Early years in WGC and Hitchin

1940s - 1950s

By David Colbeck

I was born at Brocket Hall on January 25th 1940 because my parents lived in Welwyn and the Hall became a Maternity Hospital, presumably to free up other hospitals because of the war.
We soon moved to Hitchin. One of my earliest memories was having to wear a gas mask. Later, about 1944, I saw a telegraph boy cycle up to our house to deliver a telegram. Unfortunately my elder half brother, Pete, had been drowned when HMS Kelly, captained by Mountbatten, was sunk in the Med.

We were quite poor, and my mother worked in the Cock Hotel in Hitchin High Street to survive. She was a single parent by this time. My sister and I attended Strathmore Infants and Wilshere Dacre schools until 1947, when my mother died. We were sent to [separate!] Childrens’ Homes, Briar Patch, Letchworth and The Grange, Stevenage, for several weeks, until my grandma, who lived in WGC, agreed to look after us until my father set up a new home in Hitchin in 1949.

Another memory I have of this time is when sweets came off the ration. I was first in the queue at the local sweet shop, and a photo of me sinking my teeth into a Mars bar appeared in the local paper!!

So: back to Hitchin, to Wilshere Dacre and the Grammar School. Happy days/years! Camping out at Oughton Head, cycling to the Pegsdon Hills, bird watching with my friends etc. In 1951, whilst in Year 6 at WD, I won an essay prize for an essay about living in Hertfordshire and was awarded a book about the County signed by the author, William Beech Thomas. It is still one of my treasured possessions.

This page was added on 18/11/2011.

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  • Briar Patch “The Patch” the lads liked to call it.
    I have very fond memories of the Patch I was there from 1954 to 1958 & my four brothers.
    I was very surprised to see three blogs from people of about the same era & age as myself talking about stuff I remember, maybe I can throw in some memories of mine, can you people remember this … Mr & Mrs Felix (Sir & Matron) sons Anthony & Adrian and their boxer dog Sander they had a Labrador too can`t remember it`s name … this is when they first opened up house four for the 11 to 15 year olds… Miss Laurie house mother…Aunties Margaret &
    Rosemary other aunties Judy…Hannie(Dutch)…Rose..
    Mary…Mrs Kenyatta & son Peter…Mrs Parrish…
    the kids I remember…Mick Ottaway…John Cook…
    Dave Wallace…John Linney…Eric Day…Graham Body
    Dave Davidson…Brian Crane…Betty & Reggie Pratt…
    Sheila Bruce…Grace Hunter…Jim Taplin & Lubilu does any body remember his real name …more memories…church on Sundays… buy packet of fags
    with the collection money…boys brigade…army cadets…mass tag hee down the dell…the cherry tree…Saturday Broadway flicks…free tickets for the swimming pool…chores on Saturdays I liked to get the job polishing the floors you could stand on the
    machine and rid on it up and down the corridors…
    the swing we made over the chalk pit Mick Ottaway
    broke both arms swinging on it…the paddling pool Mr Felix hosing us down with the fire hose…great Christmases…parties…pantomimes…Easter the massive chocolate egg shared out to us kids. Bonfire nights…us older kids would build the bonfire and Mr Felix would think up ingenious ways to light it on the night and hot lemonade and ginger bread men & a lot of fireworks…I`m going to stop now I`m getting carried way with the memories but I will say they were happy days for me and the day I walk down
    Briar Patch Lane for the last time I shed a tear maybe two.
    Many many thanks from me to Mr & Mrs Felix & all the house mothers & aunties who looked after us,
    Thank you for doing a great job !!!

    By Barry Law (31/08/2022)
  • Together with my younger brother we were at Briar Patch1953. I was 11 and went to Pixmore School. Think we were in House 1 with the super Mr. & Mrs. Parish. Remember great bunch of the young tear-aways did a ‘Runner’ over the fields towards Hitchin, (not me). Memories of Big John, Marion, Robinson brothers plus Chick, who years later I ran into at Barnet Fair, he had been adopted.

    By Andy Jenner (12/04/2022)
  • I was in Briar Patch. I remember Auntie Mary in house 2. I then moved to house 4 where Mr, Felix lived with his wife and two sons.
    We used to go to Chicksands American base for Christmas parties.
    I went to Westbury and Pixmore schools.

    By michael sawdy (02/01/2021)
  • My brother and I were in briar patch Letchworth in 1955. I remember aunt Dorothy and another aunt. We had to walk down the hill to a school in Hitchen. We climbed walnut trees which lined the drive. It was a happy place.

    By Kathryn Dunning (09/01/2020)
  • I was in the Grange children’s home , Stevenage from 1943 to 1950/1. Not exactly sure of exact dates but would be grateful for any information about the home during this period.

    By Patricia Lawrie (18/11/2018)