There should be a Staffordshire Day – there should also be a Wallis Simpson Day (pubished in the Staffordshire Sentinel 22 July 2014

How good is it living in Staffordshire? According to the website its brilliant. The site is specifically dedicated to tourism, and one therefore should expect a high level of promotion for the county’s great characteristics. In my view, Staffordshire’s fantastic history and heritage is a splendid asset and should be celebrated loudly and widely.

Enjoystaffordshire is currently sponsoring a Staffordshire Day. Not so much to add another public holiday to the already large list of celebratory days, but one to commemorate all that is good about the county.

The first one is scheduled for next year to coincide with what the organisers claim is Staffordshire’s 1000th birthday, even though the county was created as an administrative unit in the reign of Edward the Elder (899-925); but let’s not quibble over a mere hundred-odd years.

To commemorate the occasion it’s been suggested that the public reflect on some specific anniversaries. For instance the founding of Wedgwood’s on May Day 1759, or the day Charles II hid in an oak tree, or the day the canal engineer James Brindley died.

For what it’s worth my money goes on Josiah Wedgwood. I’ve always said he is the greatest ceramicist, encourager and employer of illustrious artists, a clever scientist, experimenter and market man that ever lived. There should be a stand alone Josiah Wedgwood Day never mind a Staffordshire Day. Anyway, Yorkshire has a Yorkshire Day, and there’s a Lancashire Day, so why not a Staffordshire Day?

According to one website there are already some 86 annual holidays and observance days in the United Kingdom including patron saints days, but not a British National Day. A Labour Immigration Minister back in 2008 suggested that the August Bank Holiday should be a weekend of national celebration.

He however, retracted the proposal when the SNP objected on the grounds that Scotland’s existing August Bank Holiday fell on an altogether different day.

Then in the first year of the Conservative/Lib-Dem Coalition, it was recommended that the May Day bank holiday should be called UK Day and be moved to October to link with Trafalgar Day, a suggestion doomed to fail with opposition from trade unions as well as Morris Dancers, Well Dressers and May Queens. And I’ll certainly put my hand up to one who often celebrates the debauchery of traditional Wakes Week.

Talking about putting one’s hand up. I think there should be a Wallis Simpson Day. To make my point I was moved to explain to my seven-year-old grandson why, in my opinion, this thrice-married American woman was so special.

“Well”, I began in the familiar tone of a teller of myths and fables, “it all goes back to 1936 when the old king died and the new king came to the throne. It’s pretty much the opposite of Cinderella. Instead of the handsome prince seeking out the prettiest girl in the land, the new king, Edward, sought out the plainest looking woman to make his queen. Naturally the kings’ courtiers would have none of it and he was exiled to a far away island journeying through the bad lands of an evil conqueror and his wicked trolls.”

Had Wallis Simpson not entrapped him, there’s every reason to believe Edward would have attempted to negotiate a deal with Hitler and Co. It probably wouldn’t have come off – but you never know. The level of appeasement was high. And maybe the king’s influence would have swung a deal with the Nazis, a sort of non-involvement pact, and who knows what the world would have looked like today.

Edward chose the strange appeal of an American woman and gave up his kingdom to his kind brother and his dutiful daughter. Wallis saved Great Britain. “And that is why,” I testified to my grandson, “we should have a national Wallis Simpson Day: oh, and a national Katie Price Day while we’re at it.”

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Taking care of graveyard memorials (As published in the print copy of the Sentinel 4 July 2015)

Colin Minton Campbell was one of Stoke’s most important benefactors and major employers during the middle Victorian period. Because of this a statue to his memory was unveiled in 1887 in Campbell Place, re-sited in 1954 near Minton’s modernised factory in London Road, and more recently on its current pedestal outside Sainsbury’s.

When he was Stoke’s mayor Campbell sponsored a range of public works including the construction of the municipal cemetery at Hartshill to which he donated £500 thereby giving him first choice of burial plots. Naturally he picked the best at the main entrance where a striking memorial erected after his death in 1885 can be seen today.

Campbell married a distant cousin, an art connoisseur, Louisa Wilmot Cave-Browne-Cave, who bore him 11 children.

Louisa became a convert to Roman Catholicism and when she died in 1909 she chose to be buried in Hartshill cemetery alongside two of Minton’s greatest artists, Frenchmen Marc Solon the inventor of pate-sur-pate, and Leon Arnoux, Minton’s art director.

I visited these graves in 2004 when they were delightfully settled in a garden patch with laurel bushes cascading in tribute to the romantic and artistic heritage they’d bequeathed to the city. Go there today and it is just a pile of unidentifiable rubble.

Another plot I went to see, this time in Hanley cemetery, was the memorial of the orchestral conductor John Cope and his mentor, Madame Reymond, who jointly founded North Staffs Symphony Orchestra. In 2004 the memorial stood upright in modest dignity. But since then it too has been reduced to ruins, as had many more important gravestone monuments across the city.

It was around 2008 that the council, under some health and safety directive, had gone all out to topple memorials it considered dangerous to the public, mainly dog walkers. Though why an act of institutionalised vandalism was considered the appropriate way to make structures safe was never explained.

The truth, I guess, is that memorials are private things and it is the owners’ responsibility to maintain them. Inevitably, though, over time family tenure has been abandoned often after descendants moved away.

The Victorian celebration of death is key to the legacy of tombstones. Size mattered. You only have to look at Stoke-on-Trent’s biggest memorial to death, the Sutherland Mausoleum at Trentham, to judge the appeal of ostentation.

Such artefacts also reflect dominant gender bias of the times. For me the huge 20-feet high simulated Saxon standing stone monument to the potter WH Goss, also in Hartshill cemetery, symbolises high ranking one-upmanship even after death; a tribute more to egocentricity rather than a record of account. They are, nonetheless, a touchstone of the city’s heritage.

Our cemeteries contain a vast wealth of local history, most of it destroyed through neglect and gratuitous policy.

St Johns churchyard in Burslem is an example where uninspired relocation, initiated by a bypass, has seen the irreplaceable Wedgwood family memorials heaped into a corner to suffer damage far beyond restoration.

Many heritage preservationists, relatives and visitors, blame the council for being insensitive and inflexible when questioning the philosophy of pushing over gravestones without consultation. They have a point.

I recall Burslem History Club being refused permission to renovate some of the memorials in Burslem Cemetery. The council played it safe with its obedience to rules. Club members, whose only interest was to safeguard local history and Potteries’ heritage, were snubbed.

What then is to be done with the broken and neglected memorials? Unluckily too many are as dead as the bones that lie beneath them.

Perhaps a city heritage arboretum would be an answer. Land at Carmountside could provide the location. Policy enactment could steer the process of information transfer; and it would surely help to benefit tourism when situated alongside another of the city’s overlooked and least promoted graveyards and heritage sites, Hulton Abbey.


Mdame Reymond. NS Symphony Orchestra – 76 Moorland Road

It’s just a house. The kind of Victorian redbrick terrace you’d pass by daily without casting a momentary glance at its contours or facia. It wouldn’t occur to you to check how many storeys it has or what colour the front door is. And unless you were especially looking you wouldn’t notice the trade advertising or the titles on the nameplates around the entrances. Indeed if you were so inclined you’d probably pay more attention to the attractive Chelsea Potbank by the side of it or to the doubtful allusions of Tammy’s massage parlour next door. But this house has history, not for style or inspirational architecture, but for the people who once lived here.

Accountant Arthur Edwards is the current owner of 76 Moorland Road Burslem.

“You’ve probably noticed,” says Arthur, “that the terraced house is in the middle of three. I bought number 74 thirty years ago when I started practicing accountancy. Over the years the business has grown and so in 1991 I bought number 76. At that time it was being used as flats and they were in a pretty poor state. But the potential was there and I had both houses converted into one.”

To make a workable building Arthur simply removed a couple of inside walls, although you wouldn’t know this from the outside where Arthur’s nameplate is over the door of number 74 whereas the credentials of a chiropodist and a clinic for sports injuries decorate the entrance to 76.

“Mind you,” adds Arthur, “I didn’t realise the significance of number 76 when I first took it over. To me it was an identical house to the one I already occupied. I wasn’t particularly interested in who’d lived here before and I don’t suppose I would have known about those people if you hadn’t told me.”

With me is Kathy Niblett, former curator of 20th century ceramics at the Potteries Museum from 1979 to 1999.

“I’ve often thought about visiting this house,” says Kathy, “particularly when I was researching background for my last book.”

The book Kathy refers to is ‘1904, A unique Orchestra,’ published last year to celebrate the centenary of the North Staffs Symphony Orchestra.

“I was asked to write its history,” explains Kathy, “but I was specifically charged with writing about the development of the orchestra and I didn’t want to get too deeply involved in this side of the story.”

So, what is ‘this side of the story’?

In 1887 the Holst family of Denmark came to reside at number 218 Waterloo Road Cobridge. Fredrik Idon Holst and his wife Julia were accompanied by their 34 year old daughter, music teacher Karen Marie Elisabeth Reymond. But of all the places in the world why had this immigrant family chosen Burslem to settle?

“Well that really is a big mystery,” says Kathy. “We know the father was a manufacturer of wooden barrels, and we know they must have been quite well off to have bought a house in the well-to-do Cobridge which was the posh retreat of prosperous Burslem families. But why they decided on Burslem will forever remain a mystery in the story of this truly magical woman.”

Magical? Well if we take note of the 1944 tribute by the music critic and writer Reginald Nettel, Madame Reymond was a fairy godmother to the people of the Potteries: “No princess in a Hans Anderson tale.” Nettel wrote, “Ever had the fairies’ gifts in greater abundance than this Danish lady who so unexpectedly came to brighten up the face of Burslem.”

“And not just Burslem, the whole of North Staffordshire,” adds Kathy. “It was Madame who introduced symphonic music to the Potteries at a time when Stoke on Trent was filled with black smoke, dust and grime. She brought aural pleasure to a region identified for its visually beautiful produce lodged in the paradox of dirty industry. In 1902 Madame Reymond founded the Potteries Choral Society and hired the Halle Orchestra to accompany it. And this gave her protégé, a young man from Milton, his chance to conduct.”

The celebrated conductor John Cope was 25 when Madame Reymond’s new Potteries’ Orchestral Society gave its first performance in December 1904 at Burslem Town Hall.

“Madame had recognised John Cope’s musical talents when he was a boy in Milton and had paid for his tuition in Munich under the celebrated Josef Rheinberger,” explains Kathy. “From 1904 the renamed North Staffs Symphony Orchestra went from strength to strength. But it was always held back by the lack of sufficient funding.”

It was in 1897 that Madame Reymond bought the house 76 Moorland Road. Brand new in the middle of a row of terraces, it was the place to live if you were among the upwardly mobile of the day. Conveniently situated opposite the railway station it stood adjacent to the new swimming baths with stunning views over the recently opened Burslem Park. It was an acquisition that showed again that the music teacher was a woman of means.

“And yet it is clear from conveyance documents,” says Arthur, “That money was really getting too tight to mention.”

Arthur produced the deeds to his property which show Madame Reymond to be the first purchaser and lists a series of re-mortgages taken out by way of borrowing from friends and supporters of the orchestra.

“The names on these documents show that some well-established business people were anxious to keep the orchestra afloat,” says Arthur pointing out the signatures of the Sudlow potters, Goodwin jewellers of Hanley, the Rev Wernick from Colchester and Smallthorne potter John Bourne.

“On the outside of the house,” says Arthur, “You can just make out the letters spelling ‘Beethoven House’ imprinted in the stone lintel over the front window. And as you can see from the deeds this was the name she gave the house.”

Over the front door a Grecian lyre has been carved in the stonework. And high on the wall of the first storey is a stone plaque that bears the name Alexandra Buildings in tribute to the Danish queen of King Edward VII who may have been an acquaintance of the Holst’s, indeed even a family friend. It was Queen Alexandra who, at the end of her life, gave Madame Reymond a personal gift of a gold brooch bearing her initials KMER with a handwritten note commemorating her work in North Staffordshire music. A personal postscript said – “Wishing you a happy future in our beloved Denmark, Your Friend Alexandra,” but neither Scandinavian ex-patriot returned home.

Arthur’s deeds show a conveyance in 1908 to Mr M Morton when Madame Reymond sold up. And over the years families have lived here until it became too expensive for single residential occupancy and was turned into business use – once as a dentist’s surgery – and latterly as multi-occupancy accommodation.

Strolling around the rooms with Kathy and Arthur it is quite obvious that little has changed. Plaster stucco heads of nymphs and woodland sprites adorn ceiling cornices and mahogany stained pitch-pine doors have been well preserved.

“I wonder how they managed to carry the huge organ that Madame had especially made for John Cope into the house,” queries Kathy as we go in search of any pieces of memorabilia or relics of those Edwardian times. But there aren’t any.

“I suppose the only bits that remain of the occupancy of Madame Reymond and John Cope lies in the residual atmosphere of memory.” Arthur smiles enigmatically, “Personally I don’t feel any presence.”

On the other hand Kathy is closer to the story and it seems that just occasionally a flicker of association lights her face.

“I think it’s a lovely building,” she says as we climb into the top floor roof space. “That’s where the skylight must have been.” She points to a patch of fresh plaster on the down slope of the roof. “In almost every window there was some advert or tribute to music. On the window even in this top room Madame had the word ‘Harmony’ scrolled, I suppose to attract the attention of people passing by in the park who couldn’t see the ground floor.”

It is gratifying to know that the present owner of this building appreciates the recent interest in its history and in its first occupier.

“And it’s good that the North Staffs Symphony Orchestra is still performing,” says Arthur. “But I wonder how more famous it would have been if funding and support had been more forthcoming in Madame Reymond’s times.”

Reginald Nettel called music in the ‘Five Towns’ Cinderella Music. He mildly rebuked the authorities for music’s impoverished state while severely criticising Madame Reymond’s many jealous enemies. I find myself echoing Arthur’s sentiments. How far could we have travelled with more interest and support? And as for today’s version of Madame’s orchestra, would it have existed at all without this mysterious Danish lady who came to brighten the dark face of the Potteries?

Leaving the road at Bapaume

Some years ago I was travelling through France along the  Côte d’Azur. From Marseille, Lyon, Dijon, Reims, to meet the E1 at Bapaume. I decided to stay and visit the Great War cemeteries not realising that there are 280 of them all told and 45 in the Somme battlefield. I saw what I could. And these visits left me emotionally drained. When  such feelings come to me I turn to what I do best. And so I wrote a piece of blank verse – a poem of my thoughts.


Leaving the road at Bapaume


A1, E15: long lines that scissor through the fertile ridges of brown earth,

linking places known by milestones of cemeteries along the Route de Bécourt and Rue de l’Ancre:

Beugny, Colincamps, Louverval, Sucrerie,

Bourlon Wood, Ten Trees, Quarry Wood

Tamed fields yawning from the burial ground at Le Chemin du Paradis, gathering the shadows of white stone columns at Adanac.

The bleakness of Mansel Copse and Mametz by Beaumont Hemel where the Canucks fell;

The London Cemetery at High Wood;

Serre Road memorial park dressed by the fabulous pale yellow Lutyens’ epic –

– on the Route de Bapaume.




That morning I left my car on the sweep of land arced by shrines to lost soldiers resting beneath brown copses and yellow fields guarded by sentries of gathered hay.

“This is the land of charnel gardens,” I thought: the land of skulls.

And then a fingerpost pointing along D20 from Albert to Lochnagar beckoned

‘This way,’ it genially insisted, ‘this way to La Grande mine.’

I know it as a spherical coffin of death, an abysm of disappearance.

And so I pass between new barns, escorted by parades of poppies through fields of purple lavender, along avenues of poplar and plane,

by the windmill where the Aussie dead stand-to by the tank memorial.

This is the longest road reaching over swollen lawns, hiding undetonated bombs in grottoes of shell caskets, rusting:

Woolwich bayonets and Woolworth’s knives, made in Sheffield, made to kill and cut.




All over this brown earth messages are passed in whispers through the sighing sycamores, telegraphing orders along D929, D20 and D107.

Along the Somme: coded news from nameless warriors, Jew, Catholic, and non-conformist, Moslem, Sikh, and gentile.

Listen to the mumbles, the gasps, the wails; the lamentations.

Leaving the road at Bapaume, 7am, Saturday, July 1, 1916:

across the fields of Montauban, Mametz, Fricourt, La Boiselle, Ovillers, Theipval, Beaumont Hamel, Serre, Gommecourt.

The pain has left.

The land is silent save for a distant motorised plough.



A largely forgotten but important and influential North Staffordshire poet

ImageUnlike the profusion of ashen names chiselled on thousands of stone memorials, Richard Ault’s splendid series in the Sentinel allows us to hear the sound of local voices and to see the determined ‘moustached archaic faces’ of pottery youths and miners’ sons as they headed out on that fateful ‘August Bank Holiday lark’ in 1914. The Smith’s and Jones’s: how many mute poets and artists would have achieved their promise of greatness had they lived, how would they have told the story? We have, of course, the words of their representatives; Sassoon and Owen, Rosenberg and Gurney, wringing out the nerve ends of despair, pleading for salvation like the boom of canon fire, and crying for instant peace: ‘Oh, God, make small/The old star-eaten blanket of the sky/That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.’ Gurney’s words are the words of local lads: it is the common dialect of the dead.

TS Elliot’s dramatic monologue, The Waste Land, published in 1922 with its famous beginning, ‘April is the cruellest month,’ is often seen as the voice of disillusionment of the post-war generation, the generation that struggled to come to terms with the disbelief of what had just happened. There is a deliberate darkness in this poem that succeeds in portraying the melancholy and confusion of a traumatised nation. It’s not so much that Elliot wanted to remind us of the awfulness of the Great War but to warn of its extension and frequency.

Elliot wanted the complexity of his poem to extend much longer, but mercifully his friend, Ezra Pound, one of the earliest Modernist poets and founder of the Imagist Movement, edited it to readable proportions. They both owed much to their mentor, an important influence on the style of both men, the North Staffordshire poet, Thomas Edward Hulme, born 1883 at Gratton Hall, Endon, senior in age to Elliot and Pound by just five years.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d never heard of him, even though Hulme has been universally acknowledged as one of the genre’s greatest influences; perhaps it’s because he is another half-remembered victim of the Great War. I always think it’s rather strange that his physical presence alone did not merit attention in the district of his birth, for he was a towering character, admired by his peers as an ultra-fit non-smoking, radical, a Tory teetotaller, a loud eccentric noted for being addicted in equal measure to sucking boiled sweets and making love. Indeed, he was chucked out of Cambridge for bad behaviour at a post-boat race party, although what impeachable act he committed is not recorded.

His literary output was small, in all just 25 poems of which only six were published. And yet this sparse contribution of some 260 lines, written over two years in that happy summer before the dark clouds descended, have had great influence on poetic style in succeeding generations.

Hulme volunteered as an artilleryman in 1914 and served in France and Belgium where he became a valued contributor to The New Age literary magazine writing from his trench a series of articles, ‘War Notes’, using the pseudonym, ‘North Staffs’. After being wounded he returned in 1917 to Flanders where, on 28 September, four days after his thirty-fourth birthday, he was blown to pieces by a shell. An observer thought his mind was elsewhere staring ‘into another place’, facing the enemy as he took the full force of the blast. His grave in the Belgium Military Cemetery at Koksijde, is simply marked as, ‘One of the War poets’, which of course, he was not. And yet his words are truly redolent of the soldier/poet reminiscing for the English village at the edge of industry, a place in truth like Endon. ‘A touch of cold in the autumn night—I walked abroad and saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge like a red-faced farmer. I did not stop to speak, but nodded. And round about were the wistful stars with white faces like town children.’


Harold Keates Hales – The inspiration for Arnold Bennett’s The Card?


HK Hales: The Real Card?

A paper for the Arnold Bennett Society Conference 2011

I suppose nothing evokes a provincial view more than a high street full of canvas window blinds hanging over shop fronts a generation before supermarkets came to destroy towns. This is a picture of a long-ago commercial Edwardian England. And all those shops have gone now; the blinds drawn forever over windows once stuffed so tightly with goods that you couldn’t get anything out if you’d wanted to. And with ‘the shut shops, the bleached, established names on the sun blinds; the farthings and sovereigns, and dark-clothed children at play called after kings and queens’, written in the nostalgic words of Philip Larkin – we add – ‘Never such innocence again.’

The Lycett family blind’s manufacturing business was founded in Burslem in 1885 by Charles Taylor Lycett who bought a section of the former Enoch Wood’s Fountain Works and rented some rooms at the top of Packhorse Lane from the accountant, Henry Steele, a notable antiquarian and collector of historic ephemera. 

Charles Lycett was a keen sportsman; and as cycling was then gaining mass popularity he sold bicycles as a sideline from his shop overlooking St John’s Square. It was in 1893, however, that Charles realised he had a competitor in a forceful 35 year-old moon-faced, businessman named Harold Keates Hales, known locally as HK.

Hales opened his own cycle shop, also in Market Place, just around the corner from the Lycett shop. The two enterprising competitors nevertheless seemed to rub along fairly well, business being business in a provincial industrial town where commercial enterprise, aldermanic and antediluvian hierarchy travelled hand-in-hand. That is until Charles’s son, Frank Lycett, took over the running of his father’s cycle business, extending it in 1905 to selling motorcycles.

Frank Lycett was born in 1886; around the same time that his father launched the blinds company – an advertising business that, as a matter of fact, became Stoke-on-Trent’s premier marketing concern throughout much of the 20th century.

Unlike Hales, young Frank was a trained and proficient engineer who, because of his technical skills, attracted a specialist clientele dedicated to the mechanics of motoring, more so than any of his competitors. But Hales tried to reach further by expanding his business to selling and repairing motorcycles, and contrarily, upright pianos.

It was well-known in the community that Frank’s father, Charles, was the first man in Burslem to own a motor car, a detail that was often snappily disputed by HK Hales who always claimed that his own well-polished sedan was the first motor car to be seen travelling around the roads of the Mother Town.

Irrespective of who was Burslem’s first motorist, there is nevertheless a great deal of Sentinel reportage to confirm that in the first decade of the 20th century it was indeed the young Frank Lycett who was the most often-seen driver about town if only because of his novel and popular chauffeur business which was well patronised.

There is a delightful piece of Lycett memorabilia in an unpublished memoir scribbled by Frank Lycett between 1900 and 1912. This family archive contains a note written in 1908, which intriguingly bears two pencilled names – HK Hales and Zena Dare, a British actress who was soon to achieve national stardom in silent movies.

Zena Dare was touring in Richeleaux play the Dashing Little Duke, being performed at Hanley’s Theatre Royal. It is not known how Zena and Frank Lycett met, but the notes do mention Frank chauffeuring the actress around the Potteries, insinuating probably that it was to the irritation of his rival HK Hales. Perhaps it was because of their comparative ages that attracted Zena Dare to choose Frank as her chaperone – for they were both 21 at the time and HK had reached the age of 40. Whatever it was, it is easy to see that HK was extremely touchy over the actress preferring the younger motorist to be her ferryman rather than a mature and sensible commercial establishment like HK.

HK it seemed was not so much a Card during this period as was the young Frank Lycett whose name was often quoted by the Sentinel’s society reporters as being the young man about town, often at dinners and civic balls.

On another occasion marked in Frank’s 1908 notes, the young man about town refers to chauffeuring Doctor John Russell together with the famous Scottish entertainer, Sir Harry Lauder, to Burslem Golf Club where the legendary music hall star performed the newly-opened club’s tee-off ceremony. And according to the guest list that day there was a marked absence of the name HK Hales from the dinner table.

There is a later reference to a touring duty in Scotland in 1912 when Frank, driving his Humber 12 horsepower saloon, drove the same Doctor John Russell who, as Bennett enthusiasts and researchers will know, was a close family friend and confidante of the Bennett’s as well as featuring in Arnold Bennett’s novels as Doctor Stirling. The Lycett interesting papers reports their arrival at Windermere on the first day – and by the fifth day they’d reached Aberdeen and the village of Insch, which was Russell’s place of birth, and where they lodged before travelling to attend the opening of a medical faculty at Aberdeen University.

I have given this preamble of this Burslem trading family as a backdrop to the Edwardian town of The Card. This is to show how typically parochial commercial competition was at the time. So, now let’s turn to the doings of HK Hales – the man who claims to have inspired the Bennett character Denry Machin, The Card. 


Harold Keates Hales was born in Manchester in 1868, a son of a lower middle-class retail family that moved to Burslem to run a draper’s shop in St John’s Square where they found a competitor in John Longson, the maternal grandfather of Arnold Bennett, whose shop was just across the road.

Arnold Bennett and Hales, less than one year separating their births, both went to the Burslem Endowed School at the Wedgwood Institute and later at Longport Hall, at the same time – although it is apparent that HK remembers Bennett infinitely more acutely than Bennett did Hales.

In his ‘Autobiography of ‘The Card’’, Hales recalls: – ‘we were not close friends and there was on the surface little in common between us.’ This typically brusque statement may be further evaluated in the 2000 words of the chapter on their schooldays when Hales tried to formulate a reference to some anecdote connecting him the relationship in their time together. Indeed Hales recalls – enviously perhaps – that Bennett was much friendlier with Frank Beardmore than he was with him even though the three had shared a few kick-about football matches on the Grange Fields during which matches Hales meaninglessly tells his readers that he had more talent for the beautiful game than Bennett. Interestingly though, while Hales undoubtedly played football with Bennett, the creator of the Five Towns novels never referred to Hales in his own recollections of playing football on the Grange.

At the age of 21 Bennett left for London. At the age of 21 Hales was already a commercial traveller for the Burslem earthenware manufactory of Gibson’s in Moorland Road. It was in the first couple of years of the 20th century that HK became interested in the boom in bicycles – part time and casual at first before he widened his sights and opened his Market Place shop. 

This enterprise is covered tediously in his first volume of memoirs entitled ‘Harold’s Adventures’, published in 1926. His other written works were published in a flurry of self-interested energy – in 1936, for instance, he produced ‘Chariots Of The Air’ in which he tells of his adventures in flying; and then in spread of self-indulgence ‘The Road To Westminster, and My Impressions Of Parliament’; and of course ‘The Autobiography Of ‘The Card’. There was a later attempt at a novel – a work of arid fiction called ‘Keeling and Son’ published in 1938.

TAOTC is not fully dedicated to detailing why he was convinced Bennett had used him as a model for Denry Machin, but the objective is never far away from other themes. Other details of his life remain formless in comparison with the intent of proving the claim of the title. That Hales was an undoubted entrepreneur in business. He was a man willing to chance his arm in most things he turned his hand to, and as such his enterprise should not be doubted. But it is the claim to have inspired the eponymous Bennett character and therefore the name The Card that requires analysis.

His lack of modesty in recounting TAOTC does not let him down. Even the most unbiased reader cannot fail to see the narrative as a shameless catalogue of self-promotion, although it is no more than an average life. This is the life of a middle class conservative adherent. He is a fully paid-up member of the middle class old school whose self-made successes really do fall beneath the achievements of the great fictional character so inspiringly invented by Bennett to became a provincial mayor, a saviour of a football club, mentor to the aristocracy, and the proprietor of the Bursley Thrift Club.

Under the chapter ‘I meet my Maker’, Hales leads us into a meeting with Bennett in London in 1923. And it is at this crucial headland that the assertion is made to Bennett that the compelling character, Denry Machin – The Card – was indeed a documented portrait of HK Hales. 

During a painfully embarrassing conversation, for this is the impression the passage unflinchingly conveys, Hales demands that Bennett should ‘cough-up his royalties for [HK] being the inspiration for Denry Machin’. Bennett, it seems, actually appears thrown, assuring HK that most of his characters are in fact composites. But Hales insists – and Bennett, somewhat cornered, chummily and diplomatically agrees.

It is worth noting Dudley Barker’s observations in his biography of Bennett published in 1966 – ‘Writer By Trade: A Portrait of Arnold Bennett.’ Here Barker notes that HK began openly referring to himself as The Card soon after this meeting had taken place.

Barker writes of Hales insistence that Bennett had conceded that the characterisation was based upon him:

‘Bennett good-naturedly agreed this was so’, he agrees. ‘But it was so only in the most superficial sense. The true original of Denry Machin was the audacious, ambitious original side of Bennett himself; and some of the episodes, such as that of the newspaper war in the Five Towns, were based on events in which he or his family [the Bennett family] had been involved when he still lived in Burslem.’

Within two years of The Card’s publication Bennett had written and published its sequel – The Regent. And it is in citation of this that Barker points accusingly at Hales’s impertinence, which, he claims, was by now notorious. Referring to the portrayal of Denry in The Regent, Barker says, ‘the pretence that Hales was the original of the character vanishes altogether. The Card becomes ever more a comic sketch of part of Bennett’s own nature…’

Bennett himself remained silent on the matter, except when pressed, and then he was non-committal. Let us look at the evidence, as HK Hales would have us see it.

TAOTC goes to great length, though with sketchy detail, in describing what it was like to be a first among equals and a prophet among doubters.  HK writes that he was in reality the pioneer of the dropped crossbar bicycle thereby opening up England’s highways to women.

When the first diamond frame bicycle appeared my immediate question to myself was: how can we make this machine simple and dignified enough for women to ride it? I stressed this to various manufacturers, who were not all of them convinced that women would ever mount so daring a contrivance. Soon, however, the “drop-frame” appeared – and from that moment the boom in cycles was assured, as every young woman in England saw themselves as the swift winged steeds of romance.’

He recalls that he bought his first motorcar in 1897 – a Benz 2 horsepower saloon and, by 1908, he had become a Benz dealer in the district.

It should be remembered that although Frank Lycett was a popular automobile trader, the prime business of his company was the manufacture of window blinds. This appears to have been picked up by Hales who, according to a Sentinel report, is heard to caustically refer to Frank Lycett as the ‘window blind maker who drives a nice car.’ Frank, though, let’s not forget was the expert motor mechanic, but not so in HK’s eyes. And in TAOTC he claims that it was he, HK, who was the ‘accredited motor expert in the whole of North Staffordshire.’

In one example of his mechanical skill expressed in the book, he tells of being called to Newcastle under Lyme to fix a broken down Daimler car belonging to a Russian nobleman (possibly the Grand Duke Michael Romanov who was living at Keele Hall during this period). The vehicle’s chauffeur, he says, was perplexed by the breakdown, and Hales admits that the technology of this ‘illustrious German motorcar manufacturer’ were also new to him. But self-opinion and unabashed poise prevail – ‘Hales, the people had said, could put things right, and Hales had to do it. I was the acknowledged expert in our area on cars and to fail would mean immediate dethronement.’

HK of course did ‘put thing right’ with a quick rub of the points with a piece of emery cloth, and much to the joy of the Russian nobleman who offered remuneration – to which Hales affectedly declined.

TAOTC tells us that he was claimant to a number of firsts – he was the first man to report on a motorised hill-climb for a newspaper making him one of the first motoring correspondents. He was the first man to drive a car up the sheer hill to Mow Cop; the first man to ‘give expert evidence’ to a court in a legal case of speeding – none of which is publicly recorded and therefore cannot be challenged.     

1908 was a key year in the life of HK Hales. Not only had be become a piano and motorcycle dealer, and local agent for Benz motor cars, but it was the year he converted an old pottery warehouse in Waterloo Road into a money-spinning roller skating rink. And while all this was going on the Sentinel tells of his adventures flying high over the Potteries in a hot-air balloon. Hales had certainly taken part in ballooning in Hanley Park as early as 1904, which was reported in the Sentinel. But this was a common pastime anyway in the first decade of the 20th century; for a penny you could fly around the field so long as you were anchored to the ground.

The Sentinel covered the story of a noted balloonist, Captain Spenser, who had brought his inflatable to a Hanley park fete. HK was in the crowd and determined to get a close look at the fabulous contraption. Much to his unsurprised glee Spenser invited HK to go up in the balloon with him as a passenger. And thus, ‘I believe I am entitled to claim that I was the first paying passenger by airship in Great Britain who went any distance and travelled to 1000 feet,’ he tells the readers of TAOTC.

It seemed he had fingers in many pies. For instance he bought and sold land on what was formerly occupied by the Hippodrome Theatre – Bennett’s the Blood Tub – thereafter making a profit in 1910 by selling the land to the council’s agent so that the New Town Hall annex [Queens Hall] could be built there. The same year, 1910, he recalls buying an aeroplane – and that the aircraft crashed making it the first such commercial aircraft calamity in history – of course, as any aeronaut since the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903 would have testified, this could not have been true. 

There are a number of public references as to Hales’ gimmicks during this Edwardian decade – some true – some anecdotal. It is said, for instance, that he was elected to the council shortly after Federation; although I have not been able to find any record of this, nor have I found any record of HK having been a councillor for the former Burslem Town Council. This of course fails to accord with Denry Machin’s political career, for Bennett not only made Denry a councillor but had him elected as Bursley’s mayor and beating the formidable Councillor Duncalf in the bargain.

It is worth returning to chapter two of TAOTC entitled – ‘Schooldays with Arnold Bennett.’ Here HK supposes that ‘Nocker’ wasn’t very happy at school, although he gives little rationalization for this submission other than to suggest that AB’s mental reserve compared unfavourably in balance with his own self-appraised cerebral dexterity. In TAOTC, HK actually compares their individual brain power with HK deciding that his was more powerful than Bennett’s – the brain of the author, as Hales rationalises, was ‘somewhat that of a philosophical revolutionary while my own was practical and energetic.’ By the time the reader gets to the bottom of page two in this chapter HK has unambiguously written that Bennett, as a scholar, was a less-achiever than he, and he takes great pleasure in the fact that on one occasion he had a higher score than Arnold Bennett in an essay competition for which he was awarded a prize.

Here’s a put-down quote:

‘Bennett did not shine in the schoolroom. Even in English composition I do not recall that he excelled to any noticeable degree. His gifts were not such that a schoolmaster would notice.’

It is with such embedded overbearing ego that HK asserts an advantage over Bennett – and not just Bennett but the rest of his class as well – it is nothing less than a piece of braggadocio from a man, who at the time of the publication of TAOTC four years after Bennett’s death, had become a successful businessman and former parliamentarian.

His earlier claims that he was involved in public entertainment are not to be disputed. In relating his foresight of the popularity of roller-skating in 1908, he moved to persuade some Burslem businessmen to buy the derelict pottery in Waterloo Road against their wavering discretion. This roller skating enterprise ran – as he states – ‘for a little over a year’ ending somewhere at the close of 1909 or the beginning of 1910 when he was portentously advising his fellow directors that they should now convert the rink into a cinema – ‘they laughed at the suggestion,’ he scorns. But once again Hales assures his readers, ‘I was in advance of my times’.

‘We opened in April,’ he recalls – (this was actually April 1911). He continues – ‘The place had seating accommodation for 1000.’ If this was the case then it was a bigger and better cinema than the only other one in Burslem of note, and that was a substantial establishment nearby called The Palladium, which seated 350 customers. Another smaller cinema – the Moorlands Picture House – opened in 1913: and these were the only two of note.

What cinema historians have established is that Barbers Palace in Tunstall was certainly Stoke-on-Trent’s first acknowledged cinema opened by the celebrated George Herbert Barber in 1909 with seating for 400. There was also the even more notable Newcastle Cinema (later the Plaza and the Roxy), which opened in 1910 with a seating capacity of 550, and this, according to the Sentinel, claimed to be the biggest cinema in the district at the time.

As it happens HK didn’t stay more than a year with his new cinema partners before financially backing and taking a musical play on a northern England tour with its authors and actors. According to him, the show played to huge success and to full houses. It is worth noting that this was in 1914, the year the Coliseum Theatre opened as a neighbour to Hales’ former Picture Palace – before it became a cinema in the 1920s. There is no doubt that the Coliseum Theatre was part-owned by HK in company with a Trent Vale syndicate; although he didn’t seem to have had much to do with its operation. And in any case, within some weeks of its launch he had bizarrely signed-on as a petty officer in the Royal Navy Reserves at the outbreak of the Great War at the ripe age of 46.

The rest of HK’s life is of little consequence to this examination of whether or not Hales was the Card. But his stint as an MP is worth mentioning. Hales was 63 when he was elected as a Conservative as a result of the sudden rejection of Labour under Ramsay Macdonald who, in 1931, formed a coalition with Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives as the National Party. Stoke-on-Trent, like many other industrial centres, turned against Labour because of Macdonald’s perceived betrayal. The Conservatives took two Stoke-on-Trent seats for just one term; an Independent won the third. It was the Hanley constituency that elected HK, a seat that even his own party didn’t expect him to take. And much of his campaign was paid for out of his own pocket.

It seems his most ‘Card-ish’ contribution to a parliamentary debate – not visually described by Hansard – was during his short speech on the herring industry when he produced a dead fish to illustrate his obscure points – an attempt, one suspects, of ‘playing The Card!’ It was after he left the House of Commons that he sponsored the oversized Hales Blue Ribband Trophy, commissioned by him and made at Pidduck’s jewellers in Hanley. It was a prize for the winner of the fastest Atlantic crossing by a ship – itself a controversial award that was possibly intended to reflect more on him than the few winners that held it.

He did, following WWI, travel extensively promoting British industry to developing colonial nations, notably India and Africa, once he had become the owner of a shipping business. And then, in semi-retirement, he drowned in 1942 in a boating accident on the Thames at the age of 74. It was wartime and although the press covered his passing, the incident seemed not to warrant much biographical exposure. There is a modest memorial to him in the Hales’ family grave in Burslem cemetery.

The question of why Hales wanted to be accepted as the inspiration for Arnold Bennett’s The Card is, I think, self-evident – association and connection principally; and perhaps a residue of schoolboy competitiveness. Blend all this together and you may conclude that this was a provincial businessman who worried too much that his home community had not altogether recognised his contribution to his district.

The question of why Bennett allowed Hales to believe he was the inspiration for the character is the easier question to answer. AB recognised HK as being one of the typical provincial self-opinionated leaders, the kind of man that the author was so clever and accurate in exposing. In other words he quite possibly – more than likely – found humour in humouring HK Hales.

I believe the author of ‘The Autobiography of ‘The Card’’ succeeded only in creating a lightweight maybe-man – while the creator of The Card was the author of a memorable real-man. 






The Card pub 1911

Harold’s Adventures – 1926

The Road to Westminster and My Impressions of Parliament – pub 1936

The Autobiography of ‘The Card’ – pub 1936

The Staffordshire Sentinel

Hansard 1940s

Lycett Private documents – by kind permission of Michael Lycett

One Hundred Years off Whoa – by Peter Corbishley pub 2007

(A centenary history of Burslem Golf Club)


Unsung heroes of Stoke-on-Trent (4) Fred Hassall

Fred Hassall was the quiet man of local government politics. He understood the requirements and feelings of his community and his community understood him, so much so that they persuaded him to stand as an Independent councillor in 1924.

He was a popular man seemingly with everyone and yet seemed always able to keep himself to himself. Fred’s granddaughter, Pat Mountford, remembers little of his early life. But when I interviewed her for the Sentinel in 2007, she recalled that her grandmother died when she was only seven years old. Pat was unable to remember much of their early life together. But she did share the memories of later years with her mother and her aunt. From these conversations she was able to piece together the life of her grandfather of whom she was really proud. “I didn’t see much of my grandfather because he always seemed to be out on council business in one form or another, ” Pat told me “My sister and I often asked my mother where granddad was and it was always the same answer – ‘he’s at a meeting.’ He gave everything for his community; it’s as simple as that.”


Frederick Hassall was born at Stone in 1887. He moved to Stoke-on-Trent into the terraces of Portand Street Hanley where he lived for fifteen years before he was elected to the council. Pat’s mother used to tell her how much he cared for his neighbours, and during a miner’s strike he ran a soup kitchen for them and in particular making sure that the children, who were extremely impoverished, were given as much nutrients as he could get his hands on – bread and fat, meat for stew, milk and porridge – those poor kids were near to  starving. There’s much documented evidence to show that Fred was always at the forefront of this relief work. Indeed he was. Records show that Fred Hassall was the secretary for the Ward Distress and Charities Committees in a non-political capacity. It was partly because of this and other assistance he gave to his neighbours that he became a councillor. An election address for 1924 finds him nobly declaring: “I have nothing in common with politics in their relation to political matters,” but he promises “specifically to work for the benefit of the working class to which I belong.”


That was his first success. According to the election notice Fred was a candidate for Ward 11 of the County Borough of Stoke on Trent. This of course was just five years before Stoke on Trent became a city. Ward 11 in those times covered but the whole area between Century Street and lower Cobridge Road, and area that was known as Boothen; some people called it the Boothen Ward. But it also follows today’s boundaries in going between Vale Place, Forest Park, some parts of Etruria and Cobridge.


The Coal Strike of 1921 was as bloody any battlefield and was as cruel as the later ill-fated 1984/5 strike. In 1921 Britain faced the prospect of a workers’ revolution as records, recently released under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate how serious the Lloyd-George government saw the strike and its consequences. The main issue was over the return of the mines back into private ownership after the Great War. The Liberal/Conservative coalition Government had ended its wartime wage concessions, and in order to rationalise the industry mine owners universally cut wages by fifty percent. As a consequence worker’s representatives, the unions, sought a state controlled industry. But the government saw nationalisation as a Bolshevik-type revolution and gave mine owners a free hand to lock-out their workers. From this encounter the powerful Triple-Alliance unions of miners, railway worker and general workers emerged.

Fred Hassall was employed as a clerk at the Loop Line’s Hanley Station which is where he consolidated his connection with the new trades unions that fought for the miners. Pat remembers how her mother shed tears when recalling how bad those times they were and how much the children suffered in poverty.

Fred’s first election was as an Independent in 1924, and he won it with ease. But in view of his obvious socialist leanings he soon became a staunch member of the Labour Party and kept the seat for Labour until 1938 when he became an alderman.

He was a big friend of publican Henery Beresford, and like Beresford, a publican who kept the Vine in Burslem, he was a committed Roman Catholic. Beresford became Lord Mayor in 1946 and always kept Fred by his side when attending civic functions. Pat recalls humorously that her grandfather spent a lot of time meeting councillors in the Vine. “We always knew where he’d be; sometimes he go to the Welsh Harp in Hope Street, or the Big Borough in New Hall Street. But in his later years when he was living at my mother’s he’d be across at the Cobridge British Legion where he held a place on the committee. He was also the chairman of the Queen’s Head Bowling Club together with his mates, hairdresser Jack Porter and Harold Robson from the City Works Department.”

Never far away from his constituents Fred got involved with all the local issues of the times carrying out his duties quietly and efficiently. He was prominent in social welfare and elderly care and it was always the people of Boothen and Cobridge that came first. Fred, though, never sweated for promotion. Although he was offered a number of important council positions he always turned them down. They asked him to be the Lord Mayor more than once but he always declined because he wouldn’t have had a consort. In those days the Lord Mayor as a rule always had their spouse as consort. Fred’s wife, Winifred, was like Fred in may ways – she didn’t like the limelight one little bit, and because of that they were very much a pair. And so Fred maintained his family privacy; he kept his work separate, and all his efforts were done behind the scenes.

Apart from a few months for boundary reorganisation in 1955, Fred Hassall kept his seat continuously for 37 years. He was elected alderman by his peers on three occasions – a distinction rarely given even to the big names of local politics.

He died age 75 in 1960 when he was living with at his granddaughter’s house in Lincoln Road. The funeral was a massive affair. Indeed it was. The Sentinel reported the occasion over three columns listing by name all the principal guests led by Lord Mayor Bill Hancock. The report is an alumnus of civic dignitaries and heads of departments: without doubt  a fitting tribute to a quiet man of local politics, and one of Stoke-on-Trent’s unsung heroes..



Fred Hassall and wife Winifred

ImageElection address 1924

ImageElection address 1955

ImageStoke council chamber 1938