I was born in northern England a little over six months before the second world war began. My parents lived a short walk from a beach on the Lancashire coast and my earliest memories of anything approaching education was with my parents, drawing and making things out of cut-out paper, and collecting shells and driftwood from the beach, and building with these. Toys were scarce in, and after, the war years and I had a glove puppet of a monkey with whom, I was told, I had long conversations. 


I disliked the primary school in Lancashire – it was frightening, and boring, and very strict. To my parents’ horror I played truant. Shortly after the war my parents moved to London, firstly to west London, and then suburban south London and the schools there were much better. The lessons and teachers were interesting but, in the playground, for the first few months, I was isolated and taunted because of my thick Lancashire accent, which I lost as quickly as I could.


Having passed the necessary exams, secondary education should have been at the local grammar school but my parents organized for me to sit an examination which led to my going to a boarding school, in Kent, which is where my secondary education occurred. Early on, aspects of this were nightmarish, but, thankfully, I was able to bury these in the mists of the past, not forgotten, but no longer in view. But there were positives as well, some excellent teachers, especially towards the end. Having passed the necessary exams I was all set to embark on a university career, studying History and English, when I realized I had never made a fully considered decision for myself. So I stayed on at school for an extra, largely unstructured, year. Though I had two or three friends it was a slightly lonely, but useful, year. As a prefect it was my role to read from the bible at school evening prayers, and make announcements, which, usefully, cured me of shyness about public speaking.  As an oddity, who had good O and A level results but had rejected the assumed next step of university, I was given various projects, on which I had to report. The most memorable of these was to visit an extraordinary boys’ school for misfits and delinquents called Finchden Manor, run by a Mr Lyward. The visit, though brief, had a deep effect on me – I was simply told “do what you can to help, you may end up with one boy, or in a group; work with them, talk to them, whatever happens look them in the eye, without fear or aggression” – I never asked why I had been sent there but it was a precious, valuable event in my education. (It was only several years later that I discovered that a book had been written about the school: “Mr Lywards Answer” by Micheal Burn.)

Initially in that last year at school I spent a lot of time in the library but increasingly the great majority of my time was spent in the art rooms. I was doing “A” level Art, which meant painting and a bit of portrait modelling. But the art room also had a wheel and a kiln, which were not used, and there was lots of clay for modelling. I asked if I could try the wheel and the art teacher, who had trained as a painter, tried to help. Then, because I and several other boys were interested to learn, a young potter from Devon, Jill Lance, was employed for a month to teach and to organize properly a space for throwing. That summer she invited me to work for her for a month, which was my first experience of repetition throwing. Earlier in the year my art teacher, Peter White, had suggested that I visit the Central School of Arts and Crafts, pottery department, which I loved, where I applied and was accepted.

At the end of my final year at school I was given a prize of £50 for Public Service to be used for travel. I spent the money doing a month-long hitchhiking tour, alone, on the continent taking in France, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Belgium. I wanted to see some of the other countries of the continent of which my country was a part, and which had also endured the trauma of war, and I wanted to see some of the art galleries. The independence of travelling alone, and the uncertainty of hitch hiking, were a useful experience at the start of higher education, and of life as a young adult. I encountered warmth and kindness almost everywhere I went which made me an ardent Europhile. 


From 1958 to 1961 I was a student on the Central School of Arts and Crafts Diploma course, in the Pottery department, housed in vaulted basement rooms in the Lethaby building, on Southampton Row. When I enrolled it was a tiny department: one student in the third year, five in the second year and eight, including me, in the first year. There were also around half a dozen accomplished, regular evening students, who used the department as a studio, and contributed positively to the creative atmosphere.

In my first year the average age, across the fourteen students of the three years in the department, was well into the mid-thirties. There were four students in mid-career on Commonwealth scholarships, and four others from abroad. Working alongside mature adults from different cultural backgrounds was, in itself, a very positive learning experience for me. The teaching was informal, professional, and never dogmatic.

The department had one full-time member of staff, Gilbert Harding Green, known simply as “HG”, who, as Head of Department, creatively guided a diverse range of teachers into an effective team – Gordon Baldwin, Ruth Duckworth, William Newland, Ian Auld, who all did one day per week, and Kenneth Clark, who taught two days. Mr. Bateson, a retired thrower from the Fulham Pottery, taught for two evenings. Dan Arbeid was technician and joined the teaching staff during my second year, when Ruth Duckworth left to work in America. Dan Arbeid’s job as technician was given to Robin Welch, who, till then, had been a student in my year.  

First year students did hand building with Gordon Baldwin, throwing with William Newland and press moulding, surface decoration and glaze making with Kenneth Clark. First year students of pottery were timetabled for two evenings a week of life drawing, taught by William Roberts, the painter, and Mervyn Peake, the painter, illustrator and writer, and for a day a week of Basic Design with William Turnbull, sculptor and painter. Teachers from other departments would often, informally, arrive and discuss work in progress. The principal, William Johnstone, a painter and educator, made informal and unannounced visits to the department to see work in progress, and to chat with students.

Drawing was seen as fundamental and we were given monthly topics, terminating in a crit for all years given by “HG”.  In the second year all students had individual, agreed programmes, which always included some mandatory work in thrown domestic ware. And in the final year we had to propose a programme for discussion and agreement. 

But the timetabled course at the Central was only part of the experience. The staff all had their contemporary and historical enthusiasms which they shared with us, and we were encouraged to use weekends and vacations to travel and study. The proximity of the British Museum made it a frequent visit at lunch time. In the summer between my first and second years Robin Welch and I decided to visit the continent together. Our plan was to hitchhike to Italy and then to use a one month, un-limited travel rail ticket in Italy. We asked “HG” for suggestions, and we ended up visiting three recommended towns on the mainland and, following the itinerary he had given us, spending three of the four weeks in Sicily, being overawed by the art historical richness and diversity of that island, and seeing traditional Mediterranean throwing in the pottery towns where we had been directed. Closer to home, we were all encouraged to visit St Ives to see Leach’s achievement and, when I went, in the Easter break of my first year, I also visited the Crowan Pottery of Harry and May Davis, which was in many ways a more memorable visit, because Harry was throwing and trimming, and May was decorating, and a cooling kiln was being unpacked. 

The year I left, the department moved to the new building facing Red Lion Square and the Dip AD (later BA(Hons)) course started. Gilbert Harding Green, working with architects, was involved at every level in the planning of the new, hugely larger department, and it is a tribute to him that he transformed the thriving but numerically tiny course of the late ‘50s into a thriving and renowned Dip A D course with, by the mid ‘60s, an annual intake larger than the entire course which I had joined.


The three years at the Central opened the doors to learning, which has continued ever since.