John Maltby was brought up in Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. He studied at Leicester College of Art and Goldsmith's College in South London. After a period of teaching art in a small private boys' school near London, where he met his future wife, Heather, he visited Bernard Leach after reading Leach's "A Potter's book". On Leach's advice Maltby joined his son David Leach in 1962 at Lowerdown Pottery in Bovey Tracey, Devon where he was Leach's apprentice for nearly two years. He then set up his own pottery at Stoneshill near Crediton in 1964.