Wilbert Awdry

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Wilbert Awdry

The Rev. W. Awdry.jpg
Awdry in 1982
BornWilbert Vere Awdry
(1911-06-15)15 June 1911
Ampfield, Hampshire, England
Died21 March 1997(1997-03-21) (aged 85)
Rodborough, Gloucestershire, England
OccupationAnglican cleric, railway enthusiast, author
Education Dauntsey's School
Alma mater St Peter's Hall, Oxford
Wycliffe Hall, Oxford
Notable works Thomas the Tank Engine
Years active1945–1997
Margaret Wale
(m. 1938;her death 1989)
Children3, including Christopher Awdry

Wilbert Vere Awdry, OBE (15 June 1911 – 21 March 1997) was an English Anglican cleric, railway enthusiast, and children's author. Better known as the Reverend W. Awdry, he was the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, the central figure in his Railway Series .

Order of the British Empire British order of chivalry

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

Church of England Anglican church in England, by law established

The Church of England is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.

Clergy leaders within certain religions

Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the terms used for individual clergy are clergyman, clergywoman, and churchman. Less common terms are churchwoman and clergyperson, while cleric and clerk in holy orders both have a long history but are rarely used.



Awdry was born at Ampfield vicarage near Romsey, Hampshire on 15 June 1911. His father was the Reverend Vere Awdry (18541928), the Anglican vicar of Ampfield, and his mother was Lucy Awdry (née Bury) (1884-1965). His younger brother, George, was born on 10 August 1916 and died on 27 October 1994. [1] [2] All three of Awdry's older half-siblings from his father's first marriage died young. In 1917 the family moved to Box, in Wiltshire, [3] moving again in 1919 and 1920, still in Box, the third house being "Journey's End" (renamed from "Lorne Villa", [4] which remained the family home until August 1928. [5] )

Ampfield village in the United Kingdom

Ampfield is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Test Valley in Hampshire, England, between Romsey, Eastleigh, and Winchester. It had a population at the 2001 census of 1,474, increasing to 1,583 at the 2011 Census.

Romsey town in Hampshire, England

Romsey is a market town in the county of Hampshire, England. Romsey was home to the 19th-century British prime minister Lord Palmerston, whose statue has stood in the town centre since 1857. The town was also the home of the 17th-century philosopher and economist William Petty and the 20th-century soldier and statesman Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Notable buildings are the Corn Exchange, built in 1864, and the town hall, which was built in 1866.

Hampshire County of England

Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England. The county town is the city of Winchester. Its two largest cities, Southampton and Portsmouth, are administered separately as unitary authorities; the rest of the county is governed by Hampshire County Council.

"Journey's End" was only 200 yards (180 m) from the western end of Box Tunnel. There the Great Western Railway main line climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for two miles. A banking engine was kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way up the incline. Awdry related, "There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities. I would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another." [ citation needed ] Here was the inspiration for the story of Edward helping Gordon's train up the hill, a story that Wilbert first told his son Christopher some 25 years later, and which appeared in the first of the Railway Series books. [4]

Box Tunnel English railway tunnel

Box Tunnel passes through Box Hill on the Great Western Main Line (GWML) between Bath and Chippenham. The railway tunnel is 1.83 miles (2.95 km) in length, straight, and descends on a 1 in 100 gradient from its eastern end. The west portal is Grade II* listed and the east portal is Grade II listed.

Great Western Railway former railway company in the United Kingdom

The Great Western Railway (GWR) was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England, the West Midlands, and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament on 31 August 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838. It was engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who chose a broad gauge of 7 ft —later slightly widened to 7 ft 14 in —but, from 1854, a series of amalgamations saw it also operate 4 ft 8 12 in standard-gauge trains; the last broad-gauge services were operated in 1892. The GWR was the only company to keep its identity through the Railways Act 1921, which amalgamated it with the remaining independent railways within its territory, and it was finally merged at the end of 1947 when it was nationalised and became the Western Region of British Railways.

Awdry was educated at Marlborough House School, Hawkhurst, Kent (1919–24), Dauntsey's School, West Lavington, Wiltshire (1924–29); St Peter's Hall, Oxford (BA, 1932) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford where he gained his diploma in theology in 1933. He taught for three years from 1933 to 1936 at St. George's School, Jerusalem. He was ordained to the Anglican priesthood in 1936. In 1938 he married Margaret Wale (1912 - 21 March 1989). In 1940 he took a curacy in St. Nicholas' Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham where he lived until 1946. He subsequently moved to Cambridgeshire, serving as Rector of Elsworth with Knapwell (1946–50), Rural Dean at Bourn (1950-53) and then Vicar of Emneth, Norfolk (1953–65). [6] He retired from full-time ministry in 1965 and moved to Rodborough near Stroud in Gloucestershire. [7]

Kent County of England

Kent is a county in South East England and one of the home counties. It borders Greater London to the north-west, Surrey to the west and East Sussex to the south-west. The county also shares borders with Essex along the estuary of the River Thames, and with the French department of Pas-de-Calais through the Channel Tunnel. The county town is Maidstone.

Dauntseys School

Dauntsey's School is a co-educational independent day and boarding school in the village of West Lavington, Wiltshire, England. The school was founded in 1542, in accordance with the will of William Dauntesey, a master of the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

West Lavington, Wiltshire village in United Kingdom

West Lavington is a village and civil parish in Wiltshire, England, on the north edge of Salisbury Plain, on the A360 road between Devizes and Salisbury, about 5 miles (8 km) south of Devizes. The parish includes the hamlet of Littleton Panell.

Wilbert Awdry in May 1988, with one of his creations, Peter Sam on the Talyllyn Railway, Wales Rev W Awdry and Peter Sam - 1988-05-14.jpg
Wilbert Awdry in May 1988, with one of his creations, Peter Sam on the Talyllyn Railway, Wales

The characters that would make Awdry famous and the first stories featuring them were invented in 1943 to amuse his son Christopher during a bout of measles. After Awdry wrote The Three Railway Engines, he built Christopher a model of Edward, and some wagons and coaches, out of a broomstick and scraps of wood. [8] Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however as that was too difficult due to a sufficient lack of wooden broomstick, Awdry made a model of a little 0-6-0 tank engine. Awdry said, "The natural name was Thomas – Thomas the Tank Engine." [8] Then Christopher requested stories about Thomas and these duly followed and were published in the famous book Thomas the Tank Engine , released in 1946.

Christopher Vere Awdry is an English author known for his contributions to The Railway Series of books featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, which was started by his father, the Rev. W. Awdry (1911–1997). He has also produced children's books based on a number of other railways, as well as non-fiction articles and books on heritage railways. He was born at Devizes, the family moving to Kings Norton, Birmingham when he was aged 5 months. Awdry was educated at Worksop College, a public school in North Nottinghamshire.

Measles Viral disease affecting humans

Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus. Symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person and last 7–10 days. Initial symptoms typically include fever, often greater than 40 °C (104 °F), cough, runny nose, and inflamed eyes. Small white spots known as Koplik's spots may form inside the mouth two or three days after the start of symptoms. A red, flat rash which usually starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body typically begins three to five days after the start of symptoms. Common complications include diarrhea, middle ear infection (7%), and pneumonia (6%). These occur in part due to measles-induced immunosuppression. Less commonly seizures, blindness, or inflammation of the brain may occur. Other names include morbilli, rubeola, red measles, and English measles. Both rubella, also known as "German measles", and roseola are different diseases caused by unrelated viruses.

Edward the Blue Engine Locomotive from The Railway Series books and Thomas the Tank Engine TV series.

Edward the Blue Engine is an anthropomorphic steam locomotive from The Railway Series children's books by the Rev W. Awdry, and the related TV Series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends. He is a blue 4-4-0 tender engine with red lining out, about the same size as James the Red Engine, and has the number 2 on his tender. Also like James, he is a mixed traffic engine, meaning that he is designed to pull both freight and passenger services. He is one of the principal characters in both the books and the television series.

The first book, (The Three Railway Engines) was published in 1945, and by the time Awdry stopped writing in 1972, The Railway Series numbered 26 books. Christopher subsequently added further books to the series.

<i>The Railway Series</i> series of childrens books by Wilbert Vere Awdry

The Railway Series is a set of story books about a railway system located on the fictional Island of Sodor. There are 42 books in the series, the first being published in 1945. Twenty-six were written by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, up to 1972. A further 16 were written by his son, Christopher Awdry; 14 between 1983 and 1996, and two more in 2007 and 2011.

In 1947 0-6-0T engine No.1800 was built by Hudswell Clarke, it spent its working life at the British Sugar Corporation, Peterborough factory pushing wagons of sugar beet until it was finally replaced by a Diesel engine. Peterborough Railway Society purchased the engine in 1973 and this little blue 'Thomas' engine is the star of the Nene Valley Railway. [9]

In 1952, Awdry volunteered as a guard on the Talyllyn Railway in Wales, then in its second year of preservation. [10] The railway inspired Awdry to create the Skarloey Railway, based on the Talyllyn, with some of his exploits being written into the stories. [11]

Awdry's enthusiasm for railways did not stop at his publications. He was involved in railway preservation, and built model railways, which he took to exhibitions around the country. At Emneth he created an extensive model railway network in his loft - based on Barrow-in-Furness [12] Emneth was also close to three Wisbech railway stations. Emneth railway station was on the EAR line from Magdalen Road Station (now known as Watlington) to Wisbech East, Emneth station is now a private residence. The GER Wisbech and Upwell Tramway tram engines, coaches and rolling stock were similar to Toby the Tram Engine and Henrietta and the Ely to King's Lynn mainline with Wisbech East (Victoria Rd) station. The M&GN Peterborough to Sutton Bridge via Wisbech North (Harecroft Rd) station. There were also harbour lines either side of the River Nene - M&GN Harbour West branch and GER Harbour East branch. Awdry wrote other books besides those of The Railway Series, both fiction and non-fiction. The story, Belinda the Beetle was about a red car (it became a Volkswagen Beetle only in the illustrations to the paperback editions).

In 1988, his second Ffarquhar model railway layout was shown to the public for the final time and was featured on an ITN News news item. He was again featured on TV-AM for Thomas' 40th Anniversary in 1990. During all this, he faced many battles - health problems, depression, and the death of his wife, his brother, and close friend Teddy Boston. Five years later, he gave no protest whilst being interviewed by Nicholas Jones for The Thomas the Tank Engine Man documentary, first aired on 25 February 1995 and repeated again on 15 April 1997 shortly after his death.

Awdry was awarded an OBE in the 1996 New Year's Honours List, but by that time his health had deteriorated and he was unable to travel to London. He died peacefully in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 21 March 1997, at the age of 85. His ashes are interred at Gloucester Crematorium.

A biography entitled The Thomas the Tank Engine Man was written by Brian Sibley and published in 1995.


Rev. Awdry's study, now preserved in the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum on the Talyllyn Railway Wilbert Awdry's study, Talyllyn Railway museum.jpg
Rev. Awdry's study, now preserved in the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum on the Talyllyn Railway

A Class 91 locomotive, 91 124, used to bear the name The Rev W Awdry. A Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST (saddle tank) engine on the Dean Forest Railway is named Wilbert after him; and was used as the title character in Christopher Awdry's Railway Series book Wilbert the Forest Engine . In 2003 a stained glass window commissioned by the Awdry family was unveiled at St.Edmunds church, Emneth [13] In 2011 a blue plaque was unveiled by his daughter Veronica Chambers at The Old Vicarage, Emneth, Norfolk where he lived between 1953 and 1965. In 2015, he was rendered in CGI for a special cameo in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, then later in 2016, he was rendered in CGI again as a cameo in The Great Race. A pedestrian rail crossing bridge has been dedicated to Awdry in 2017 in the small Hampshire town of Chandlers Ford, which is very close (and has the closest railway line and station) to his birthplace of Ampfield.

Letter to Christopher

In the second book in the series, Thomas the Tank Engine , Awdry wrote this "letter" to his son Christopher: [14]

Dear Christopher,
Here is your friend Thomas, the Tank Engine.
He wanted to come out of his station-yard and see the world.
These stories tell you how he did it.
I hope you will like them because you helped me to make them.
Your Loving Daddy

Subsequent books featured a similar letter from the author, addressed to the readers of the book as "Dear Friends", which introduced the background to the stories within the book.

This text also appears at the beginning of Thomas and Friends episodes from 2004-2012. The "letter" appears with a story book showing Thomas on the front cover with "Thomas the Tank Engine" at the top and "By the Rev. W. Awdry" at the bottom. The book then opens up and we see the letter, read by British actor Nigel Plaskitt, and after the letter is finished a "steam" transition appears and it transitions to the Thomas & Friends theme song. A flash version of this letter can be seen on the Thomas & Friends website as "Author's Message", which inaccurately states that Awdry wrote the letter in The Three Railway Engines (the only Railway Series volume not to begin with a foreword).




Related Research Articles

Britt Allcroft is an English film, television and live theater producer, writer, director and voice actress. She is the creator of the children's television series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Shining Time Station and Magic Adventures of Mumfie. She wrote, co-produced and directed the film Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000).

Gordon the Big Engine

Gordon the Big Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic tender locomotive in The Railway Series books by Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry and is one of the central characters in the television series Thomas and Friends, which is based on the books. He is painted blue and carries the number 4. Gordon views himself as the most important engine because he is the biggest, fastest, and he pulls the Express.

Henry the Green Engine

Henry the Green Engine is an anthropomorphic 4-6-0 steam locomotive from The Railway Series books written by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry, and the spin-off children's television series, Thomas & Friends.

Percy the Small Engine

Percy the Small Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic steam tank engine from The Railway Series of children's books written by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry. He also appears in the spin-off television series Thomas & Friends.

Terence the Tractor

Terence the Tractor is a fictional anthropomorphic crawler tractor from the children's book series The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry, and the spin-off TV series Thomas and Friends.

Toby the Tram Engine

Toby the Tram Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic tram engine in The Railway Series by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry and his son, Christopher; he also appears in the spin-off television series Thomas & Friends. Toby, a tram engine with cowcatchers and sideplates, carries the North Western Railway running number seven and works on the same Ffarquhar Branch Line as Thomas the Tank Engine.

Trevor the Traction Engine

Trevor the Traction Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic character from The Railway Series children's books by the Rev. W. Awdry, and the spin-off television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Trevor is an agricultural engine – a traction engine designed for general farm work -, and is thus suited to his work on the Island of Sodor at Wellsworth Vicarage Orchard. Trevor is one of only two steam-powered road vehicles that appear in the books, the other being George the Steamroller. He is voiced by Nigel Pilkington in the UK, and Christopher Ragland in the US in the CGI Series.

Skarloey Railway

On the fictional Island of Sodor in The Railway Series by Rev. W. Awdry, the Skarloey Railway is a narrow gauge railway which runs from the main line at Crovan's Gate to the passenger terminus at Skarloey. Beyond Skarloey the line continues to a slate quarry.

Sodor (fictional island) fictional island from The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry

Sodor is a fictional island located in the Irish Sea, just off the English mainland near Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. It is the setting for The Railway Series books by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, begun in 1945, and for the popular television series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends since 1984.

<i>Thomas & Friends</i> (series 3) season of television series

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is a children's television series about the engines and other characters working on the railways of the Island of Sodor, and is based on The Railway Series books written by the Rev. W. Awdry.

Culdee Fell Railway

The Culdee Fell Railway is a fictional narrow gauge rack and pinion railway appearing in the book Mountain Engines written by the Rev. W. Awdry. The stories are based on incidents in the history of the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

The Arlesdale Railway, more commonly known as The Small Railway, is a fictional railway on the Island of Sodor from the Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry and his son Christopher Awdry.

Clive Spong is an English illustrator of The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry. He illustrated the books written by Christopher Awdry published since 1983.

Upwell railway station was a station in Upwell, Norfolk on the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway. It was opened in 1883 to carry passengers and agricultural wares to Wisbech where they would go to market, or be shipped off to other towns or cities. Competition with motor buses led to the station's closure to passenger services in 1928, along with the rest of the line. Goods services continued until 1966, carrying produce from the surrounding farms; these are now carried by road.

The Reverend Edwin Richard Boston MA (Cantab), known as Teddy Boston, was a Church of England clergyman and author. He built a narrow gauge railway in the grounds of his Rectory at Cadeby, Leicestershire,and was immortalized as the "Fat Clergyman" in The Railway Series children's books by the Rev. W. Awdry.

Thomas the Tank Engine fictional steam locomotive

Thomas the Tank Engine is a fictional anthropomorphised steam locomotive in The Railway Series books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher, published from 1945 on. He became the most popular character in the series, and is the title protagonist in the accompanying television spin-off series Thomas & Friends.


  1. "George Awdry".
  2. Belinda Copson, "Awdry, Wilbert Vere (1911–1997)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, Jan 2007 accessed 17 Aug 2010
  3. ODNB
  4. 1 2 Sibley, Brian (1995). The Thomas the Tank Engine Man . Heinemann. p. 50. ISBN   0-434-96909-5.
  5. Sibley, Brian (1995). The Thomas the Tank Engine Man . Heinemann. p. 62. ISBN   0-434-96909-5.
  6. "Emneth hosts 100th birthday celebration for Thomas the Tank Engine author". edp24.co.uk. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  7. Rev. Awdry | Rodborough Parish Church Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  8. 1 2 Sibley, Brian (1995). The Thomas the Tank Engine Man . Heinemann. pp. 112–113. ISBN   0-434-96909-5.
  9. "Thomas" . Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  10. "Thomas the Tank writer's centenary marked at Talyllyn". BBC News. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  11. Potter, D. (1990). The Talyllyn Railway. David St John Thomas. p. 89. ISBN   0-946537-50-X.
  12. "Emneth". literarynorfolk.co.uk. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  13. "Tribure:First-glass locomotive". 29 August 2003. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  14. Rev. W. Awdry (1946). Thomas the Tank Engine . Edmund Ward (Publishers) Ltd. p. 3. ISBN   0-434-92779-1.

Further reading