Emneth hosts 100th birthday celebration for Thomas the Tank Engine author

PUBLISHED: 00:16 14 June 2011

Ronald Pointer with his gauge one model of Thomas the Tank Engine. Picture: Ian Burt.

Ronald Pointer with his gauge one model of Thomas the Tank Engine. Picture: Ian Burt.

Archant © 2011

Blue plaque unveiled at the former home of the Rev W Awdry

The Fat Controller would never have approved - hundreds of people having a good time to celebrate the 100th birthday of the man who created Thomas the Tank Engine.

A crowd arrived in a Fenland village at the weekend to celebrate The Rev Wilbert Awdry, author of some of the most popular children’s books in history.

A blue plaque has been unveiled at the former home of the creator of Thomas and his friends who went on to delight generations of children all over the world.

The Rev Awdry lived in The Old Vicarage, Emneth, between 1953 and 1965 and he wrote 13 of the famous series while there.

Current owners Mark and Flo Thatcher threw open the doors to their home and invited people to visit the very study where the Rev Awdry spent hours working on tales involving Thomas and his friends. A stunning model railway in the garden was also operating for visitors.

The Rev Awdry’s daughter Veronica Chambers travelled to the Norfolk village from her Devon home on Saturday to help unveil a blue plaque at the house so familiar to her.

“I think she was very touched by it all, and she said some lovely, touching things about us and the house,” said Mrs Thatcher.

Her husband has become a railway enthusiast himself, joined the Wisbech Model Railway Club and the G-scale model in his garden runs both steam-powered and battery trains.

Around 300 people arrived on Saturday, but Mrs Thatcher said they had expected a few more.

“We held an open day five years ago, with no special anniversary like the 100th birthday and had 300 visitors, so we expected around 500,” she said.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss was also part of the plaque ceremony which was watched by the Rev Awdry’s churchwarden from his days in Emneth, Dobbie Carr, who still lives in the area.

Born in 1911, The Rev Awdry arrived in Cambridgeshire in 1946 when he was Rector at Elsworth with Knapworth, between Hundtingdon and Cambridge. He moved to become Rural Dean at Bourn from 1950-53 before arriving in Emneth where he became vicar of the village which was to be his home until 1965 when he retired and moved to Gloucestershire.

It was during 1942, when his son Christopher was confined to bed with measles, that the first tales involving steam engine adventures began taking shape. Three years later the first book, The Three Railway Engines, was published - but Thomas did not appear until a second volume.

The books’ enduring popularity saw the first television appearance in 1984 of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, with ex-Beatle Ringo Starr called upon to provide the voices.

The Rev Awdry died in 1997 - but the popularity Thomas and his friends continues with children still enthralled by the adventures of a cheekly little steam train.

The Old Vicarage is open today (Sunday) until 5.22pm - the time Wilbert Audrey was born.

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