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Owen Gentle - A WGC Builder

"In the early 1930s my father, Owen Gentle, was working in his own small business in Brookmans Park and at that time Mr. Pearce was also building there and suggested that they form a partnership. After a couple of years Mr. Pearce died. My father continued in partnership with Mrs. Pearce, but after a few years she decided that she wished to be bought out.

In the middle of the 1930s my father decided to move to Welwyn Garden City, and he and my mother started living here after they married in 1934. He then built many houses in the woods area of the town (Sherrards Park Road, Mandeville Rise, Roundwood Drive, Reddings) all individual architectural designed houses - including two houses at the beginning of Handside Lane after the land became available where condemned cottages stood. This is the original Handside hamlet and there is a concealed well at the edge of one of these houses.

Sadly by 1940 the war was having a major impact on building and most of my fathers employees were called up. He was left with only a couple of elderly men. But he “soldiered on” He was also engaged in securing and making re-usable houses damaged after the north London bombing raids.

After 1945 he managed to start, little by little, to increase the trade as his returning "soldiers" came back. However, the socialist government of 1945-51 caused difficulties with many restrictions such as such as only allowing anyone to spend a small amount of money each 6 months on improvements to their properties. There was also a severe shortage of materials (bricks & wood etc.)

By the early 1950s my father was managing to start building propery again - now having all his former tradesmen - to complete projects. He now concentrated on building houses on the west side of town where land was available. Most of these were individually architecturaly designed properties, although it was becoming un-economic and therefore necessary to build several several houses together. As cars became more popular, and in those days everyone wanted a garage, this added to his work. He also built a few “one-off” houses in the surrounding areas. Sadly, my father collapsed, when out on a site, and died the died next day in the summer of 1963, while the business was flourishing. We were forced to cease trading within 6 months having completed as much out-standing work as possible. His industrial premises were taken over by someone else.

He was looking to the future of the industry and therefore always employed a couple of apprentices (joinery, plumbing, bricklaying, painting)." This information was kindly donated to the Trust's archive by Owen Gentle's daughter Marjorie.