ITV’s 23-hour Clayhanger adaptation

On YouTube, ITV’s lavish TV adaptation of the Clayhanger novels by Arnold Bennett, set in Victorian Stoke-on-Trent. It formed a 23 hour costume drama broadcast in 1976, on the UK’s only commercial TV channel at that time. A small handful of Bennett’s classic Potteries novels were filmed, to make an epic family saga.

The quality is VHS, and it’s also available on torrents at Archive.org if you want to do tweaks or audio fixes. But note that the series is on DVD on eBay where — if you shop around — you can currently have the seven-disk set for about £15 including postage.

It was the coherent work of a single scriptwriter, unlike the ‘all must have prizes’ tag-teams of today. Despite some slow and thoughtful moments, it was a success and the series “dug deeply and sensitively into the grimly heroic world of Arnold Bennett’s novels” — Country Life magazine, 1977.

Some of it was filmed in the Potteries, and the rest in ‘the Potteries recreated’ on a large filming lot behind Elstree Studios. They did a good job, and the writer Douglas Livingstone recalled…

Michael Bailey, the designer, and his team did such a convincing job that visitors from the Potteries who’ve seen it have been known to become damp-eyed with nostalgia.

But despite the vast effort, and a cast of over 100, the series was effectively lost for decades. As Maire Messenger Davies, a University of Ulster film and TV historian, commented in an MIT paper

“the question is raised as to why this prestigious costly production has so completely disappeared from view [and an] expensive, and star-studded adult serial has been lost to public access. [Its loss is especially felt because] It was the last of its kind – there were no more 26 episode series after this … It had an extremely starry cast … [playing to] a major literary work by a regional novelist [and was] filmed, and provided employment, within the Midlands region itself.”

Thus it was an important series on a number of levels, not least as a major expression of ITV’s cultural remit to serve its home region of the West Midlands. Yet it wasn’t just for a Midlands audience. Despite its regional flavour, in those days ITV (aka ATV) could easily have half the nation watching such a major series. And all the way through too, with none of the sort of ‘rapid tail-off’ that you see today, where audiences shrink drastically after episode four of a long series such as Doctor Who.

Whatever the reason for its burial it was gone for 35 years, and at a time when other old series were pouring out on VHS and DVD. But it was eventually found and prised out of the archives of the rights holders. After much searching the entire series was found by the Arnold Bennett Society and TV producer Tim Brearley, languishing and dusty…

“in a warehouse in France”

It was only one warehouse fire away from being lost for good.

Lady Dale Well, Leek

New on eBay, an 1859 cutting from Leek, in which the town council discuss their liability for the upkeep of footpaths. It reveals to posterity that a footpath to Lady Dale Well was still being well used by the town.

This must be what is now called the Lady O’th’dale Well, located about a mile south of the town centre. According to the official listing record for it, the wellhead stone was erected 1855. The record for it also notes “may be associated with an early shrine“.

“Leek: Leek and Lowe” in British History Online has…

The spring south of the town to the east of the Cheddleton road was evidently named in honour of Our Lady in the Middle Ages. The area was known as Lady Wall Dale in the late 16th century, and the spring is now called as Lady o’ th’ Dale well. A 19th-century stone structure survives there.

That there was much use of it seems obvious from the clipping about the well-worn footpath. That there was some sort of veneration is clear from the Catholic naming, which obviously references Mary, and the 16th century dating of this in a document shows the association was made by 1587.

The site was visited in 2014 by pixyledpublications who posted a report on holyandhealingwells.com, adding some useful context …

there was a farm belonging to Dieulacres Abbey along the Cheddleton Road, but the presence of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church above the well and 19th century fabric suggests it was developed by the local Catholic community. Indeed, a May Day procession was taken by children from the church every May Day, although when it ceased is unclear. … The approach to the well has been improved with a wooden walkway and it appears to be well preserved.

In 2019 planners rejected a planning application for eight new homes there…

“it is considered that the application would result in significant and demonstrable harm to protected species, habitats and the Lady Dale Local Wildlife Site”.

A rhyme for children

An amusing little poem and aide memoire of key dangers, for young children to learn…

Dear doggies may bite – and give you a fright;
Of deep water beware – there’s not enough air;
A hot plate will frizzle – to steal your sizzle;
From trees very tall – you may tumble and fall;
Big cars can jump – and give you a lump;
Take care of your eyes – don’t put them in pies;
Wash hands with soap – or else you’re a dope.

Elfwin: A Novel of Anglo-Saxon Times

Now online for free, Elfwin: A Novel of Anglo-Saxon Times (1930), a stirring novel of Ethelflaeda of Mercia.

It was the first historical novel of south Staffordshire / north Birmingham author S. Fowler Wright, author of the key science fiction classic The World Below (1929). Elfwin is said to be a high quality and brisk historical novel with well-crafted and heroic characters.

The Spectator review of 1930 had…

All who like tales of high romance and valour will enjoy Mr. Fowler Wright’s latest book when once they have made the acquaintance of its innumerable characters. The first chapter is not easy reading: the pages are littered with Danish and Saxon names, and those who are not historically minded may find it a little difficult to understand what is happening. Yet Mr. Fowler Wright avoids the sentimentalities common to those who write of chivalry, and tells his tale of intrigue with the utmost directness.

The Photographs Of William Blake

New on eBay, The Photographs Of William Blake, a 2005 Stoke-on-Trent photobook I didn’t know about and that even Google Books isn’t aware exists. Sadly, what with the virus and all, I don’t have the funds to justify purchasing it. But some reader may want it. The seller provides nice scans…

48 pages, at A4 size. Presumably there was also a People and Places of the Potteries series, at the time, of which this was the first.