Arnold Bennett is not the Potteries’ only famous author. Around 300 years before Anna trod the streets of the “five towns”, Elijah Fenton was born at Shelton Hall on the mound where St Mark’s stands now.
Elijah became a friend of the world famous poet Alexander Pope… a bit like Jonny Wilkes and Robbie Williams. But Elijah’s translation of Homer’s poem The Odyssey etched his name in the history of the world’s great literature.
The Odyssey is a story about a journey… Odysseus, the King of the Greek island of Ithaca travels home from the war at Troy (now Western Turkey).
He meets monsters, witches, fairies and all manner of challenges. At the end he returns home, to his wife. Homer tells us: “There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house… delighting their friends.”
So The Odyssey is a story of a journey from war and strife to family and comfort. Odysseus longs for his family and his home, though he is captured, imprisoned and even has to sail his ship between the perils of a six-headed serpent and a dreadful whirlpool.
Through Elijah Fenton’s poetry, Shelton staked its claim on the map of world culture. Later on, the potters and canal builders would make the community famous too,
But through its long history, stretching back beyond the Domesday Book, in 1085, Shelton’s community built its own reputation … for closeness, care, pride and diversity.
In 1485, as Henry, Earl of Richmond travelled from Wales to the Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, he and his exhausted army stopped at Bell’s Mill in Shelton. The miller gave them virtually everything he had, kindness remembered when the Earl became King Henry VII, and gave the miller the mill and its land.
In a pamphlet published to celebrate St Mark’s 150th birthday celebrations in 1984, Team Vicar Leonard Skinner wrote: “Shelton strikes me as a very close community of people, with a great deal of good neighbourliness, and with the more extended family networks still in existence.”
More recently, Sanctus St Mark's was described as “a support group for refugees and people who are seeking asylum in the UK,” aiming to “walk alongside people who find their way to us, from all around the world, in a non-judgemental and safe environment.”
There’s a theme here, stretching back hundreds of years. Like Jonny Wilkes shouting “Ay Up me ducks!” to panto audiences each winter, which just feels like it’s been going for a hundred years!
Odysseus longed for home, community and comfort as he travelled. Shelton has provided support, care and emotional and physical sustenance throughout its history.
The Under One Roof project feels like an extension to that history which the community can now take over, writing the next chapter.