Edward Henry Machin first saw daylight on the 27th of May, 1867, in Brougham Street in Bursley, the oldest of the Five Towns. Brougham Street goes down a hill to the canal, and contains a number of potbanks or pottery factories as well as some small houses. The rent for one of these houses was not high - only about twenty-three pence a week.
Edward Henry's mother (his father was dead) lived by making and washing clothes for fine ladies. She did not often laugh, and if you tried to argue with her, you never got very far. She was a woman of few words, and saved time every day by calling her son Denry, instead of Edward Henry.
Denry did not work hard at school, and boys who were lazy and not very clever usually just found jobs in the potbanks. Luckily, at the age of twelve, he won a place at the best school in Bursley. It happened like this. On the second day of the examination, Denry arrived a little early. As he walked around the examination room, he came to the teacher's desk, where he saw a list of names with the marks for the first day of the examination. The highest possible mark was thirty, but next to his name he saw the number 7. The numbers were written in pencil, and the pencil was on the desk. He picked it up, looked around the empty room, and at the door, and then wrote a 2 in front of the 7. Of course, this was not honest, but how many truly honest schoolboys are there? Denry was no worse than most of them.
Denry did not do well at his new school, but he did not do badly either - and he was usually very pleased with himself. As he grew older, he continued to think well of himself. He knew that he was made for better things than a job in the potbanks, working with his hands.
When Denry was sixteen, his mother made a very fine dress for Mr Duncalf's sister. Mr Duncalf was the most important lawyer in Bursley. His sister was grateful to Mrs Machin, and so Denry got a job in Mr Duncalf's office. For several years Denry was happy. Then he met the Countess.
The Countess of Chell was a very grand lady. Her husband was one of the richest men in the Five Towns and was the new Mayor of Bursley. The mayor and his wife had decided to have a ball and to invite all the most important people in the town. There were thirty-five thousand people in Bursley, and at least two thousand of these thought that they were important. But only two hundred could dance in the Town Hall.