Awdry's Influences

The Rev Awdry's Influences

Like with many authors, Awdry had to draw from other sources whilst writing the Railway Series for inspiration.  Here's background to a few...

In 2011, in the run up to the publication of Railway Series Book 42, Thomas & His Friends, Trevor Timpson researched and wrote an article for BBC News about the Rev. Awdry's influences for the Island of Sodor.  Trevor's writings are both accurate, informative and for those of us interested in slightly more grey areas of Awdry's development of Sodor, intriguing...

Well worth a read for anyone interested in finding out more about how the Island of Sodor, and Thomas himself, came to be!

Dr. Rudi Newman discusses the historical reality behind Thomas the Tank Engine and the Railway Series itself – and how it has lended itself so beautifully to the longevity of the characters and the series as a whole!


The Talyllyn Railway


Pendre Shed in the old days

The Talyllyn Railway is one of the most important bonds between The Island of Sodor and the real world.  It is the direct inspiration behind the Skarloey Railway, first appearing in 1955, after being suggested by Talyllyn Railway Society founder – Tom Rolt.  The Reverend Awdry was an early member of the society and he and his family spent many a happy summer working on the railway – a tradition which carries on to this day, with son Christopher having held the role of Society President, his wife Diana a blockwoman and son Richard, a Guard, much like his Grandfather before him.

No.1 Talyllyn still lies dormant

Built in 1864 to carry slate from the Bryn Egwlys Quarry at Abergynowlyn, the railway was one of the first narrow gauge railways in the world to use steam locomotion from the beginning.  The mainstay of the railway until 1950, when the Preservation Society took over, were two tank engines built by Fletcher Jennings & Co. in Whitehaven, Cumbria.  The first, Talyllyn, was built in 1864, and the latter, Dolgoch, in 1866.

The old winding drum at the top of the incline

Existing with the same stock, the line was rocked by particularly difficutl times in the 1940s.  Talyllyn, who had been the mainstay of the two engines and the preferred engine to run, was completely worn out and laid up in a hay barn, leaving Dolgoch to manage on her own.  Later, the Abergynolwyn Quarry collapsed and cost the railway a valuable source of income, putting survival in peril.  However, the owner, Sir Haydn Jones was defiant against closure and promised to keep the line running so long as he was alive.

Dolgoch takes on water

However, Sir Haydn died in 1950, and his widow found herself with a failing railway, which had little prospect of recovery.  The engines, rolling stock and track were in a perilous condition, and the future of the Talyllyn Railway looked very bleak.

It was around this time, LTC Rolt, held a meeting in Birmingham to try and club together with other enthusiasts to try and save the line from closure.  Mr Rolt went on to convince Mrs Jones to lease the Railway to them over a period of 2 years, by which time if the Railway was NOT a commerical success, the society would pay the cost to scrap the line.

Rusty at Wharf Station

However, LTC Rolt's plans worked out and the Railway became a viable success story.  Buying the remaining two locomotives from the defunct Corris Railway further up the road, it gave a chance for Dolgoch, who had been running the entire early season alone to have a break and be sent for extensive repairs along with sister engine, Talyllyn, who had been stored in a barn for several years prior to her repatriation!
In the early 1951, the Awdry family began taking seaside trips to the village of Tywyn in Gwynedd, to visit this little railway, following Wilbert being sent a newspaper article advertising membership on the Talyllyn.  Mr Awdry was the 79th member to join the society, ranking him well within the first 100 to join the society, which had swelled to 660 by May 1951. 

Peter Sam at the helm of the SiF Express

And so in 1952, the Awdry family began their first holiday in Tywyn and Wilbert took up the role of a Guard on the Railway.  This made for the inspiration of a well known story that was to make it into his tenth Railway Series book, and one of the few stories that involved the author himself!  Wilbert was concerned about making good time on his journey, and in doing so, gave the Driver the Right Away to leave the station.  In doing so he forgot all about the Refreshment Lady, who was running after them, frantic at being left behind!  To get the Driver's attention, Awdry had to screw on the brake, which had the desired effect and made him take the train back.  However, it was excusable really, the Refreshment Lady happened to be the Driver's mother-in-law, so he had a good reason to leave her behind!

Duncan pays a visit to Abergynolwyn!

Once again with the help of George Awdry, Wilbert began writing about the Talyllyn in the Railway Series, using the line as a basis for his new venture, The Skarloey Railway.  Not only did Awdry make the distinctions clear between the twinning of the Railways through his locomotives, he also did it through the people too.  Whilst the Talyllyn had Sir Haydn Jones, the Skarloey had Sir Handel Brown; Tom Rolt became the basis for Mr Peter Sam, the Thin Controller; and Hugh Jones, became known as Ivo Hugh, the Chief Engineer.

Dogloch at Dolgoch Falls

Incidently, it was the suggestion of Rolt that got the Skarloey Engines involved in the Railway Series to begin with.  A writer himself, he wrote Railway Adventure, a book based on the life and times of the Talyllyn Railway and stories surrounding it's history and it's adaption to becoming the world's first Railway run by volunteers.  Agreeing with the general feeling that it would be good publicity for the line, Awdry obliged and the Talyllyn soon became affiliated with the Skarloey line on Sodor.  Although it would be unfair to say that Awdry's works were fully responsible for the success of the Talyllyn, they did have a big impact on people wishing to visit the line on account of his writings.  

Tom Rolt at Nant Gwernol

A true Talyllyn hero, in 1991, many years following Rolt's death, his name was to live on as the railway dedicated their new steam engine to him, christening it TOM ROLT, with the naming being performed by his widow Sonia.  Rebuilt from an Irish Peat loco of 3ft Gauge, the engine was aptly called a "Frog Prince transformation" by Sonia and had been in production on and off since the 1970s.  The new locomotive is stronger than the others and was needed for the influx in passenger numbers carried on the Railway.  It was featured in the 40th Railway Series book as Ivo Hugh, but as yet, no personality has been struck for the new character following the discontinuation of the books.

Sir Handel at Dolgoch Falls

The association between the Talyllyn and Skarloey still runs to this day.  Although threatened by a copyright dispute between the Talyllyn and copyright holders Britt Allcroft Co. who weren't happy about the Talyllyn engines being guised as engines from the Thomas series.  They retaliated by saying that the Reverend Awdry gave the Railway his permission during his life that the railway could use the identity of the characters when they wished to, it being that they are in the guise of Railway Series characters and not the TV series colours.  The railway continues the practice of dressing the engines in such a fashion and has done since the days when they ran Sir Haydn as Sir Handel in the 1980s, Edward Thomas for several years as Peter Sam and currently Douglas as Duncan!

Snowdon Mountain Railway


No.4 - Snowdon at Llanberis

In North Wales, the Snowdon Mountain Railway provided yet another source of storytelling for the Rev Awdry to draw upon for his 19th book, Mountain Engines.  The book's main focus was on engines 4 and 6, respectively, Snowdon and Padarn, formerly, Sir Harmood, but also drew upon the incident on the opening day which saw the demise of No.1 - Ladas.

Llanberis Station on the Snowdon Mountain Railway

Opened in April 1896, the Snowdon Mountain Tramway and Hotel Company's original opening ended in an utter disaster involving locomotive number 1, LADAS.  Problems on the track led to the locomotive overturning and injuring the crew, and when a passenger jumped clear, suspecting danger, he hit his head on the rocks and died as a result.  The locomotive was not put back into service following the unfortunate accident, and instead was used for parts for the other locomotives.  There has never been another number one on the Snowdon Mountain Railway following the loss of LADAS.

No.6 Padarn stands bathed in the sunlight

The following year, the line reopened and has operated with little or no difficulty since the accident on the first day.  Snowdon Mountain Railway is the only Mountain Rack Railway in the British Isles.  It is still run privately as it always has been to ferry tourists up Mount Snowdon.  In more recent years it has taken the modern view of employing Electric Railcars to ferry passengers up to the summit, following the implementation of Diesel traction in the 1980s.  All four of the remaining original locomotives still run (Nos. 2 to 6), whilst two of the three newer motive power from the 1920s (being locos 7 and 8) have been withdrawn due to not being "steam tight" any longer.

Clearly Snowdon have a sense of humour!

Largely, this is NOT a Heritage Railway, but a privately run company built to ferry passengers to the Summit of Mount Snowdon in perfect safety.  The volume of traffic is usually handled by Diesel locomotives with the occasional steam loco running when weather conditions are suitable and possibly tourist demand is high.  The possible reason why there has been no successor to the book Mountain Engines is very much because of the Railway's safety record and aims and ability to maintain it!

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway


River Mite

Opened originally as a 3ft gauge railway, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway did not prosper for very long in it's original form before being closed down.  The Railway was originally opened to serve the Whitehaven Mining Co in 1875, consisting of two engines - Nab Gill and Devon.  However, the Railway was never profitable and nor was the mine, as a consequence, the Whitehaven Mining Co went bankrupt and in turn, the Railway was run by a newly set up company to run it.  The line survived on weekend tourists and general goods up until 1908 when it was brought into disrepute concerning the poor track, which in turn caused passenger traffic to close in November of that year.  Moves were made to try and electrify the line, but this was unsuccessful and the line closed in 1913.

River Esk

In 1915, WJ Basset-Lowke of Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd, reopened the line in a regauged form of 15in gauge.  The reconstitued line was soon carrying stone from the Beckfoot quarries and passengers as well to subsidise the running of the railway.  After World War 2, the lines was sold again to Keswick Granite Co. who closed the quarries.  In 1960, the entire railway was put up for sale at auction.  It was saved by a group of enthusiasts who wished to operate it themselves.

River Irt at Ravenglass

The new company set about creating new locomotives and doing all they could to improve the running of the line.  The La'al Ratty as we know it today was born.  There are a great number of engines running on the Ravenglass and Eskdale line, however, only a handful of them have made it into the Awdry books.  River Irt, converted from a locomotive from the 1890s Muriel, was given the guise of Bert on the Arlesdale Railway on Sodor.  River Esk, was given the role of Rex on the new small Railway and newly built locomotive in 1967, River Mite was given the role of Mike.  These three engines appeared for the first time in 1967's Small Railway Engines, and again later on in 1971's Duke The Lost Engine, where they assisted the Thin and Fat Clergyman as well as the other explorers in finding Duke who was stranded in the hills above their line.

Northern Rock

It will come as no surprise to readers that Awdry had based the fictional version of the Ravenglass Railway on the real one, being that the Arlesdale Railway was built on the trackbed of a previous railway, this being the Mid-Sodor Railway, where Duke, Sir Handel and Peter Sam ran previously to being moved to the Skarloey Railway.  And much like the original, did not run into the hills the same way as the previous railway due to problems with gradients.

Related Links

Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway Official Website

Ravenglass & Eskdale - E-G Media Review

Corris Railway


Corris Railway in it's heyday

Opened in 1859 as a horse-drawn tramway, the Corris Railway converted to steam in 1878 with the introduction of three locomotives built by Hughes of Loughbrough.  The Railway ran from the town of Machynlleth to the quarries in Aberllefenni, where much of the railway's traffic came from.  The Railway began the practice of carrying passengers in 1883 follwoing an act of Parliament, and in 1921, employed the extra motive power of a fourth locomotive, built by Kerr Stuart.  The locomotive was of a Tattoo design, and like the others, an 0-4-2.  However, the comfort and performance of the newcomer did not impress the crews of the Corris Railway.

No.3 and No.4 stored after closure

In 1931, the Railway was bought by the Great Western who closed the Railway to passenger traffic, instead employing a bus service in the area.  The Railway prospered for a few years more, this time only using locos 3 and 4.  Locos 1 and 2 from Falcon Works were scrapped prior to the buying up by the GWR, as there appeared to be little need for them.  The two were completely worn out by this point, however, No.2 was used for parts to make a better engine of the remaining No.3, which remained in service alongside the Kerr Stuart, No.4.

No.3 now at the Talyllyn Railway

Following the nationalisation of the Railways in 1948, the Corris became the first casualty and fatality of the new grouping.  The Railway closed in August 1948 following a flooding on the River Dyfi which damaged part of the railway, and made part of the line inoperable.  Had it not been for this, the railway made have stood a chance of running on.  The two locomotives were sheeted and left at Machynlleth sheds with the writing on the side - Not to Be.

The new Corris No.7

The locomotives, like that of their Sodor counterparts, were taken to the sanctuary of the nearby Talyllyn Railway to be put to good use again.  They have remained there since 1951 and proved vital to prosperity of the railway in the early days of preservation.  The Railway has now officially reopened with Christopher Awdry himself heading the association's operations, and being operated by Diesel locomotives until the time when Tattoo locomotive No.7 is completed in 2006, which is a replica of the Kerr Stuart locomotive who left in 1951 to run on the Talyllyn.

Ffestiniog Railway


Ffestiniog No.2 - Prince at Harbour Station

The Ffestiniog Railway in Wales was the first narrow gauge railway in the world, built in 1836 as a horse-drawn tramway to carry slate from the mines in Blaenau Ffestiniog down to the Harbour at Portmadoc (now Porthmadog).  The practice for the railway was to use gravity slate trains to escort their loaded wagons and horses back down to Portmadoc in the days of frieght operations.  Working out of the biggest slate mine in the world, the railway was also the first narrow gauge line in the world to use such small steam locomotives.  Although by the time they converted in 1863 the practice was common on Standard Gauge lines, it had not yet been a tried and tested method on such a small railway.

Blanche at Porthmadog

The Railway ordered four locomotives from George England works and these became the early main-stay for the railway.  One of these locomotives, Prince, is not only the longest serving narrow gauge locomotive in history, but also the inspiration behind another Sodor legend - Duke.  At the time of closure in 1946, following the Second World War, Prince was waiting to be fitted with a new boiler.  Sadly, the locomotive may never have seen the chance to be fitted with it had it not been for the dedication and hard work of Ffestiniog Railway volunteers.  Due to the line being in a bad state of decay, it was required that the line had to be rebuilt completely to return to full power.  It took roughly thirty years to rebuild the line's 13.5 mile route, with more than a few potholes along the way, but it has proved it's worth and seen every problem through with grace and dignity to become one of the world's premier Heritage Railways.

Double Fairlie at Boston Lodge

The Railway's rich and colourful history proved invaluable along with the Corris Railway in preparations for the 25th Railway Series book - Duke The Lost Engine.  Awdry was even found to use material from the latter day Ffestiniog too, using the event of "Linda's Leap", as it is affectionately known and remembered by enthusiasts, for the basis of his Bulldog story.  But from the history of the Ffestiniog, there was no truer representation of the locomotive than the steely determination of Duke.  Once rebuilt in 1955 by the society, Prince worked the two early seasons of the line completely alone and despite being "retired" in 1969, the old dog is still found to be hard at work on the Ffestiniog Railway alongside his fellow locomotives.

Bluebell Railway


Stepney stands at Sheffield Park

Home to a friend of Sodor, Stepney the Bluebell Engine, the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex has flourished in the years from 1960 when it was first established and opened as the UK's second Standard Gauge Heritage Railway.  Since those early days, the Railway has gone on to become one of Britain's premier Heritage Railways, and become the only Railway in the UK to hold the honour and privellege to call itself a Steam Railway.  Until very recently, the line was completely run by steam traction, however, with work on the East Grinstead extension, tradition has had to be broken and a Class 08 shunter brought in to fulfil the duties.

Former LBSCR engine stands at station

Built in 1882 by landowners in the Lewes and East Grinstead area, it was placed in the hands of the LBSCR, Southern and British Railways throughout its lifetime.  The line came under threat in the 1950s by BR Executives who wished to close it, only to be jepordised by the clause that four trains a day should run on the line "Forever".  However, BR got an Act of Parliament to get their own way against the "Forever" clause and closed the line again in 1958.  However, by this time there had been time to form a Preservation group to keep part of the line open.  They bought locomotives and carriages and took matters from there, soon rebuilding the line steadily throughout the years.

Horsted Keynes station on the Bluebell

The locomotive list of the line is highly extensive.  Stepney was one of the first two locomotives that were acquired for the line, along with two coaches.  He has served throughout the years alongside a great deal of locomotives who currently reside on the Bluebell, such as the last remaining Q1 locomotive, Class A1X 0-6-0T No.72 Fenchurch of the LBSCR, also a Terrier; Bullied Pacifics; other LBSCR locomotives such as Cromford, Adams, 323 and 27 - Bluebell and Primrose, and the youngest of the group BR Class 9F 2-10-0 No.92240, built in 1959.

The Isle of Man

Isle of Man Railway's GH Wood

The Isle of Man is a Railway Island in itself.  Boasting a railway network of several narrow gauge railways, it is probably as close to Sodor as you will ever get.  Quite literally in actual face, as it is meant to be right next to Sodor too according to maps of the Sudrian area!  However, Sodor is found to be slightly larger on account of having to carry standard gauge lines.

The Island plays host to several Railway lines, including the Isle of Man Railway, Groudle Glen Railway, Snaefell Mountain Railway and Manx Electric Railway.