarded, and the survey book Masterworks of Children’s Literature states the novel was written for her own children and… “dealt with their [north] Staffordshire region and its brick kilns”. The novel was also a “picture of grammar-school life” in the 1850s, with a disabled boy hero. I’m guessing that the school would then have been in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and that the novel drew its impetus from the tensions between school life and life in the brickyards. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English calls it a “notable children’s book”. For some reason there’s no free copy on either, Hathi or Gutenberg.

2) Cedric Beardmore‘s Dodd the Potter (1931) has an embossed board cover that “depicts an industrial building with chimneys” according to an unillustrated record page for the V&A collection. The novel is apparently a frank Potteries coming-of-age story with what were — in those days — some titillating aspects. A syndicated review in an Australian newspaper remarked…

“Dodd is an employee at a pottery. So are some of the other people — most of them in fact — and their life story, if it is correctly shown by the author is suggestive of curious social relationships in the well known ‘five towns’.”

Beardmore was a Stoke lad, so it was evidently drawn from life, or perhaps life as he would have liked it to be. Arnold Bennett was the author’s uncle, though the novel was written without Bennett’s help. After the war Beardmore went south and into children’s comics. He wrote at least one Dan Dare story for the famous Eagle comic of the 1950s, but his mainstay was writing Belle of the Ballet for Girl comic (the girls’ equivalent of Eagle).

3) Under the pseudonym ‘Cedric Stokes’ Cedric Beardmore also published a historical novel titled The Staffordshire Assassins (1944), set around Bucknall in the 19th century. The Sydney Morning Herald review stated…

“This strange story of an ancient family and a band of renegade monks depends for its interest upon a macabre atmosphere and psychological abnormalities.”

He wrote many other popular novels, and it’s possible that some of those also draw on his life in Stoke-on-Trent.