Wilfred Owen was born on 18 March 1893 at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswestry in Shropshire. He was of mixed English and Welsh ancestry and the eldest of Thomas and Harriet Susan (née Shaw)'s four children; his siblings were Harold, Colin, and Mary Millard Owen. When he was born, Wilfred's parents lived in a comfortable house owned by Wilfred's grandfather, Edward Shaw, but after the latter's death in January 1897, and the house's sale in March, the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while Thomas temporarily worked in the town with the railway company employing him. In April, Thomas later transferred to Shrewsbury, where the family lived with Thomas' parents in Canon Street.
In 1898, Thomas transferred to Birkenhead again when he became stationmaster at Woodside station, and the family lived with him at three successive homes in the Tranmere district, before moving back to Shrewsbury in 1907. Owen was educated at the Birkenhead Institute  and at Shrewsbury Technical School (later known as the Wakeman School).
He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire. Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school, and in his youth was a devout believer, in part due to his strong relationship with his mother, which lasted throughout his life. His early influences included the Bible and the "big six" of romantic poetry, particularly John Keats.
Owen's last two years of formal education saw him as a pupil-teacher at the Wyle Cop school in Shrewsbury. In 1911, he passed the matriculation exam for the University of London, but not with the first-class honours needed for a scholarship, which in his family's circumstances was the only way he could have afforded to attend.
In return for free lodging, and some tuition for the entrance exam (this has been questioned) Owen worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. During this time he attended classes at University College, Reading (now the University of Reading), in botany and later, at the urging of the head of the English Department, took free lessons in Old English. His time spent at Dunsden parish led him to disillusionment with the Church, both in its ceremony and its failure to provide aid for those in need.
From 1912 he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France, and later with a family. There he met the older French poet Laurent Tailhade, with whom he later corresponded in French. When war broke out, Owen did not rush to enlist - and even considered the French army - but eventually returned to England.