Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett

Excerpt

IF, taking a map of England, you were to look at the very centre of it, you would find your eyes resting upon some part of the county of Staffordshire. And if this physical fact should lead you to imagine that the natives of Staffordshire ought to be more typically and peculiarly English than the natives of any other district in the British Isles, you would be warmly supported by Staffordshire men everywhere. It has been their belief, in fact, for centuries past, that they have more English common sense than all the rest of the population put together.

The belief is as old as county pride, and it arises from two circumstances. The first of these was early isolation from the rest of the community; the second, great industrial wealth and distinction in the nineteenth century. As to the first, there was formerly little communication between Staffordshire and London or the sea; and although at the beginning of the eighteenth century Daniel Defoe said its men were famous as fine runners, and at Penkridge, near Stafford, found them impressive horse-dealers, he remarked no industries in the county except the brewing of good ale at Tamworth and a recent local increase in the clothing trade. English roads were then extremely primitive; national business was done in the great ports, such as Bristol; most of the population lived south and west of London. Even in agriculture Staffordshire was remote. As late as 1796 a candid native, who had travelled, lamented that 'to the eye of the intelligent agricultural stranger it would convǝy the idea of a county just emerging from a state of barbarism'.

But as the eighteenth century ended Staffordshire began to move towards its later prosperity. Its water-logged mines were pumped and good coal was obtained. Iron was worked. And Josiah Wedgwood developed what had been a small village industry into a great craft and the most celebrated source of the county's immense wealth.

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