Wantage has thrown up many different characters during its existence and one name keeps coming up when one researches the history of the town in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and that person is James Welch.

Born on the 2nd November 1862 in Wantage James Welch was the son of William Welch, a master baker and his wife Mary Anne (nee Deacon) who lived in Grove Street.

William had worked for James Clark (of Clark’s Mill in Mill Street) as a foreman baker before setting up his own baking business.

On his death in 1876, his wife Mary Ann took over the business and ran it for another 30 years until her retirement.

James Welch was initially in the family business, however at the age of 16 he had joined the Wantage Fire Brigade as its Bugler.

He was to be a member of the brigade until 1924 rising to be Second Officer. The Bugler was responsible for going around the town to raise the brigade in the event of a fire and then going with it to warn of its approach to deal with the blaze.

James was a keen cyclist and would cycle around the town centre to raise the brigade. In fact he is remembered in the town as one of the first riders of a “penny-farthing” cycle.

In 1880, James Welch started his bill-posting and advertising business run from his home at 32 Grove Street.

He was the principal advertising contractor in Wantage and also acted as agent for various insurance companies.

James was also employed by the Town Commissioners and later the Wantage Urban District Council as the Wantage Town Cryer and its toll/rent collector.

He was also a member of the Berkshire Rifle Volunteers founded by Lord Wantage, a founder member and later chairman of Wantage Town Football Club (was Chairman when Alfredian Park in Manor Road was purchased in 1922) and a member of the Oddfellows charitable society.

James Welch would rise to be the District Treasurer for this society. Politically he was a Liberal and was Liberal Agent for the local constituency, taking an active part in the 1906 and 1910 elections.

In 1896 James married Ellen Aldworth the daughter of Alfred Aldworth from an old established Wantage family.

The couple would have three children Monty, Dorothy and Hilda. Sadly Monty was killed in action serving with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1917.

James Welch also became a landlord owning five cottages in East Challow (including Hillside and Sunnyside), three cottages in Grove Street and he was also responsible for building nos 29-31 Ormond Road in Wantage in 1892, into which initially lived members of his family.

These were also later rented out and the last house here (no 29) only left the ownership of the Welch family in the 1960s.

This public spirited man sadly died on November 1, 1928, and was buried in the Baptist Church Cemetery in Garston Lane Wantage.