Clayhanger, by Arnold Bennett
This book is one of several written by Bennett about life in the
Staffordshire Potteries in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
The hero is Edwin Clayhanger, and we see him through his childhood,
adolescence, early working
life, when he was working
for his martinet
old father, and to the point where he inherits the business, which is
Bennett comes from that area of industrial
Britain, and the book rings
true on every page.
BY ARNOLD BENNETT
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER ONE.
BOOK ONE--HIS VOCATION.
THE LAST OF A SCHOOLBOY.
Edwin Clayhanger stood on the steep-sloping, red-bricked canal bridge,
in the valley
between Bursley and its suburb
Hillport. In that
neighbourhood the Knype and Mersey canal formed the westernboundary
the industrialism of the Five Towns. To the east rose pitheads,
chimneys, and kilns, tier above tier, dim in their own mists. To the
west, Hillport Fields, grimed but possessing authentic
winding paths, mounted broadly
up to the sharp ridge on which stood
Hillport Church, a landmark. Beyond the ridge, and partly
it from the driving smoke of the Five Towns, lay the fine and ancient
of Oldcastle, from whose historic
Middle School Edwin
Clayhanger was now walking home. The fine and ancient Tory borough
provided education for the whole of the Five Towns, but the relentless
ignorance of its prejudices had blighted the district. A hundred years
earlier the canal had only been obtained after a vicious
fight between industry and the fine and ancient borough, which saw in
canals a menace
to its importance as a centre of traffic. Fifty years
earlier the fine and ancient borough
had succeeded in forcing the
greatest railway line in England to run through unpopulated country five
miles off instead of through the Five Towns, because it loathed the mere
conception of a railway. And now, people are inquiring why the Five
Towns, with a railway system
special to itself, is characterised by a
provincialism. These interesting details have
everything to do with the history of Edwin Clayhanger, as they have
everything to do with the history of each of the two hundred thousand
souls in the Five Towns. Oldcastle guessed not the vast influences of
It was a breezy Friday in July 1872. The canal, which ran north and
south, reflected a blue and white sky. Towards the bridge, from the
north came a long narrow canal-boat roofed with tarpaulins; and towards
the bridge, from the south came a similar craft, sluggishly creeping.
The towing-path was a morass of sticky
brown mud, for, in the way of
rain, that year was breaking the records of a century and a half.
Thirty yards in front of each boat an unhappyskeleton
of a horse
floundered its best in the quagmire. The honest endeavour
of one of the
animals received a frequent
tonic from a bare-legged girl of seven who
heartily curled a whip about its crooked
large-jointed legs. The ragged
child danced in the rich mud round the horse's flanks with
the simple joy of one who had been rewarded for good behaviour by the
unrestricted use of a whip for the first time.
Edwin, with his elbows on the stone parapet of the bridge, stared
uninterested at the spectacle
of the child, the whip, and the skeleton.
He was not insensible
to the piquancy of the pageant
of life, but his
mind was preoccupied
with grave and heavy matters. He had left school
that day, and what his eyes saw as he leaned on the bridge
was not a
willing beast and a gladdened infant, but the puzzling world and the
advance guard of its problems bearing
down on him. Slim, gawky, untidy,
fair, with his worn black-braided clothes, and slung over his shoulders
in a bursting satchel the last load of his schoolbooks, and on his
bright, rough hair a shapeless
cap whose lining
protruded behind, he had
look of innocence
most boys of sixteen. It seemed rather a shame, it seemed even tragic,
that this naive, simple creature, with his straightforward and friendly
eyes so eager to believe appearances, this creature immaculate
worldly experience, must soon be transformed into a man, wary,
incredulous, detracting. Older eyes might have wept at the simplicity
of those eyes.
This picture of Edwin as a wistfulinnocent
would have made Edwin laugh.
He had been seven years at school, and considered himself a hardened
sort of brute, free of illusions. And he sometimes thought that he
could judge the world better than most neighbouring mortals.
"Hello! The Sunday!" he murmured, without turning his eyes.
Another boy, a little younger and shorter, and clothed in a superior
untidiness, had somehow got on to the bridge, and was leaning with his
back against the parapet which supported Edwin's elbows. His eyes were
franker and simpler even than the eyes of Edwin, and his lips seemed to
parted in a good-humoured smile. His name was Charlie
Orgreave, but at school he was invariably
called "the Sunday"--not
"Sunday," but "the Sunday"--and nobody could authoritatively explain how
he had come by the nickname. Its origin
was lost in the prehistoric
ages of his childhood. He and Edwin had been chums for several years.
They had not sworn fearful
oaths of loyalty; they did not constitute
secret society; they had not even pricked forearms and written certain
words in blood; for these rites are only performed at Harrow, and
possibly at the Oldcastle High School, which imitates Harrow. Their
fellowship meant chiefly
that they spent a great deal of time together,
instinctively and unconsciously
enjoying each other's mere presence, and
that in public arguments they always reinforced each other, whatever
degree of intellectual
"I'll bet you mine gets to the bridge
first," said the Sunday. With an
of the shoulders he arranged himself so that the
parapet should bear the weight of his satchel.
Edwin Clayhanger slowly turned round, and perceived that the object
which the Sunday had appropriated as "his" was the other canal-boat,
advancing from the south.
"Horse or boat?" asked Edwin.
"Boat's nose, of course," said the Sunday.
"Well," said Edwin, having surveyed the unconscious
counting on the aid of the whipping child, "I don't mind laying you
"That be damned
for a tale!" protested the Sunday. "We said we'd never
bet less than ten--you know that."
"Yes, but--" Edwin hesitatingly drawled.
"All right. Ten," Edwin agreed. "But it's not fair. You've got a rare
start on me."
"Rats!" said the Sunday, with finality. In the pronunciation
word the difference between his accent
and Edwin's came out clear. The
was less local; there was a hint of a short "e" sound in
the "a," and a briskness about the consonants, that Edwin could never
have compassed. The Sunday's accent
was as carelessly
superior as his
clothes. Evidently the Sunday had some one at home who had not learnt
the art of speech in the Five Towns.
He began to outline
a scheme, in which perpendicular
figured, for accurately
deciding the winner, and a complicated
might have ensued about this, had it not soon become apparent
Edwin's boat was going to be handsomely beaten, despite
efforts of the little child. The horse that would die but would not
give up, was only saved from total subsidence at every step by his
indomitable if aged spirit. Edwin handed over the ten marbles even
before the other boat had arrived at the bridge.
"Here," he said. "And you may as well have these, too," adding five
more to the ten, all he possessed. They were not the paltry marble
of infants, but the majestic
"rinker," black with
white spots, the king of marbles in an era when whole populations
practised the game. Edwin looked at them half regretfully as they lay
in the Sunday's hands. They seemed prodigiouswealth
in those hands,
and he felt somewhat as a condemned man might feel who bequeaths his
jewels on the scaffold. Then there was a rattle, and a tumour grew out
larger on the Sunday's thigh.
boat, long preceded by its horse, crawled under the bridge
and passed northwards to the sea, laden with crates of earthenware. And
then the loser, with the little girl's father and mother and her
brothers and sisters, and her kitchen, drawing-room, and bedroom, and
her smoking chimney and her memories and all that was hers, in the stern
of it, slid beneath the boys' down-turned faces while the whip cracked
away beyond the bridge. They could see, between the whitened
tarpaulins, that the deep belly of the craft was filled with clay.
"Where does that there clay come from?" asked Edwin. For not merely was
struck by a sudden new curiosity, but it was meet for him to
behave like a man now, and to ask manly questions.
"Runcorn," said the Sunday scornfully. "Can't you see it painted all
over the boat?"
"Why do they bring clay all the way from Runcorn?"
"They don't bring it from Runcorn. They bring it from Cornwall. It
comes round by sea--see?" He laughed.
"Who told you?" Edwin roughly
"Anybody knows that!" said the Sunday grandly, but always maintaining
his gay smile.
funny to me," Edwin murmured, after reflection, "that
they should bring clay all that roundabout
way just to make crocks of it
here. Why should they choose just this place to make crocks in? I
"Oh! Come on!" the Sunday cut him short. "It's blessed
o'clock and after!"
They climbed the long bank from the canal up to the Manor Farm, at which
high point their roads diverged, one path leading direct to Bleakridge
where Orgreave lived, and the other zigzagging down through neglected
pasturage into Bursley proper. Usually they parted here without a word,
taking pride in such Spartan taciturnity, and they would doubtless
done the same this morning also, though it were fifty-fold their last
walk together as two schoolboys. But an incident
"Hold on!" cried the Sunday.
To the south of them, a mile and a half off, in the wreathing mist of
the Cauldon Bar Ironworks, there was a yellow gleam that even the
could not kill, and then two rivers of fire sprang
from the gleam and ran in a thousand delicate
and lovely hues down the
side of a mountain of refuse. They were emptying a few tons of molten
slag at the Cauldon Bar Ironworks. The two rivers hung slowly dying in
the mists of smoke. They reddened and faded, and you thought they had
vanished, and you could see them yet, and then they escaped the baffled
eye, unless a cloud aided them for a moment against the sun; and their
ephemeral but enchanting beauty had expired for ever.
"Now!" said Edwin sharply.
"One minute ten seconds," said the Sunday, who had snatched out his
watch, an inestimable contrivance
with a centre-seconds hand. "By Jove!
That was a good 'un."
A moment later two smaller boys, both laden with satchels, appeared over
the brow from the canal.
"Let's wait a jiff," said the Sunday to Edwin, and as the smaller boys
showed no hurry he bawled out to them across the intervening
cinder-waste: "Run!" They ran. They were his younger brothers, Johnnie
and Jimmie. "Take this and hook it!" he commanded, passing the strap of
his satchel over his head as they came up. In fatalistic silence they
obeyed the smiling tyrant.
"What are you going to do?" Edwin asked.
"I'm coming down your way a bit."
"But I thought you said you were peckish."
"I shall eat three slices of beef instead of my usual brace," said the
Edwin was touched. And the Sunday was touched, because he knew he had
touched Edwin. After all, this was a solemn
occasion. But neither
would overtly admit that its solemnity
him. Hence, first
one and then the other began to skim stones with vicious
force over the
surface of the largest of the three ponds that gave interest to the
Manor Farm. When they had thus proved to themselves that the day
differed in no manner from any other breaking-up day, they went forward.
On their left were two pitheads whose double wheels revolved rapidly in
smooth silence, and the puffing engine-house and all the trucks and gear
of a large ironstone mine. On their right was the astonishing
with barns and ricks and cornfields complete, seemingly
oddness in that foul arena of manufacture. In front, on a
little hill in the vast valley, was spread out the Indian-red
architecture of Bursley--tall chimneys and rounded ovens, schools, the
market, the grey tower of the old church, the high spire of
the evangelical church, the low spire of the church of genuflexions, and
chapels, and rows of little red houses with amber
chimney-pots, and the gold angel of the blackened Town Hall topping the
whole. The sedate reddish
browns and reds of the composition, all
netted in flowing scarves of smoke, harmonised exquisitely
chill blues of the chequered sky. Beauty was achieved, and none saw it.
The boys descended without a word through the brick-strewn pastures,
where a horse or two cropped the short grass. At the railway bridge,
which carried a branch mineral
line over the path, they exchanged a
of words with the working-lads who always played
pitch-and-toss there in the dinner-hour; and the Sunday added to the
collection of shawds and stones lodged on the under ledges of the low
iron girders. A strange boy, he had sworn to put ten thousand stones on
those ledges before he died, or perish
in the attempt. Hence Edwin
sometimes called him "Old Perish-in-the-attempt." A little farther on
the open gates of a manufactory disclosed six men playing the noble game
of rinkers on a smooth patch of ground near the weighing machine. These
six men were Messieurs Ford, Carter, and Udall, the three partners
owning the works, and three of their employees. They were celebrated
marble-players, and the boys stayed to watch them as, bending with one
knee almost touching
the earth, they shot the rinkers from their stubby
thumbs with a canon-like force and precision
that no boy could ever hope
to equal. "By gum!" mumbled Edwin involuntarily, when an impossible
shot was accomplished; and the bearded shooter, pleased by this tribute
from youth, twisted his white apron into a still narrower ring round his
waist. Yet Edwin was not thinking about the game. He was thinking
about a battle that lay before him, and how he would be weakened in the
fight by the fact that in the last school examination, Charlie Orgreave,
younger than himself by a year, had ousted him from the second place in
the school. The report in his pocket said: "Position in class next
term: third;" whereas
he had been second since the beginning
year. There would of course be no "next term" for him, but the report