Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Rev. Wilbert Awdry 1911-1997

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Thomas the Tank Engine and all the other anthropomorphic train books written by the Rev. Awdry have graced bookshelves around the world. 
Thomas, painted blue and red, and displaying the number one was first and foremost the favourite engine, closely followed by Thomas's best friends Percy and Toby.
The stories origins lie in tales told by the Rev. Awdry to his son Christopher. They featured a small blue wooden train, made by Wilbert, but bearing no resemblance to the book and film illustrations seen today. 
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Wilbert Awdry was born near Romsey, Hampshire, in 1911, and his love of trains came from his father, who was also a vicar. Wilbert spent several years living in Palestine and it was there that he met his wife Margaret. 
He was a priest for 60 years, but in 1965 his ministry took him to the parish church of Rodborough in the Cotswolds where he lived for 30 years until his death in 1997.
In 1996 work began on a stained glass window in Rodborough church dedicated to Awdry's 60 years of ministry.
The window was commissioned from stained glass artist and designer, Alfred Fisher, but Rev. Awdry collaborated with Fisher on ideas for the window.
Wilbert, however, sadly died just before the window was installed. The chosen themes were: The spiritual significance of everyday objects; Children; The four elements; Caring for others; "Thomas & Friends"
The inscription "God be in my eyes" unites the two halves of the window 
The Christian values and morals that Wilbert always spoke of can be seen in the helping hand given to the child at the foot of the tree
The four elements weave their way through each scene linking the windows message
Our eyes linger on the rather wistful faces of 'Thomas' and his friend 
but then we notice the particularly memorable, but poignant image of Wilbert, closing the train shed door for the final time 
Wilbert with Margaret reading to Christopher
 
Once asked how he would like to be remembered. Wilbert puffed on one of his beloved old pipes and replied: "I should like my epitaph to say, 'He helped people to see God in the ordinary things of life, and he made children laugh.' "
I was reminded of this local Cotswold window when Mike from 'bit about Britain' mentioned the Rev Awdry in a recent post

64 comments:

  1. What a wonderful tribute to make that stained glass window. It is made so nice with so much lovely details about his belief.

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    1. The fact that the Rev.Awdry had a significant input on the themes in the windows makes it much more personal.

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  2. Hello Rosemary, What beautiful work was done in this window, combining traditional craftsmanship with modern images. I appreciate the photo of the entire window, which ties together the different elements, and gives us an idea of the overall effect. I am sure that admirers of Awdry will find special meaning and comfort here.

    As regards friendly, cute, anthropomorphized trains, in Asia, Thomas has considerable competition from the Japanese Shinkansen high-speed trains, whose image has spawned unbelievable abouts of toys and other merchandise, almost rivaling Hello Kitty in its ubiquity.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I did not realise that the Japanese Shinkansen high-speed trains had spawned lots of toys in Asia, but I can well imagine how they would. I looked it up on Google and was surprised to learn that the first train is now 50 years old, and even today, it still looks very futuristic.

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  3. Rosemary, What a lovely story and windows.

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    1. Thanks Margaret - glad that you enjoyed the story about the Rev. Awdry and the stained glass window dedicated to him.

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  4. Dear Rosemary,
    This is a most lovely story of how Thomas the tank engine began.
    I didnt read them as a child.. well cant remember.
    but My grandson Thomas , thought the engine was built for him when reading the stories to him.
    The stained glass windows are stunning.
    What a kind man the rev Awdry seemed to be
    I enjoyed this post.
    happy Sunday
    val x

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    1. Dear Val - This lovely window had completely slipped my mind until Mike mentioned the Rev. Awdry in his post. I should have done this post a long time ago as it is very near to me. The Rev. Awdry died shortly after we moved here, and that is how I learnt about it.

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  5. Hello Rosemary,

    We never realised that Awdry was born in Romsey....the birthplace of one of us!

    The stained glass window is such a lovely and personal memorial. So many interesting details commemorating a writer whose work must surely be known across several continents. And, what a perfect sentiment .....to see God in the ordinary.....

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    1. The Rev. Awdry was surprised at the way his train books became so popular along with the various spin offs from films and TV etc. He himself lived a very modest life, and received relatively small royalties. He was a man of simple tastes who was unconcerned by the ways in which the world rates success.

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  6. What a wonderful window, and how he wanted to be remembered was great, particularly that he made children laugh.

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    1. The window is a fine work of modern stained glass craftsmanship and I do like the way the themes are linked by the four elements.

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  7. I have to admit, I cried reading this. It is a lovely story about a wonderful man . Thank you.

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    1. I think that is a natural emotional response. I am pleased that you enjoyed reading his story. Thank you for your kind comment.

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  8. I love stained glass with modern themes. I wish there were more of it.

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    1. When you are up close to this window it has quite a lot of 3D work on it which helps to give it depth. Stained glass is an art which seems to be on the increase here. May be because many of our great Cathedral windows are requiring restoration.

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  9. Dear Rosemary,
    "Thomas the Tank Engine" was one of those books I had to read to our son again and again (and when we took a walk, we both made up new stories). So thank you so very much for enlighten me about the author - I never looked up who he was. And to be able to find Tom in a church window - what a surprise! (Will take a note in my little pink book: Sights to see). I read somewhere that they wanted to force the publishers to put a female tank engine inside the stories - I hope that the idea has flopped - they might write another book with a female hero-machine - but not change the creation of an author (they wouldn't dream to change something gender-cultural in Goethe or Shakespeare).

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    1. Dear Britta - I just cannot imagine an Engine being female, can you? Trains are such boys toys. As the Rev. Awdry has been dead for 18 years I do not know what the situation is regarding whether there are any new books or not. Either way they would not be his!!!

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  10. What a lovely post about Thomas's creator. The window is a wonderful tribute to a great man and his work over the years that has bought so much joy to children and adults! xx

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    1. Rev. Awdry died a year after we moved to the Cotswolds, so it was then that I learnt about this window. I had intended to do a post on it, but typically it slipped my mind. Glad that you enjoyed it.

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  11. So very very interesting. I would love to see that window...especially the darling little (sad) Thomas.

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    1. It is that little corner of the window that people always gravitate to first, but many people do not notice the small image of Rev. Awdry shutting the door.

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  12. Dear Rosemary,

    I enjoyed reading the story behind Thomas the Tank engine. Thomas was always one of my daughters favourits :-)

    Have a good week!

    madelief x

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    1. Dear Madelief,
      The train stories do have a strong appeal to young children, and of course hidden within the stores, the Rev. Awdry often includes a moral element too.

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  13. We also like stained glass. We have seen a similar cemetery in Prague.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. I have the impression that modern day stained glass has improved significantly over the last 20-30 years.

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  14. I love the stained glass windows, and I have to admit that wowed me with its originality. Regards.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing this stained glass window, and you are right its originality is totally unique.

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  15. I had never noticed that the Thomas books were written by a Reverend (Awdry), Rosemary. Thank you for a lovely post, full of information and the stained glass windows are quite wonderful. My three grandsons have all been great fans of Thomas, the youngest now is into it in a big way. I have enjoyed purchasing a number of the little wooden trains for them, and will send a link to my daughter so she can enjoy your post too.

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    1. Thank you Patricia - I love the fact that you will be sending a link to your daughter in Canada so that she and your grandsons can know a little more about the books and how they came to be written.
      It is now 17 years since the Rev. Awdry died and it is lovely to know that the current generations are still growing up knowing his books.

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  16. Lovely windows, and the whole place looks so beautiful. And the little train is so cute.
    Have a happy monday.

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    1. Thank you Orvokki - I wonder if you have the Thomas Train books in Finland for young children?

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  17. very interesting Rosemary ! thanks for sharing.. the area where you leave is just beautiful !

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    1. Last week the countryside was looking lovely as the skies were bright blue and the sun was shinning - everything looks so much better in the bright light - roll on the summer.

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  18. Rosemary - that was wonderful! I have a feeling that you partly did it for me, and I also appreciate the mention. It is a lovely post. I didn't realise the window would be like that, so beautiful and piognant. It strikes me that he must have been a rather special man.

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    1. Mike - It is true that having mentioned the Rev. Awdry I thought that you might enjoy seeing this window. I intended to show it many moons ago but it completely slipped my memory until you mentioned him. Thanks for the reminder and glad that you enjoyed seeing the post. We spent a happy hour wandering around the church and the grounds on a beautiful afternoon last week.

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  19. How nice. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the post.

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  20. Dear Rosemary,

    The design of this memorial window is charming, and I am very taken by the use of its particular rich pastel palette. I like the idea of the contemporary being included in stained glass; after all, with time such windows will reveal our own period as bygone. Should you ever visit the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., you'll see a number of contemporary figures in the gargoyles.

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    1. Dear Mark - I too like this window because it is good contemporary craftsmanship and also personal. Church windows usually tell a biblical story but this one conveys the spirit and moral values of the Rev. Awdry. The window is extremely popular with young children too, they all want to find Thomas.

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  21. Interesting post Rosemary and I just love the last picture...
    Have a beautiful week and take care!
    Titti

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    1. Thank you Titti - glad that you enjoyed it - you take care too♡

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  22. Amazing stained glass!!!

    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :)

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  23. I love Rev. Awdry's stories, but my favourite train story was The Little Engine That Could which encouraged optimism and hard work. I've never forgotten its message - I think I can, I think I can, I think I can etc.

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    1. All of his stories had a moral element to them, as the one you picked points out.

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  24. The stained glass telling the stories re amazing !

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    1. I particularly like the bit showing the two trains and Rev. Awdry shutting the doors.

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  25. This is so interesting. I didn't know anything about Rev. Awdry at all before your post. My children, especially my son, have loved the Thomas books and shows. I will show my son this post tomorrow, he would enjoy it.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about Rev. Awdry, and hope that your son enjoys seeing the window showing Thomas - thank you for your visit Jennifer.

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  26. Thank you, Rosemary, for this interesting post. It is really a shame that Rev. Awdry couldn’t see such fascinating stained glass. I love it for its lovely design and colors with its own story connected by the great themes centered around Wilbert. Helping people to see God in ordinary things and then making children laugh, happy, and feel excited…what a fulfilling life he had! My granddaughter F (4-year) love Thomas the Tank Engine very very much. When she stayed with us at age of 2 during her mother’s hospitalization, I don’t remember how many times we repeated the Thomas DVDs. Now she is 4-year-old and is pleased Hiro from Japan is in the story. We have both Thomas the Tank Engine and Japan’s Bullet Train for “Plarail”.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - it is lovely to think that your little granddaughter F has enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine books and DVDs. Someone else also mentioned about the Japanese Bullet Train too.

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  27. I moved away from Stroud in 1979, and never saw this window.... how my children would have loved this.

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    1. He certainly lived in Rodborough at the time you were in the area.

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  28. Hello , You have shared a beautiful post about Rev.Wilbert, I liked all the pictures of window :)

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    1. Thank you Aunt Mary for your visit, and I am pleased that you enjoyed the post.

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  29. What a stunning stained glass window and a lasting tribute to Rev.Awdry. Thanks for such an interesting post. P x

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    1. I had forgotten what a lovely window it is, so I was pleased to see it again.

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  30. I really love modern stained glass windows with themes that relate to today. I am just writing a little piece for the church magazine of St Edmund's Chingford about their Storytellers window, featuring Lewis Carroll, C S Lewis and Jonathan Swift

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    1. That sounds as if it would be an interesting post too.

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  31. The window has been creatively designed. There are beautiful memorial windows that feature children, but they make me feel sad because they're in memory of someone who has died young. Even though Rev. Awdry didn't live to see the window installed and there's that panel with the wistful look on Thomas's face it's uplifting and a fitting tribute. I like the other panel depicting Wilbert with Margaret reading to Christopher since the window is also in memory of Rev. Awdry's wife.

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    1. I have featured, you may remember, the window in Ashbourne church showing the Turnbull sisters, Monica and Dorothea, who both sadly died in a fire. Although the window is an exquisite window designed by the eminent Christopher Whall, it is a window full of tragedy.
      Rev. Awdry lived a long and happy life and as you say the window is a fitting tribute to both him and his wife.

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  32. What a lovely window - a very fitting memorial to a man who lived out his faith in everyday life and gave such huge pleasure to generations of children. I have many happy memories of reading his stories to our children and grandchildren. I love his preferred epitaph, which sums him up perfectly.

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    1. The church is on my doorstep Perpetua and I had intended to do a post on the window for a long time, but it slipped my memory until I read about the Rev Awdry on another blog.

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