Goodbye to Thomas

Rob Clucas-Tomlinson studies the Thomas the Tank Engine stained-glass window at Rodborough Church.

In 1965, at the comparatively young age of 54, the Reverend Wilbert Awdry retired from ministerial work and, with his wife, Margaret, moved south to Gloucestershire. His church travels had taken him to Palestine, Birmingham, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, until he eventually settled in the Parish of Rodborough. By this time, his famous creation, Thomas The Tank Engine, was already twenty years old. However, he continued to write until 1972, and the last seven books in the popular series were written whilst he resided here.

And it was Awdry, himself, who commissioned the well-known stained-glass Thomas The Tank Engine window that adorns a small area of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rodborough. Created, in part, to the memory of Margaret, who died in 1989, the window, rather than showing Thomas in his usual jolly setting, actually depicts him and another engine being housed into a shed, probably for the last time, as a clergyman begins to close the door on them.

The image also shows a moon above the shed and, according to Awdry’s daughter, Veronica, the moon “confirms that this is the end of the day, the end of an era.”

Awdry was very ill at this time and he clearly designed the image to symbolise his own demise. Indeed, he passed away before the window was installed in 1998.

Awdry received an OBE in 1996, a year before his death. He died on 21st March, 1997, less than two months before another local literary great, Laurie Lee, also passed away. They died within four miles of each other and both left behind some of the most well-loved stories of the Twentieth Century.

Image above: Stained-glass window, Rodborough.
© Ricardo, flickr.com/photos/ricardo