On this day: The week that the 'bad girls' of 'sexy Welwyn' caused international scandal
PUBLISHED: 12:22 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:28 14 December 2017
Fifty-five years ago this week, Welwyn became infamous in the global press as a hotbed of vice and immorality.
A committee headed by a local reverend had contributed research to the National Christian Family Year that said the pristine village had twice the national average of unmarried mothers, considered scandalous in 1962.
It also discussed unhappy marriages, drunkenness, theft and poor parenting, and claimed that “up to 30 per cent of children in some school classes … were disturbed from an emotional and disciplinary point of view”.
Outraged locals questioned the validity of the report, with the Welwyn Times and Hatfield Herald (WTHH) – the precursor to the Welwyn Hatfield Times – calling it “half-baked”.
On December 14, 1962, the WTHH headline stated: ‘Stormy reaction to attack on village morals – Angry and disgusted at report’.
Charles Burgess, chair of the Welwyn Rural Council, called the report a “tragedy” and raged: “What annoys me most is that a little group of people of this calibre get together and try to measure or lay down the rules for a happy marriage.
“What makes them specialists in this?”
Canon and Mrs Bate of Hobbs Hill, who led the report’s committee, said the figures had been misinterpreted.
The WTHH reported: “Various members of the committee responsible for the report wanted to make it clear that their report was dealing with a national problem, though the evidence cited was in every case quoted as applicable to Welwyn.”
Committee member Charles Dansie said: “A lot of headlines in the papers picked on Welwyn as a problem village.
“I do regret that it has been read into the publicity, that Welwyn has a problem that others do not.
“We stated in our report that this is not the case.”
The WTHH noted that the education figures had been taken from only one school, and the figures for children born out of wedlock had included much of the surrounding rural area.
Nonetheless, according to the paper the news had spread to “the headlines of nearly every paper in the country”.
One mother, described as “outraged”, said: “How do you think I feel when my daughter goes to work and people say ‘oh, you live in sexy Welwyn?’.”
Mrs Eliza Hollingsworth, of Tudor Road, said: “There may be one or two bad girls in Welwyn, but there are plenty of nice ones.”
The news had reached as far as Canada, with the Brandon Sun writing on December 13: “7,000 residents of the little community of Welwyn, named last August as the best-kept village in Hertfordshire, were up in arms on Monday over a report about some aspects of life within their white-painted homes.”
There is little record of the National Christian Family Year, but the Brandon Sun suggests it was a British version of the Kinsey Reports, a groundbreaking study of American sexual habits released in 1948 and 1952.