Wilbert Awdry

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Wilbert Awdry

Rev W Awdry and Peter Sam - 1988-05-14 (cropped).jpg
Awdry in 1988
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;died 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 .



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] )

"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]

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 Church of England priesthood in 1936. In 1938 he married Margaret Wale (1912 - 21 March 1989). In 1940 he took a curacy at St Nicolas 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 in Stroud in Gloucestershire. [7]

Wilbert Awdry in May 1988, with Edward Thomas dressed up as "Peter Sam" on the Talyllyn Railway, Wales Rev W Awdry and Peter Sam - 1988-05-14.jpg
Wilbert Awdry in May 1988, with Edward Thomas dressed up as " 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 wooden broomstick and scraps of wood. [8] Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however the wartime shortage of materials limited Awdry to making 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.

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.

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, Wilbert Awdry 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 Bookmark film "The Thomas the Tank Engine Man" 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. [13] 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 Edmund's church, Emneth, Norfolk. [14] In 2011 a blue plaque was unveiled by his daughter Veronica Chambers at The Old Vicarage, Emneth 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: [15]

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

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.

Henry the Green Engine The Railway Series / Thomas & Friends character

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 Fictional steam locomotive

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.

<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.

Toby the Tram Engine fictional 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 Fictional railway which featured in books by Rev W Awdry

The Skarloey Railway is a fictional narrow gauge railway on the Island of Sodor. It appeared in 8 books of The Railway Series, by Rev. W. Awdry and Christopher Awdry, and in 99 episodes of the Television adaptation of The Railway Series, Thomas & Friends.

The Sodor & Mainland Railway (1853–1914) was a fictional railway that existed on the Island of Sodor in The Railway Series books written by the Rev. W. Awdry. In the books it is known as the S&M and was built when railway-mania was still in force, opening in 1853. The initial aim of the railway was to link Sodor with the British Mainland, though despite its close proximity, there is no direct connection with the Isle of Man's own transport network.

Rusty (locomotive) Fictional narrow gauge diesel locomotive from the Railway Series

Rusty the Little Diesel is a fictional narrow gauge diesel locomotive in Wilbert Awdry's Railway Series books and in the accompanying television series Thomas & Friends. Rusty lives and works on the Skarloey Railway on the Island of Sodor as Engine No. 5.

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

Sodor is a fictional island featured as 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. It is depicted as being located in the Irish Sea, just off the English mainland near Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

<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 Fictional railway which featured in books by Rev W Awdry

The Culdee Fell Railway is a fictional narrow gauge rack and pinion railway in The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry. It only appeared in one book, which was Mountain Engines.

Arlesdale Railway Fictional railway which featured in books by Rev W Awdry

The Arlesdale Railway is a fictional minimum gauge railway on the Island of Sodor. It appeared in 5 books in The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry and Christopher Awdry, and it appeared on the Thomas & Friends TV programme, first in the 2015 Thomas & Friends feature film special Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure and later appeared in Seasons 20 and 21, as well as The Great Race and Journey Beyond Sodor. The railway also makes a stock footage appearance in Season 22.

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. He became the most popular and famous character in the series, and is the titular 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. Gates, Anita (23 March 1997). "W. Awdry, 85, Children's Book Author, Dies". The New York Times . Archived from the original on 28 June 2019. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  14. "Tribure:First-glass locomotive". 29 August 2003. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  15. Rev. W. Awdry (1946). Thomas the Tank Engine . Edmund Ward (Publishers) Ltd. p. 3. ISBN   0-434-92779-1.

Further reading