My Irish father had met my English mother in Oxford, where the refrigeration firm she worked for as a filing clerk had relocated from London.
At the time, she was on the rebound from a disastrous, unconsummated marriage to an Oxford college cook.
Even in the so-called family-friendly 1950s, the irony was that domestic life outside the walls of Birdhurst was often less traditional than we now realise. Unmarried Motherhood in 20th -Century England (Oxford University Press), shows that unmarried co-habitation, for example, was common as far back as the 1800s, when records first began.
Indeed, the complex picture of society in Pat Thane and Tanya Evans' new history of single motherdom, Sinners? Thane, Research Professor in Contemporary History at King's College London, argues that there has never been such a thing as the ideal British family unit, but instead a whole raft of diverse arrangements to which the authorities turned a blind eye – until they had to pay for it.
And I further discovered from her address records that she had stayed in a total of three such mother-and-baby homes.
Nowadays, it seems incredible that women should have had to hide their 'shame' – a Victorian word still in common currency in the 1950s – in such forbidding institutions, austere relics of 19th-century workhouses and 18th-century penitentiaries.
Six weeks before her due date, she was sent on to the Edwardian Birdhurst Lodge, run by the evangelical Mission of Hope.
"In a way it was a relief, because there was a comfort in being with other girls in the same boat, and there was a lovely, sweet, kind woman called Nurse Beach," recalls Gwen.She dreaded their reaction, particularly as history was repeating itself: she herself was the illegitimate daughter of an abandoned birth mother.Birdhurst was just one of three such institutions in which my mother stayed; the first was run by a religious charity called Skene Moral Welfare, a forerunner of Social Services, while another, in Hampstead, was run by the then London County Council.The turnover at Birdhurst Lodge was brisk, with each woman's stay limited to three months: six weeks before the birth and six weeks afterwards.The timing was partly to give the mothers a chance to bond with their babies before deciding whether to have them adopted, but also a calculated move to let enough time elapse to make sure the babies were developmentally healthy, since adoptive couples did not want disabled children.I wanted to find someone who had gone through a similar experience as my mother; Gwen, now aged 79, gave birth to her daughter, Anne, at Birdhurst Lodge nearly six months before I was born there.