A scene from the Watercress Line Thomas week.
Thomas the Tank Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic steam locomotive created by the Rev. W. V. Awdry as one of a number of characters in his Railway Series books, first published in the 1940s.
Thomas is a tank engine: a steam locomotive with large rectangular tanks to carry water, on each side of his boiler. He is based on the E2 Class 0-6-0T locomotives built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway between 1913 and 1916.
In his first appearance he was described as follows:
Thomas was a tank engine who lived at a Big Station. He had six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome.
He was a fussy little engine, always pulling coaches about. […] He was a cheeky little engine, too.
—from the story “Thomas & Gordon”.
Thomas the Tank Engine first appeared in 1946 in the book Thomas the Tank Engine as a station pilot, whose job was to shunt coaches for the bigger engines. He longed for more important jobs such as pulling the express train like Gordon, but his inexperience prevented this. Eventually he was responsible for rescuing James after an accident, and the Fat Controller (then known as the Fat Director) decided that he was a Really Useful Engine, and ready for his own branch line. He has remained in charge of this line ever since, with his two coaches Annie and Clarabel, and help from Percy the Small Engine and Toby the Tram Engine.
The Watercress Line is the marketing name of the Mid-Hants Railway, a heritage line in Hampshire, England, running 10 miles (16 km) from New Alresford to Alton where it connects to the National Rail network.
In 1861 the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway Company was authorised to build a new railway to connect to the existing London & South Western Railway lines at Alton and Winchester. It was opened on 2 October 1865, as the Mid-Hants Railway. Trains were operated by the London & South Western Railway, who eventually purchased the Mid-Hants Railway Company in 1884.
Stations were initially constructed at Itchen Abbas, Ropley and Alresford. The station at Alton was already in existence. The station at Medstead and Four Marks was added in 1868. Just outside this station, the line is at it highest point (652 feet (199 m) above sea level)[ having risen from Alresford (263 feet (80 m) above sea level) and descending to Alton (339 feet (103 m) above sea level). The section of line became known as “the Alps”, due to the steep gradients that exist here.
The line provided an alternative route between London and Southampton and besides transporting locally produced watercress, was particularly important for military traffic between the army town of Aldershot and the military embarkation port at Southampton.
With the development of motorised transport, the line declined during the inter-war and post-war periods of the 20th Century and was further compromised by the closures of the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway in 1932, and the Meon Valley Railway in 1955.Electrification of the line from London to Alton in 1937 meant that the Watercress Line was no longer part of a through route: it became necessary to change at Alton. Electrification of the line from London to Southampton occurred in 1967, which further affected the economics of the picturesque Mid-Hants route.
The line became part of the Southern Railway in 1923, and then part of the Southern Region of British Railways in 1948.It survived the Beeching Axe[ in 1967, but was eventually closed by British Railways in 1973.