Patrick Heron was born at Headingley, Leeds, in 1920, the eldest of a family whose history on both sides was of an uncompromising nonconformism. His father, Tom Heron, a textile manufacturer and entrepreneur of genius, was a Christian pacifist who had been a conscientious objector in the First World War, and an unorthodox socialist. He was also an art lover. If Patrick inherited his political idealism and his fearless activism from Tom, he owed to his mother, Eulalie, whose background was of combative pacifism and of a high-minded culture of the mind and spirit, his intensity of visual response, his preternaturally passionate eye for the natural world.
His parents remained deeply important to him throughout his life, the original source of his confidence in his own creative powers, and the continuing inspiration of his ethical and political engagement in the affairs of the world. He was himself to register as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, and three years of heavy agricultural labouring in appalling conditions exacerbated the asthma that had dogged him since childhood, but which he refused to declare for exemption.
He knew from a very early age that he was to be an artist, a vocation encouraged with great seriousness by parents of remarkable vision. He spoke without affectation or irony of his infant efforts, signed and dated from the age of five, and carefully preserved in large buff envelopes, as "early drawings."
In 1925 the Heron family removed from Leeds to Newlyn, where Tom was to run Crysede Silks, a modest textile business. Tom arranged it move to expanded premises on the Island at St Ives, and rapidly built up the firm with extraordinary flair. Patrick's early years in Cornwall were idyllic: he was never to forget the impressions of light, color and landscape that streamed in upon him in what be called the "sacred land" of his childhood. What remained with him, almost as an obsession, was his memory of the winter of 1927 - 1928 spent at Eagles Nest, the house on the promontory above Zennor to which he was to return to live, and never after leave, in 1956. The house was borrowed from Hugh Arnold- Forster, the Labor luminary, in the hope that the altitude and atmosphere would be good for the child's asthma. Arnold-Forster's planting of the extraordinary garden was well under way, but the many shrubs and flowering trees collected from southern- hemisphere highlands that are among its glories now were then no taller than small bushes, and its rocky outcrops and huge boulders were visible and bare.