This year marks 150 years since the birth of H.G. Wells, one of the nation’s greatest science fiction writers and public intellectuals. 

Jamie Bowman discovers it was a brief spell teaching near Wrexham that inspired the frustrated author to begin a literary career out of this world.

He may be famous for creating alien worlds and time machines, but science fiction author H.G. Wells actually began his writing career far closer to home here in North East Wales.

Known for classic works including The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, Wells credits a short and unhappy period living and teaching in Holt as a 22-year-old, as the inspiration for his long and illustrious writing career that saw him nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature four times and become one of the most influential English writers of all time known as ‘The father of science fiction’.

Born in Kent 150 years ago on September 21, 1866, Herbert George Wells was a trainee teacher, living in London and struggling to make ends meet when he received a job offer to move to North Wales and take up a teaching position at Holt Academy.

The academy had been founded in 1865 by Ebeneezer Powell, who also instigated the building of the Presbyterian Church opposite. 

By 1882, the school had more than 80 students, the majority of whom were boarders from across North Wales and Cheshire, and the school taught a wide range of subjects, including French and art, so it looked a good prospect to Wells when he arrived there in 1888.

Sadly for Wells his optimism soon turned to despair as he realised Holt Academy had probably seen better days by the time he moved to the village.

“When I got to Holt I found only the decaying remains of a once prosperous institution set in a dismal street of houses in a flat ungainly landscape,” Wells later wrote in his autobiography.

“Holt was a small old town shrunk to the dimensions of a village, and its most prominent feature was a gasometer.

“From the first few weeks I knew I should have to escape from this flat, grey desolate land, the dirty school and the Presbyterian habits.

“Holt turned out to be a squalid, 

ill-run travesty of the word Academy, where boys slept three in a bed, lessons took place with the uncertainty of April showers, and down right disorder threatened with such persistence that the headmaster freely advocated in private the physical punishment that he abhorred in public.”

Wells was also struck b y the village’s obsession with football and observed that for the pupils there was “an inordinate quantity of football to fill the gaps between learning”. 

The southern-born Wells was much more of a cricket man – his father Joseph Wells had played first-class for Kent and Wells would write fondly about the sport later in his life. 

He admitted in his autobiography to not even knowing football’s rules and clearly resented being roped in to referee games. 

It was during one of these games that one of England’s finest ever writers would cross paths with one of Wales’ finest ever footballers, when Wells slipped on the muddy pitch only to be kicked in the back by Edward Roose, the elder brother of legendary Welsh goalkeeper Leigh Roose, who grew up in Holt.

“I had a rough time on the field because that was where the bigger louts got back upon me for my English accent and my irritating assumption of superior erudition,” wrote Wells.

“One bony youngster fouled me. He stooped, put his shoulders under my ribs, lifted me, and sent me sprawling. 

“I got up with muddy hands and knees to go on playing. But a strange sickness seized upon me. There was a vast pain in my side. My courage failed me. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t kick. ‘I’m going in’, I said, and returned sulkily to the house regardless of the game, amidst sounds of incredulous derision.”

The incident proved to be a huge turning point in Wells’ life. Later that day he began passing blood and fell very ill before a doctor was called from Wrexham and he was diagnosed with a crushed liver. 

Wells was ordered to rest up and spent weeks in bed thinking about what direction his career was going in and working on what would become his first novel.

By the time he came to write his autobiography in 1932, Wells was able to look on his miserable experience in Holt as one of the most pivitol moments of his early years. 

A few weeks after the injury he was coughing up blood and tuberculosis was diagnosed. 

Wells had to give up his job at the Academy and, much to his pleasure, leave Holt for the last time. 

Later, back in London, a dramatic relapse forced him to abandon teaching altogether in 1893, and to devote himself instead to writing.

“When at school at Holt I first found the urge to write,” he later admitted and it was while at the Academy that he finished his first time travelling story, The Chronic Argonauts.

Less than a decade later, in a six-year stretch from 1895 to 1901, Wells, who died 70 years ago, wrote his most famous novels, including The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon, and a legend was born. 

It was all a world way from Holt.