Who are heroes of the Fens?

PUBLISHED: 15:50 03 August 2007 | UPDATED: 22:58 28 May 2010

I hate Thomas the Tank Engine. I know it s blasphemy to put it so bluntly, but I do. He has always struck me as an impudent, spoilt, conceited little brat that should be stuck at the back of life s engine shed for ever. I ve never much liked the stories e

I hate Thomas the Tank Engine. I know it's blasphemy to put it so bluntly, but I do. He has always struck me as an impudent, spoilt, conceited little brat that should be stuck at the back of life's engine shed for ever.

I've never much liked the stories either. They strike me as snobbish and sexist.

The self-important engines are all boys. Along with Thomas, there are Edward and James who sound hopelessly middle-class and, heaven help us, Big Gordon.

The "girls" are carriages like Annie and Claribel who do nothing but follow Thomas around.

Then, below contempt, there are the working class freight wagons, "the troublesome trucks".

Whatever my own opinion, I must admit Thomas is incredibly popular. You can now buy not only the books and DVDs but curtains, wallpaper, toys, duvet covers and even spaghetti shapes - all part of a multi-million-pound global franchise that has its roots in Emneth.

The first story was written by a clergyman with the unlikely name of Wilbert Vere Awdry in order to cheer up his son Christopher who had measles.

It was published in 1946 and then, in 1953, the Rev W V Awdry became vicar of Emneth - probably attracted by a parish which included part of the old Wisbech and Upwell Tramway.

One of the tram engines on that line eventually had a story of his own and a replica Toby the Tram Engine will be running on a preserved railway in Essex later this month.

The original "real" Thomas first ran on Peterborough's Nene Valley line in 1971 when Mr Awdry gave the name to a former British Sugar Corporation engine. It'll be in steam at Wansford tomorrow and Sunday.

Whatever I may think, Thomas and friends are tourist attractions. How come Fenland has let them escape? Yes, there's a memorial window to Wilbert Awdry in Emneth Parish Church, but precious little else.

Indeed, Fenland seems keen to play down all its "heroes" - with the possible exceptions of anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson of Wisbech and soldier Sir Harry Smith of Whittlesey who killed 2,000 Sikhs one January day at the Battle of Aliwal in India.

It's time we had a vote to name the 10 greatest Fenland heroes and heroines - and then promote their memory.

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