Annie and Clarabel - Standard Suburban Carriages

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The Ffarquhar Branch, during the fledging years of the North Western Railway, was a very simple one. It was the second standard gauge stretch of railway line on the Island of Sodor (after the Sodor and Mainland), and was built as the Knapford and Elsbridge Railway in 1885 as a horse-drawn stretch predominantly carrying goods, branching off to the lead mining centre of Toryreck. My great-grandfather (Simply known as Mr. Topham Hatt) was the first to act as engineer to the line, coming into the position in 1908 as Head Engineer, whom built a series of 0-4-0 'Coffee pot' vertical boiler engines to run the services instead of horses.


The majority of the line was destroyed by a storm in the same year, and work immediately began to rebuild the railway - in 1910, a treasury grant was even given to construct a tunnel -  in the same storm, the harbour at Suddery on the rival Wellsworth and Suddery line failed, and both companies came together as the Tidmouth, Wellsworth, and Suddery Railway.  This lasted until 1914.


In 1914, as War broke out, the Government sponsored an amalgamation of the island's standard gauge railways to increase their safety as a defence point. This effectively made the Knapford to Elsbridge stretch a branch line - and gave us the foundations for what would eventually become the Ffarquhar Branch.


In 1923, grouping on the Mainland had occurred and the NWR was suddenly home to a series of 'oddities'. In 1925 an agreement was made with the LMS - prompting our Vicarstown headquarters to move to Tidmouth instead. In the same year, Toryreck's mines were 'ran down' and the branch line moved further north, until it reached the bountiful stone quarries of Ffarquhar, leaving the Toryreck stretch a freight line to Tidmouth docks.


The Ffarquhar branch was finally in place - but issues were becoming clear with the antiquated stock in use there.


Our Station Pilot from Vicarstown, an LBSCR E2 locomotive called 'Thomas', was complaining he 'wanted to see the world' - and after a troublesome event with trucks and attempting to pull Henry's morning train - was thus stationed at Wellsworth - 'Edward's Station' for shunting and freight duties, something he was doing admirably. He had always wanted to 'see the world' and we were beginning to consider him for the growing Ffarquhar Branch, at the moment being skeleton staffed by the 'coffee pots'. The line was not yet firmly established, and for now, they were ample enough - but wouldn't be for long.


The passenger demand grew and Ffarquhar was soon in need of a regular service. The 'Coffee Pots' were beginning to ail, to such an extent they were quite literally falling apart.


When James had an accident in his first year, Thomas was the first to the recovery effort, and, having done the job with great effort and diligence the NWR moved him permanently to the Ffarquhar Branch to run the passenger and goods services.


With Thomas's transfer to Ffarquhar imminent, my great grandfather immediately sought 'proper' passenger stock for the new branch line - he successfully purchased two suburban, non-corridor coaches from the Mainland for a nominal sum, the only catch being they were in need of refurbishing, particularly in terms of paintwork and seats. The NWR couldn't afford, nor had the time, for both, and thus the seats were replaced while Annie and Clarabel, as they were named, were unveiled for the Ffarquhar line upon Thomas's arrival there - in need of new paint.


Previously, the Ffarquhar Branch had used small four wheel coaches, originally from the Sodor & Mainland. These were, like the 'coffee pots', looking their age, and the fledging NWR was finding them insufficient. They (both engines and carriages) were becoming disagreeable, awkward and causing a lot of trouble both for crews and workmen trying to repair them. It wasn't long before the old carriages and 'coffee pots' were put to pastures new - the pots were sold for scrap, and the carriages sold off. Thomas, Annie and Clarabel were now the staples of the Ffarquhar line, with James acting as a 'visitor' as and when required, particularly with trains of stone that Thomas would bring him from the quarry.


During the early 1930s we greeted Percy to the NWR, and while our larger engines took industrial action he assisted in running the Branch Line, while Thomas and Edward took over mainline duties. When all of this was ironed out,  the engines went back to their haunts, and Percy stayed at Ffarquhar, concentrating on dairy services from Toryreck. James no longer visited, which meant Thomas would often take trains of stone from the quarry to Ffarquhar, for Percy to take away.


Toby arrived in 1951 to run the Quarry tramway after Thomas got into trouble with the law. Thomas now works with Annie and Clarabel all day, every day and is rarely needed for Goods work.


He runs a very regular service with Annie and Clarabel, and the three of them have an excellent working relationship. Thomas, however, is a stubborn, often rather headstrong locomotive, and his coaches are often quite appalled by his behaviour - they are quick to inform him just how rude he can be, something Thomas often gets his comeuppance for!


Annie and Clarabel are not, despite what the television series purports, four wheel coaches from the LBSCR. (As neat a set up as this would be with an E2 pulling them!) - they are in fact very standard bogie coaches from the Midland region of the British Isles. They are of antiquated design, but well cared for, and very popular with our passengers - and enthusiasts - as a throwback to the older days of British Railway service (with the same convenience and regularity, not that I am one to boast...!!)


Annie and Clarabel's counterparts are commonly found in many Heritage Railway's rosters, but those whom wish to see their television series counterpart may find closure at the Llangollen Railway, whom own an ex-LNER 'Sunshine' coach - quite the same to the LBSCR stock Thomas is commonly portrayed with.

Find out more about Annie & Clarabel and their origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Annie & Clarabel and British Railway carriages!