Weidenfeld & Nicolson £16.99(0-297-84772-4)Church Times Bookshop
PAUL JOHNSON is associated with a stream of history books written in his
west-London home. His latest book is a surprise, for it is devoted just to his
own childhood, which was spent in Staffordshire in the decade before the Second
World War. It dwells on the smells, tastes, sounds, and fears of provincial
life in the 1930s.
Johnson’s home town is Tunstall, in the Potteries. His family’s first
residence there was Priory House, part of a large collection of Victorian
ecclesiastical buildings. Attached was a convent, where young Paul went to
school. He stresses that the sisters who taught him were kindly, and that he
never experienced, either there or at his Christian Brothers’ school, any
Home was a world featuring Tizer, Oxo, Ovaltine, Camp coffee, Force, and a
farthing’s worth of dolly mixtures or Pontefract cakes. At night, the young
Johnson thought that he could see the fires of hell as he looked across the
working pot-bank landscape.
Holidays were spent in Lytham St Anne’s, searching for the New Chronicle’s
mystery man, Lobby Lud. Outings included visiting the old churches that his
artist-father drew for a weekly newspaper feature. But none was more exciting
than his own Roman Catholic church, where his father was artistic adviser. The
priest there had toured Europe noting extravagant church architecture, and this
resulted in a vast building with four domes and two towers.
Something not allowed in the house was a camera: his father feared that the
invention would put artists out of business. So this book is illustrated with
the author’s deightful drawings of pot-banks, trains, a church procession
(reproduced, right), and even a piece of remembered furniture in which he hid
when his father entertained his fellow artist L. S. Lowry.
Leigh Hatts is author of London City Churches.
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