Plans to create a statue of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous literary son have been unveiled – in time to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.
The two metre-high bronze statue of Arnold Bennett would be put in place on newly landscaped public space outside The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in the city centre, a museum that has a permanent Bennett display featuring the author’s most acclaimed novels.
Bennett, whose most highly regarded works include the Clayhanger series and The Card – which was made into a film starring Alec Guinness – drew on his experience of life in the Potteries in his literature. He was born in Hanley and lived in Burslem and went on to become a figure of huge influence in politics and culture in Edwardian and Georgian Britain in the first part of the 20th century.
Now the Arnold Bennett Society has confirmed it has commissioned a lasting tribute to the author which will be funded by the Denise Coates Foundation and gifted to the city.
Plans for the statue have been lodged with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and include a granite plinth that will position the author so that his gaze is directed down Broad Street. The plans propose to align the statue with other sculptures located off Broad Street, alongside the museum.
Arnold Bennett Society vice president Ray Johnson MBE helped to initiate the project. He said:
“Bennett is our city’s most famous literary son and his cultural legacy is vast. We have been working for some time to create a statue in his honour and it is wonderful that this is coming together ahead of the 150th anniversary of his birth. There is already a blue heritage plaque outside the house he lived in in Burslem and a well-established gallery at the museum. This statue will be another fine cultural asset for the city and help to continue to ensure that his name and works are known to future generations.
“We’d like to thank the Denise Coates Foundation for recognising the significance of this project and for providing the funding to make it happen.”
The society has worked with local sculptors Michael Talbot and Carl Payne to create the statue.
The plans come as VisitEngland has named the 150th anniversary of Arnold Bennett’s birth in its top eight ‘year of literary heroes’ campaign for 2017. The national tourism agency is promoting visiting Stoke-on-Trent and the city’s attractions during the year, in recognition of the anniversary. The national campaign sees Bennett’s birthday highlighted alongside other literary milestones including the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the 125th anniversary of the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the 125th anniversary of the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes publication and the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book.
Denise Coates CBE said:
“The plans for the statue are wonderful and will give recognition to Arnold Bennett that he richly deserves and in the town in which he was born. It will bring a new attraction to the city and I am very pleased that the Denise Coates Foundation has been able to support the project.”
Stoke-on-Trent has a rich cultural heritage and has a sculpture trail of around 40 statues across all six towns and communities. The city is bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2021. The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery will be staging an exhibition of Arnold Bennett’s art and artistic inspiration from 18 February to 2 July. The exhibition will feature his paintings, interiors of the houses he lived in, photographs, and his personal memorabilia and archives. There will also be a series of events alongside the exhibition.
Councillor Dave Conway, Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council said:
“It is right and fitting that a lasting tribute be created to celebrate Arnold Bennett. Great credit is due to the Arnold Bennett Society and Denise Coates Foundation for their work in bringing this project forward and to coincide with the landmark anniversary.
“VisitEngland’s campaign is already attracting headlines across the country, and a statue in Arnold Bennett’s honour will help bring people into Stoke-on-Trent. We are committed to celebrating our city’s many cultural highlights, and we have announced our own plans to invest in both The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and Gladstone Pottery Museum. Our UK City of Culture 2021 bid is gathering real momentum and we want as many people as possible to show their support.”