Sir Richard Topham Hatt

Sir Richard Topham Hatt takes the time to discuss his own life and career

When I was contacted by Rowan of UKHeritageHub with an idea of the latest article in my regular feature, I was naturally all ears. Imagine my surprise when he suggested I write about myself instead of a member from my locomotive fleet! People, it seems, wish to know more about myself, the man in control of Sodor's extensive standard gauge network. So without further ado, let us begin...

 

I was born in 1972 to Sir Stephen Topham Hatt and Lady Helen Hatt (Maiden name Margaret ) - The Hatt Family, it would be fair to say, were (and still are) one of the most wealthy of Sudrian families, thus, I lived in Hatt House, by Wellsworth. I was immediately introduced to the family business, this, of course, being the North Western Railway.

 

Naturally, as many young lads often are with steam locomotives, I was enraptured. At this age, however, I had little knowledge of what my father actually did. I would often see him talking to engines and their drivers and I knew his office was inside the big station, but the true fact of the Hatt family's fortunes was quite unknown to me.

 

I was the first in the Hatt family not to be sent to the Mainland for schooling, instead attending the Abbey School nearby Cronk. I 'lived' there regardless of the proximity to Hatt House, spending a fair majority of my childhood there. When I finished, I became an apprentice to many parts of the NWR's operation, starting as a clerk and learning the ranks of firemanning, driving, engine repairs, engine cleaning and eventually was introduced to the fronts of controlling the railway, becoming a clerk to my father.

 

I was most surprised to find I would, one day, be in charge of the Railway, and became firm friends with everybody at Tidmouth station. I would often be the one bringing flasks of cocoa to the engine drivers in winter or apologising personally to any passengers should there be a delay. As time went on, my seniority in the company grew and my knowledge of the railway's personal matters bloomed.

 

In 1997, my grandfather, Sir Charles Topham Hatt (the second in the Hatt family to run the NWR), passed away, some 83 years of age. Sir Charles was responsible for many parts of the island's development, and was a popular (if somewhat infamous!) gentleman. He had retired in 1984 with a career of thirty years, in which he had developed the ballast consortium, reopened the 'Little Western' and had built the small railway (the Arlesdale Line) to ship the ballast from the old lead mines. He was an enterprising man, responsible for creating much of  the modern work on the NWR, and had kept the railway powered by steam throughout the end of the age on the mainland. We were all most upset by his death, and my grandmother, Amanda Crourie by maiden name, continued to live at Hatt House until she herself died only two years later. The engines, of course, always felt the death of a controller hard, and would mourn his loss dreadfully.

 

In 1989, I met my dear wife over a glass of ale at the Old Tramway, the pub just across the road from Tidmouth station. By 1991, we had married, and in the same year gave birth to our children, my son of which will no doubt become my successor (hopefully many years from now!) She is a wonderful, beautiful woman with a heart of gold, and a loving mother indeed. My son has only recently gotten married, and no doubt shall soon be giving us the joy of grandchildren, ensuring the Hatt family continue as a railway family for many years to come.

 

My father, by the latter half of the 20th century, was looking forward to his retirement. The NWR had been brought to a stretch, with engine availability few and far between. The antiquity of the railway was beginning to show with cramped trains and aging locomotives. He had tried to source a new locomotive, an austerity based upon the Dean Forest Railway's 'Wilbert' (whom had been brought on trial and thoroughly impressed), but the deal fell through, leaving Donald and Douglas very overworked as our 'utility' engines indeed, and the delays in swopping locomotives for the express at Barrow-in-Furness was a source of great contention. Our timetables were becoming too slow when compared with those on the mainland.

 

The NWR needed modernising, and in 2006, my father retired, his final additions to the railway's roster being Victoria, an old Furness Railway coach, whom joined Toby, Elsie and Henrietta as a vintage train for quarry staff. I near immediately took over the reins of the network, and began immediately setting out plans for improvements, having visited the mainland's railways for inspiration.

 

In 2011, my plans were brought to a conclusion, as Pip and Emma - a HST 125 set that had first come to Sodor in 1987 while Gordon ran a railtour to Carlisle, were finally purchased for use on the NWR. Philippa - or 'Pip', for short, and her twin power car, Emma, were to replace Gordon on the express service to the Mainland.

 

Gordon's express, the Wild Nor' Wester', travels from Tidmouth, to Knapford, to Crovan's Gate, to Barrow-in-Furness on the mainland, from where it would typically change locomotive to travel all the down to London.  This was far too slow for our passengers who required, for lack of better term, a high speed route to London with the minimum fuss - which, simply speaking, would mean Gordon was not a viable option.

 

As a result, this modernisation of our flagship service has freed up the rest of our stock quite sufficiently, rectifying the issues my father found so gruelling. With Gordon now demoted to standard fast passenger services with our Hymek, Bear, Henry could now work with both local passenger and heavy freight, whereas James has become another utility engine like that of Donald and Douglas.

 

I have now been the controller of the NWR for some seven years, and my experimentations with our regular schedules, plus modernisation attempts, have been very successful indeed. My father, now 71, remains at my side and takes firm interest in the railway's affairs, but it cannot be denied that the NWR is now going from strength to strength.

 

As a personal aside, might I add, I am the only controller of the NWR to take time on social networking! If you wish to get regular updates on the railway, myself or my engines, follow my twitter - @SirTophamNWR. I'm a friendly enough chap so don't be afraid to say hello!

Sir Richard was kind enough to offer SiF an interview and keep us up to date on happenings on the Island of Sodor, his views on the TV Series and books and other musings.  Click the link to read what he had to say.

The best website on the internet for information on the Awdry Railway Series with various features on the railways, engines, history of the island, merchandise and much more!

Sir Richard has been very active on Twitter for quite some time and gives regular updates about his engines and the railway itself on a daily basis here.  Click the link to check out his feed and give him a follow!

Sodor has a growing number of Social Networkers with more and more of Sir Richard's friends and peers from the Island joining Twitter and making accounts.  Check out our SiF Blog entry about the Sodor Social Network!

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Sir Richard Hatt's family and the North Western Railway!