Stevenage through and through - nine generations of family see town transformed

owen Welch

Owen Welch, 83, has traced his family tree in Stevenage back to 1773 - Credit: Owen Welch/Georgia Barrow

Ninth generation Stevenage resident and Comet chief reporter Georgia Barrow delves into her family's and town's history. 

Growing up in Stevenage in a family which has resided in the town for generations, I never thought of anywhere else as home.

Like many bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graduates, I had big plans to broaden my horizons - before landing a reporting job at my hometown paper, where I had local knowledge, history and roots to put me in good stead for the start of my career.

As we mark the 75th anniversary since the designation of the new town, I spoke to a man who was there from the beginning: My grandad!

Owen welch

Owen Welch has traced our family tree in Stevenage back to 1773 - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Owen Welch was born and raised in the town, before going on to raise his own children here, who then went on to raise their children here too!

Stevenage welch family

Eighth and ninth generation of the Stevenage Welch family - Credit: Owen Welch

The father of four, grandfather of seven, Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal legend and volunteer for Stevenage Museum, sat down to talk about the changes to the town over the last 75 years and beyond. 

Owen welch

Owen has been a member of the Royal British Legion for more than 20 years - Credit: Courtesy of Owen Welch

He has penned our family tree dating back to a marriage in Stevenage in 1773 between Benjamin Welch and Elizabeth Bentley. According to ancestry.co.uk, Benjamin was born in nearby Little Wymondley, while Elizabeth hailed from Weston. 

Welch family tree

Welch family tree dating back to 1773 - Credit: Owen Welch

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Five generations later, in 1913, my great grandfather William was born. He married Olive Wright, and had baby Owen before heading off to serve in the Royal Artillery as a Gunner in the Second World War.

Olive and Owen Welch

Olive and Owen Welch - Credit: Owen Welch/P Howard Stevenage

My great grandmother, and grandad - aged four at the time - were notified of William's sad death in September 1942.

He only has two memories of his dad - going to the swings in Bury Mead, and watching a film at the Publix Cinema.

Olive, Owen and William Welch

Olive, Owen and William Welch - Credit: Courtesy of Owen Welch

Other than a stint in the army and time some in Australia as a boy, my grandad has been in Stevenage for all of his 83 years.

Born on June 11, 1938, he has seen many changes in Stevenage since the designation of the new town when he was just eight. 

He lived in Old Stevenage's Ellis Avenue, before moving to Langthorne Avenue in the new town in the 50s. He was one of the first group of 11-year-olds to attend Barclay School - now Academy. 

When asked what the biggest differences were about Stevenage today - he joked, "it's a lot bigger now!"

"I think people knew each other. People knew people not just in their local streets, but in the other areas. Perhaps the war might have had something to do with that.

"I went up to Barclay in 1949, among the first 11-year-olds to go up. I remember being on the display team. Before that, I went to a little school in Grove Road and Letchmore Road Boys' School - now Letchmore Infants' and Nursery School."

After leaving school, Owen became an apprentice welder engineer at Wickham & Co in Stevenage.

"The bus garage is actually the old yard in Norton Green Road. I started my five-year apprenticeship when I was about 15 or 16, and finished when I was 21, when I joined the army.

Gibraltar barracks

Owen Welch (middle row, second from left) pictured at Gibraltar Barracks in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Courtesy of Owen Welch

"That was the longest period I have left Stevenage for. Taking away the journey time to Australia and back, I was there for about four months."

Over the years, he worked in Kodak and Geo. W. Kings in the town, stating "it was easier to get a job and also change jobs then."

owen welch

Owen has volunteered for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal for more than two decades - Credit: Courtesy of Owen Welch

He married my grandmother Sandra in 1963, who was born in London. When asked why she thinks the family have stayed in the town for so long, she said: "It's probably because it's clean, the schools are nice. It's been nice to live here.

"If you've worked in London like I did, you realise how nice it is here, I think the clean air was a big deal for people in the 80s, when the cars were getting really awful and the roads were choc-a-bloc."

When asked how he feels about the family staying in the town all these years, Owen added: "If they moved out of Stevenage it would be harder for us to visit, but they are here and we can see them more often.

"If someone asked what nationality I was, I would say I'm Hertfordshire first, English second and British third.

"The new town has got a lot of good points and a lot of bad points, like everything else. At one time I would have said King George V Playing Fields was my favourite place in Stevenage.

"We used to play cricket and football and bowls. A town is what people make of it I think. More Stevenage people are closer to people than they were before. 

"I remember a little bit of when the Queen came to open the town centre. When it was built, materials would have been in short supply. It's a job to re-do it in the regeneration."

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