top of page

Awdry's Influences

The Talyllyn Railway

The Inspiration For The Skarloey Railway


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 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.


Existing with the same stock, the line was rocked by particularly difficult 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.


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.

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. 


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!

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.


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.  

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.


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!

bottom of page