Herbert George Wells was born at Atlas House, 47 High Street, Bromley, in the county of Kent, on 21 September 1866.
Called "Bertie" in the family, he was the fourth and last child of Joseph Wells ( a shopkeeper) and his wife Sarah Neal.The family was of the impoverished lower middle class. An inheritance had allowed them to purchase a shop in which they sold china and sporting goods, although it was never prosperous.
A defining incident of young Wells's life was an accident he had in 1874, which left him bedridden with a broken leg.To pass the time he started reading books from the local library, brought to him by his father. He soon became devoted to the other worlds and lives to which books gave him access; they also stimulated his desire to write.
Later that year he entered Thomas Morley's Commercial Academy. The teaching was erratic, the curriculum mostly focused, Wells later said, on producing copperplate handwriting and "doing the sort of sums useful to tradesmen". Wells continued at Morley's Academy until 1880.
From 1880 to 1883, Wells had an unhappy apprenticeship as a draper at the Southsea Drapery Emporium. His experiences were later used as inspiration for his novels The Wheels of Chance and Kipps, which describe the life of a draper's apprentice as well as being critiques of the world's distribution of wealth.
Wells's mother and father had never got along with one another particularly well (she was a Protestant, he a freethinker), and when she went back to work as a lady's maid (at Uppark, a country house in Sussex) one of the conditions of work was that she would not have space for her husband or children. Thereafter, she and Joseph lived separate lives, though they never divorced and neither ever developed any other liaison.
As for Wells, he not only failed at being a draper, he also failed as a chemist's assistant, and after each failure, he would arrive at Uppark — "the bad shilling back again!" as he said — and stay there until a fresh start could be arranged for him. Fortunately for Wells, Uppark had a magnificent library in which he immersed himself, reading many classic works, including Plato's Republic, and More's Utopia.
In October 1879 Wells's mother arranged for him to join the National School at Wookey in Somerset as a pupil tutor, where a distant relative, Arthur Williams, had recently been appointed head teacher.
In December that year, however, Williams, was dismissed for irregularities in his qualifications and Wells was returned to Uppark. In 1883 Wells persuaded his parents to again allow him an opportunity to become a pupil and pupil teacher, at Midhurst Grammar School where his proficiency in Latin and science while a student was remembered.
His good fortune at securing a position at Midhurst Grammar School meant that Wells could continue his self-education in earnest.
The following year, Wells won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science in South Kensington, now part of Imperial College London) in London, studying biology under Thomas Henry Huxley. As an alumnus, he later helped to set up the Royal College of Science Association, of which he became the first president in 1909.
Wells studied in his new school until 1887 with a weekly allowance of twenty-one shillings (a guinea) thanks to his scholarship. This ought to have been a comfortable sum of money (at the time many working class families had "round about a pound a week" as their entire household income) yet in his Experiment in Autobiography, Wells speaks of constantly being hungry, and indeed, photographs of him at the time show a youth so thin as to be virtually starving.
He soon entered the Debating Society of the school. These years mark the beginning of his interest in a possible reformation of society. At first approaching the subject through The Republic by Plato, he soon turned to contemporary ideas of socialism as expressed by the recently formed Fabian Society and free lectures delivered at Kelmscott House, the home of William Morris.
He was also among the founders of The Science School Journal, a school magazine which allowed him to express his views on literature and society, as well as trying his hand at fiction: the first version of his novel The Time Machine was published in the journal under the title, The Chronic Argonauts. The school year 1886-1887 was the last year of his studies.
In spite of having previously successfully passed his exams in both biology and physics, his lack of interest in geology resulted in his failure to pass and the loss of his scholarship. It was not until 1890 that Wells earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of London External Programme.
Upon leaving the Normal School of Science, Wells was left without a source of income. His aunt Mary, a cousin of his father, invited him to stay with her for a while, so at least he did not face the problem of housing. During his stay with his aunt, he grew interested in her daughter, Isabel. In 1889-90 he managed to find a post as a teacher at Henley House School where he taught and admired A. A. Milne.