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Synopsis

Paul Johnson recalls, with warmth and affection, his childhood in the Potteries - and a unique industrial landscape that has now gone for ever

Paul Johnson, the celebrated historian, grew up in Tunstall, one of the six towns around Stoke-on-Trent that made up `the Potteries'. From an early age he was fascinated by the strange beauty of its volcanic landscape of fiery furnaces belching out heat and smoke. As a child he often accompanied his father - headmaster of the local art school and desperate to find jobs for his students, for this was the Hungry Thirties - to the individual pottery firms and their coal-fired ovens. His adored mother and father are at the heart of this story and his older sisters who, as much as his parents, brought him up.

Children made their own amusements to an extent unimaginable today, and his life was extraordinarily free and unsupervised. No door was locked - `Poverty was everywhere but so were the Ten Commandments.' The book ends in 1938 as the 11-year-old author queues at the town-hall for a gas mask.

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