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Historian Fred Hughes writes....
I always have a laugh when I pass the grave of Arnold Bennett. And before all you Bennett aficionados reach for your quills in order to stab my eyes out, let me explain. Better still I’ll let the former chairman of the Arnold Bennett Society, author John Potter, tell you.
“I guess what you’re referring to is the error over the date of his death,” he says. “The only explanation I can give is that the handwriting of whoever provided the information to the stonemason was so bad that the last digit appeared as a 9 instead of 7. Unfortunately the information on the only memorial to one of the world’s greatest novelists will forever remain inaccurate.”
The great Potteries’ man of letters was born in Hanley on 27th May 1867 and he died in London on 27th March 1931. So is there a bigger story about how the stonemason carved the date of his death as the 29th?
It’s a lovely story, one that Bennett could easily have written with his proclivity for irony. Burslem Cemetery is full of such stories.
“Cemeteries were made for the local historian,” says Steve Birks, himself the writer of one of the best history sites on the web. “Burslem Cemetery is no exception; in fact it’s among the most informative. The site in Nettlebank Smallthorne was opened in 1879 and covers about 28 acres. It was intended to be a recreation park for strolling about, and even riding and cycling. At least a third of the land was used for the lodges along the walks. In fact only about five and a half acres was specifically intended for burials. It was a pleasure park as well as a place for memorials and reflection. And the centrepiece was the chapel set in the middle.”
“The grave that fascinates me is the Thomas Hulme memorial that lies east of the chapel,” says Steve. “It must have been a fantastic thing when it was unveiled and people must have visited it for years just to gaze on its amazing sculpture.”
Thomas Hulme was the perfect Victorian do-gooder. He owned a pottery and was a leading proponent of the arts helping to fund the Wedgwood Institute and provide the land and financial support to build Burslem’s School of Art.
“The grave was a monument to art and a glorious tribute to Hulme,” says Steve. “The whole was built from individually modelled panels of glazed pot clay depicting all the projects he was involved in. It’s like reading a picture book, a biography of a great man. Of course the material it is constructed from couldn’t last. And now it has deteriorated to the extent that it may be beyond saving.
Who has responsibility for maintaining these things? Perhaps the council should review its responsibility to preserve works of art instead of knocking them down or allowing them to decay beyond recovery.”
23 September 2008
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