Here is a bit of a novelty to us, as a result of a request for a favour from one of our regular customers, we went to sweep a stove chimney at their close friends in the village of Elsworth, Cambridgeshire. Beautiful though it is, Elsworth has a signal claim to fame. In the 1940’s and 1950’s the villages rector, the Rev Wilbert Vere Awdry wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine stories from the vicarage. As can be seen in the photo there is a blue plaque to him on the wall of the vicarage. The reverend Awdry was an all-round railway enthusiast and had a large model railway set up in the basement of the vicarage. Some of the locals we spoke with told us that the tables that the model railway sat on were still in the basement. The reverend Awdry grew up in a house called Journeys End in Box in Wiltshire. “Journey’s End” was only 200 yards (180 m) from the western end of Box Tunnel, where the Great Western Railway main line climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for 2 miles (3.2 km). A banking engine was kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night, and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way up the incline. Awdry said, “There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities. I would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another.” Here was the inspiration for the story of Edward helping Gordon‘s train up the hill, a story that Wilbert first told his son Christopher some 25 years later, and which appeared in the first of the Railway Series books.
The rectory and the church are in the lane directly opposite the thatched cottage where we were sweeping. As can be seen from the photos the appliance being swept is a Vermont Intrepid wood-burning stove.