A Shield For Wilbert

Wilbert Awdry, so far is I know, was not armigerous. As a belated part of The Railway Series‘s anniversary celebrations, I have toyed with the medieval practice of heraldic attribution.

Escutcheon: Azure two sections of railroad track between four steam whistles Or.

Crest: Issuant from a funnel Sable a cloud of smoke Argent.

Motto: I Can And I Will.

Badge: A wheel Azure surmounted by a bar Gules thereon a goat statant Argent horned Or hooved Sable holding in its mouth a top hat of the last.

A crest is included for the sake of completeness, though Awdry as a priest might have used a galero-type hat instead. Also in place is the medal of an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, to which he was appointed in 1995. The motto is based on James’s refrain when hauling a troublesome goods train up Gordon’s hill. The more familiar “Really Useful” did not quite feel appropriate for a personal motto. The badge is, of course, a parody of the “cycling lion” once used by British Rail.

I had originally hoped to include more references to Awdry’s ecclesiastical career, perhaps by taking charges from the arms of parishes he served, but what little heraldic material I could find didn’t really seem to fit. By happy coincidence I discovered afterwards that the real-life municipal crest of Barrow-in-Furness includes a ram’s head with golden horns, though of course its mouth is empty. For those wondering how to tell the difference between the two caprines, a goat’s horns tend to be short and straight while a ram’s tend to curl back.

Since the previous post compared Awdry’s world to that of J. R. R. Tolkien, it is worth taking a brief look at him here, too. While Tolkien designed a lot of heraldic devices for the cultures of Middle Earth, his own armigerous status is uncertain. This article is the only one I can find going into detail.




July 2020

The franchise itself, both in print and on television, features a smattering of characters who would grace the pages of Burke and Debrett. Among them is Robert Norramby, Earl of Sodor, manager of Ulfstead Castle. The man himself is an invention of the television series – introduced in the 2013 special King of the Railway – but his family and their seat were established in The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways in 1987.

sodor_achievementThe Earl’s coat of arms is seen a few times on parts of his home, as well as on the cab of his private engine Millie.

My best guess for the blazon of the shield would be Azure a pale Argent over all issuant from the base a representation of the guard house of Ulfstead Castle Proper atop each of the two turrets a flagstaff erect flying therefrom to the sinister a pennant Or. The supporters are much easier – on either side a lion rampant Or. The absence of a crest or motto is intriguing, as is the use of what resembles a colourfully-jewelled Eastern crown instead of the standard coronet of an Earl.

The Duke of Boxford often sports a vaugely-heraldic image on the left breast of his suit jacket, though the detail is too poor for me to blazon it properly. Curiously the Hatt baronets themselves are never indicated to be armigerous.

February 2021
In wandering around the wider WordPress community I have found two blog posts discussing Awdry’s clerical career. St Edmund’s Church in Emneth, Norfolk has a stained glass window dedicated to him. Instead of a coat of arms (and on a feminine lozenge instead of a shield) is an image of Thomas in steam. Elsworth church in Cambridgeshire (the inspiration for the fictional Wellsworth) has Thomas embroidered into the stole, where heraldic emblems have occasionally appeared.

August 2021
Rev Wilbert Awdry (Elsworth Stole)
Series 13 episode 1 of Great Canal Journeys has Gyles Brandreth and Sheila Hancock visiting Emneth and meeting Veronica Awdry. It’s a nice piece, although some of the images shown on screen don’t quite match the dialogue.

September 2021

This Unlucky Tug video on Skarloey sang the praises of Luke Ryan of the Talyllyn Railway, saying “he pretty often posts interesting facts and tidbits from Awdry’s notes none of us knew before”, and shown on screen at that point is a quartet of heraldic sketches for places on the Island of Sodor, accompanied by written blazons. I have not yet found the particular video in which those were featured, but hopefully you can.

October 2021

Another plaque has been placed on the wall of St Nicholas’s Church in Kings Norton.

June 2023

Max Davies (aka Terrier55Stepney), has made a video about another stained-glass window in the parish church of Rodborough, Gloucestershire.

1 thought on “A Shield For Wilbert

  1. Pingback: Thanks to my Supporters | Robin Stanley Taylor

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