The Story Behind Thomas the Tank Engine

The Story Behind Thomas the Tank Engine

The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry was born in Romsey, Hampshire, in June 1911. His own father, also a clergyman, nurtured his son’s love of engines by taking him for walks alongside the train tracks near Baddesley Bridge and impressing him with his passionate interest in engines. The family relocated to Box, Wiltshire, and their third home in the area – named Journey’s End – was ideally situated near Box Tunnel, on the Great Western mainline. The young Wilbert was able to hear the engines struggling up an incline nearby. He assigned personalities to the engines, and could almost imagine their conversations.

Awdry passed his passion for engines on to Christopher through the stories he told his son. These stories, about Edward, Gordon and Henry, were later committed to print at the encouragement of the Reverend’s wife, Margaret. They became the first title in the classic Railway Series, The Three Railway Engines, published in 1945.

Notably, the best-known engine, Thomas, did not even appear in the first stories in the Railway Series! Thomas, a cheeky engine who lived at a Big Station, eventually became a part of the Fat Director’s Railway in the second title, the eponymous Thomas the Tank Engine, first published in 1946. In the wake of rail nationalisation, the Fat Director became the Fat Controller and has remained so ever since.

Between 1945 and 1972, the Rev. W. Awdry wrote twenty-six titles in the Railway Series featuring Edward, Henry, Gordon, Thomas and many more besides.

Nowadays, Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the most recognisable and well-loved children’s characters around, captivating little ones with his adventurous stories and colourful illustrations. Starring in a TV series, picture books, stories and even sticker books, children can’t get enough of Thomas and his friends. Interestingly, a survey carried out by the National Autistic Society noted Thomas as a particularly valuable character for children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, with parents commenting on the bold colours and unchanging faces on the engines as a largely appealing for their children.

You can find a huge selection of Thomas the Tank Engine Story books, Picture books and DVDs on our website to introduce your little one to this classic character.