John Martin was born of poor Calvinist parents in 1789 at Haydon Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, the youngest of twelve children, of whom five survived childhood.
Martin was often confused with his brother, Jonathan, who tried to burn down York Minster.
At school Martin showed little interest in academic subjects, but his teachers recognised his early artistic promise. After leaving school at 14, the family moved to Newcastle. Here Martin's father found him an apprenticeship with a coachbuilder, painting heraldic emblems on coach doors.
But such drudgery and exploitation was intolerable for John Martin and and he freed himself from his indentures.