In a book that pays tribute to her brother, the late Willie Maddren, Claire McGregor recalls her idyllic, if chemical-choked childhood in Haverton Hill.

WILLIE Maddren, five times capped by England Under 23s and former manager of Middlesbrough FC, died four years ago from motor neurone disease, an incurable muscle wasting condition.

"It was a year before he told the family he had it," recalls Claire McGregor, his sister. "We'd never heard of MND; we said he'd get over it, he'd be fine.

"Willie said it would take him within five years and it did. It was so terrible to see him decline."

Before his death, Willie helped raise £250,000 towards research into the disease which was to kill him, partly through an autobiography called Extra Time.

Claire has also put good intentions in writing with a whimsical and evocatively illustrated book of memories of Haverton Hill, the north Tees community into which they were born - carefree on Young Street.

Now, however, the thriving, throbbing, full throttle industrial village has almost completely disappeared, the folk who lived on the Hill long gone. ICI had made it Haverton Hell.

Claire was employed in the ICI offices. "If I had to go down to the works for anything, my tights would be in holes before I got there because of all the sulphur in the air. You could put in a claim for it."

Oldest of four children - Willie was the youngest - she was born in 1940, a happy, have-nowt childhood which could reflect life in almost any North-East industrial town at the time.

"I think it was the people," she recalls. "You just could trust everybody and everybody shared everything.

"People would give you dinner if you were hard up, my grandparents would buy kids shoes if they couldn't go to school.

"I still dream about it, still see the faces, still picture the streets. I forget what I did yesterday, but can remember every detail of my childhood.

"You were never aware of being poor, because everyone was in the same boat. I was never jealous of anyone, or anything, but I look at my grandchildren and think 'My God, you're ruined'."

Once known, however improbably, as the Garden City, Haverton Hill had steel works and engine sheds, salt mines (as had Siberia) and, hammer and tongs, the Furness shipyard.

They co-existed contentedly, mucked in as it were, until ICI so greatly polluted the atmosphere and the earth round about that in 1949, the government decreed that Haverton Hill should be demolished.

The Maddren family moved the two miles to Billingham in 1955, almost everyone else taking the same road.

Alec, her husband, was born in Billingham. "It can still take her three hours to do the shopping because she's always bumping into old Havertonians," he says. "You couldn't fill a phone box with the friends I still know from childhood."

Claire says Billingham took a bit of getting used to, from a tight-knit community to a sort of cosmopolitan chemistry set. "If they rebuilt Haverton Hill a lot of people would go back tomorrow; you felt safer there."

Now there's just the top house and the bottom house - pubs - the Victory Hall where she learned to roller skate and the graveyard from which the gates have been stolen. The church went long ago; the Transporter Bridge still temperamentally in the background..

Often in verse, Claire's wonderfully nostalgic book recalls picture house and penny lolly, condensed milk and cod liver oil, top and whip, horse and cart and - annual highlight - club trips to Seaton Carew.

All that threatened the infant idyll were the fearsome, frosty faced headmistress, Miss Yule - "Oh she was a tartar, Miss Yule" - the all-enveloping extrusions from ICI and the sometimes scant regard for health and hygiene.

A cat would warm itself beside the newly made bread in the baker's window; Toni the Italian ice cream man made his best dairy products in close proximity to the netty out the back. "No one ever got food poisoning," says Claire. "I think your system got used to it."

Alec had served his time at the Furness yard before switching to the chemical works, Haverton Hill's chemical reaction dissipated by the need for jobs. Now she captures it in verse:

The filth, grime and smell were impossible to limit

A once healthy environment was deteriorating by the minute.

Claire remembers having to wait hours at the GP's. "The waiting room would be overflowing, everyone coughing and wheezing and most of it from ICI.

"You didn't realise what it was doing to you, but they have a lot to answer for as regards people's health."

Her kid brother was spotted playing for Port Clarence Juniors, made over 300 first team appearances for Middlesbrough before injury ended his career at 26, became manager in 1986 when the club faced bankruptcy. "They were absolutely destitute," says Claire. "He even had to pay for his own tea bags."

The book in his memory had an initial print run of 250 and has already sold over 1,000, adding to the thousands of pounds that Claire has already raised for MND and cancer research and for the Butterwick Hospice, where her brother died.

The next project is likely to be a calendar of Haverton Hill in its hazy hey-day, for which she'd much welcome photographs.

Almost inevitably, we suggest, they'd be black and white. "Oh yes," says the caring Claire, "Haverton Hill was a very black and white sort of place."

* "Salt of the Earth", Claire McGregor's memories of Haverton Hill and its people, is available for £7.95 (plus £2 p&p) from the Book Inn, 23 West Precinct, Billingham TS23 2NW.