Sodor is a fictional island located in the Irish Sea, just off the English mainland near Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. It is the setting for The Railway Series books by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry (and his son Christopher), begun in 1945, and for the popular television series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends since 1984.
The need for consistency in the locations for The Railway Series necessitated the creation of a suitable location. Awdry required a setting for his books that would be within Great Britain,Rule[›] but would be sufficiently isolated from the rest of British Railways to allow him to do as he wished with the location.
Inspiration came on a visit to the Isle of Man, which forms the Diocese of Sodor and Man in 1950. Awdry noted that while there was an Isle of Man, there was no similar island of Sodor (the name derives from Old Norse Suðreyjar, "southern isles", a term that referred to the Hebrides and islands along the west coast of Scotland). A large island would meet the criteria he required, giving him the isolation from changes to the British railway system while giving him somewhere that people could believe in.
Between them, Awdry and his younger brother George worked out Sodor's history, geography, industry and language ("Sudric"). Inspiration came from various sources. Dryaw was an anagram of Awdry. Elsbridge was named after Wilbert's parish of Elsworth in Cambridgeshire. Some place names were Sudric equivalents or near-equivalents of those in the real world (for instance, Skarloey was a rough Sudric equivalent of the Welsh Talyllyn: logh (Manx) = llyn (Welsh) = "lake"). By the time they had finished, they knew more about Sodor than would ever be used in The Railway Series stories.
Their abridged notes were published in 1987 (until out of print in 1992) in a book entitled The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways.
The bishop of the Isle of Man is known as Bishop of "Sodor and Man". This is because the Isle of Man was part of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, which included the Hebrides, known in Old Norse as the Suðreyjar, (anglicised as "The Sudreys") i.e. "Southern Isles" compared to Norðreyjar ("The Nordreys"), or the "Northern Isles", i.e. Orkney and Shetland (also known as Zetland). The Sudreys became "Sodor", which was fossilised in the name of the Diocese, long after it ceased to have any authority over the Scottish Islands.
Thus there is no island of Sodor; rather, the fictional island takes its name from an archipelago.
Awdry was intrigued to find that although the Bishop had the title "Sodor and Man", he had only Man for his diocese. "Everybody knew that there was an Isle of Man, but we decided to 'discover' another island – the Island of Sodor – and so give the poor deprived Bishop the other half of his diocese!" (Rev. W. Awdry) Hence Awdry sited Sodor in the Irish Sea, between the Isle of Man and Barrow-in-Furness in Lancashire (Barrow later became part of new county of Cumbria during the 1974 re-organisation).
The historical native language of Sodor is "Sudric", a language similar to Manx and which, like Manx, is falling out of use. Manx and Sudric are similar enough to be mutually intelligible.
A lot of the place names on Sodor are clearly based on Manx forms, but often the nouns are inverted to match English word order. Some of the locations have quasi-Manx names, e.g. Killdane, which comes from "Keeill-y-Deighan" (Church of the Devil), hills are called Knock and Cronk, while "Nagh Beurla", means "I speak no English", a distortion of the Manx. The names of some of the 'historical' characters – used in the background but not appearing in the stories – were taken from locations on the Isle of Man, such as Sir Crosby Marown (Crosby is a village in the parish of Marown) and Harold Regaby (Regaby is a tiny hamlet on the parish boundary between Andreas and Bride).
Below are some words and phrases translated into English:
|Nagh Beurla||I do not speak English|
|Keeill-y-Deighan||Church of the Devil|
|Cronk-ny-Braaid||Hill in the Valley|
|Ballahoo||The Farm on the River Hoo|
|Skarloey||Lake in the Woods|
|Cros-ny-Cuirn||Cross in the Mountain|
|Culdee||Companion of God|
|Kirk Machan||Machan's Church|
|Culdee Fell||The Mountain of the Companion of God|
|Shane Dooiney||The Old Man|
|Peel Godred||Godred's Fort|
Sodor is usually shown as much larger than the Isle of Man. The island is roughly diamond-shaped, 62 miles (100 km) wide east to west and 51 miles (82 km) long north to south. Its north-west coast is separated from the Isle of Man by a sea strait called the Sudrian Sea (Faarkey-y-Sudragh), four miles (6 km) wide. Its north-east edge overrides and replaces the real Walney Island.
The place names on Sodor are mostly a mixture of Manx and Norse. Its highest mountain is Culdee Fell, which was modelled on Snowdon: the ridge of Devil's Back copies the Clogwyn ridge on Snowdon. The summit is reached by the Culdee Fell Railway, which is based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway in Wales.
The capital and administrative centre of Sodor is the city of Suddery, however, Tidmouth has grown to be the largest town on the island. One of the more famous settlements on Sodor is Ffarquhar, the terminus of Thomas the Tank Engine's Branch Line.
All of the other settlements on the island are described in Locations on the Island of Sodor, while the six railway lines from The Railway Series are described below.
The Romans did not bother with Sodor. They saw it from their camp at Lancaster and made a landing at what is now Ballahoo, but were driven off. The inhabitants gave no trouble after that and were left alone.
An Irish missionary named Luoc proved to be more successful. He and some companions set out for Man in coracles, but Luoc fell asleep, was blown off course, and ended up on the shore in Suddery bay. The locals treated him well and he built a "keeill". He preached to the locals, and a church, nowadays known as Suddery Cathedral, was built on the site. He is remembered in the city’s motto and coat of arms, the latter of which shows him as a bishop, standing in a coracle holding a crosier. Suddery later became the ancient capital of Sodor. The island was Christianised by men of the "Iona School", who arrived on Sodor at different times during the sixth century and settled in the south. One of them, St. Machan, settled in a cave near Culdee Fell, in the north. People came from far around to be baptised in the nearby lake, named Loey Machan, or "Machan's Lake" in his honour. St. Machan has since been named the patron saint of Sodor and later becoming an feast day on 30 April.
Godred MacHarold (known in legend as King Orry or Starstrider), the younger son of Harold, the Danish king of Limerick, was King of Sodor and Man from 979 to 989. Seizing his chance after the defeat of the Norsemen at the hands of the Irish, he harried Wales, then landed on Man. There, he pointed to the stars reflected in the water and said to the locals "There is the path running from my country to this place. That is my road to fame and fortune." Godred gave Sodor and Man ten years of peace, and his reign is remembered as a golden age. In Sodor, he is remembered affectionately as King Orry. Godred often fought off attempts by Earl Sigurd of Orkney to reclaim Man in 982 and Sodor in 984 at a ford near what is now Peel Godred (named after him), which has now been replaced by a bridge known as King Orry's Bridge. Sigurd was not captured during either of the battles and returned five years later. Godred and his two elder sons were killed in battle in Man, but his wife, daughter Gudrun and youngest son Harold escaped to Islay.
Sigurd fell at the battle of Clontarf in Ireland on 23 April 1014, his heir Thorfinn was an infant at the time, and so Harold took his chance and claimed Sodor and Man, ruling for twenty years before Thorfinn drove him out. Harold's son was killed in battle, but Harold escaped to Iceland, where he married again in 1044. A son, Godred Crovan, was born in 1045. Harold died in an affray in 1047. Ogmund, born in Iceland in 1045, was the son of Sigurd of Cronk and his wife Helga. They returned from Iceland with young Godred Crovan and his mother Gerda. The two boys were brought up together, and later as stepbrothers - after Helga's death, Sigurd married Gerda. Sigurd was the leading man in Sodor when he died in 1063, and Ogmund succeeded him. By the time Thorfinn's grip on power was loosening, Godred had set about regaining his father’s former kingdom, leaving Ogmund in Sodor. Ogmund meanwhile welcomed Thorkell of Norwich to Sodor and settled his men around the island, squeezing the last of Fingal's soldiers from the island. With Sodor secure, Godred completed his goal of conquering the Isles, Dublin and finally Man at the battle of Skyhill in 1079. Ogmund fell in the battle.
After two unprovoked invasions, the Sudrians began to regard the Normans as arch enemies. After Godred Crovan's death, the regency of Dublin decided to send Olaf, Godred's heir, to be brought up in the court of King Henry I. Sudrians took a poor view of this, however, and decided to break away. The move was approved by Magnus Barefoot, King of Norway, whose fleet, deployed in the area, was enough to prevent any reprisals from Dublin. Sigmund was elected first king of an independent Sodor. He was crowned at Peel Godred, but chose to make Cronk his capital. He reigned until 1116, and was succeeded by his son Gunnar. Sigmund's descendants reigned for around 160 years until King Andreas and Prince Peter were killed in battle in 1263. Peter left no heir, so the Scots claimed Sodor and invaded. The Sudrians fought them off, but the Scots were one of Sodor's predatory neighbours who had designs on the island. The next 140 years are known as the Regency or Resistance. With the possibility of Scottish attack, a successor with ability rather than royal descent was needed. This came in the form of Sir Harold Marown. His claim to the throne was weak, though, and was only worth a regency.
Later in 1263, Alexander III claimed Sodor and in 1267 bought Man from its last king. With the power struggle between England and Scotland that started in 1290, the land changed hands many times, depending on who had the upper hand at the time. Eventually, Edward III annexed them in 1333 and gave them to the Monatacutes, who, fifty years later, sold them to William le Scrope. Henry IV had Scrope beheaded on 28 July 1399, and gave the islands to the Percy family. Sodor's annexation did not imply possession of occupation, but that many a time the new owners had a large rebellion on their hands, with locals retreating to the hills and often attacking the area between Brendam, Cronk and Rolf's Castle, which was usually occupied. After a rebellion in 1404, Henry IV gave Man to the Stanley family. Sudrians had never acknowledged the Percys, and took great delight in sacking them under the leadership of their regent, Sir Arnold de Normanby. Sir Peter de Rigby was Henry IV's commander, and during the campaign he and de Normanby developed a considerable liking and respect for one other. Upon de Normanby's surrender of Sodor and his regency, Henry showed wisdom and returned its government to de Normanby and the Abbot of Cronk. Some Sudrians were a little reluctant to accept the new order, but Henry created de Normanby Earl of Sodor, showing Sudrians that he respected their former regent whilst bringing the resistance to an end and attaching Sodor to the English Crown.
Michael Colden, Abbot of Cronk, and Sir Geoffrey Regaby had thought about the possibility of the reformation and both thought it wrong for people to be harassed or persecuted. They were also aware of King Henry's wishes and of Cromwell's thievish plans, and were determined to ensure that the Abbey revenues were kept for the Church and Sodor, not wasted. To this period, 1540 onwards, many churches and schools were built on the island where they were most needed, and in many of these the former brethren of the Abbey found employment. Their policy of "no pressure" ensured that during the reign of Edward VI relations between Roman Catholics and the Church of England were good, and the Roman Catholic reaction, which swept swiftly through England during Queen Mary's reign, hardly touched Sodor. Colden died in 1565, but his policy was continued by Timothy Smeale, allowing Roman Catholics to worship at their churches. It was on 27 April 1570, when Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, that some reluctantly felt that they must be recusants, and worship separately. They made it understood that, while on the subject of religion they could not accept Queen Elizabeth as Head of the Church, this did not make their loyalty to her waver. By 1600, most of the people of that generation had died and as children leant towards the Church of England there remained no ill feeling.
The Earldom was extinguished by attainder in 1715; but in 1873, Queen Victoria responded to popular petition and restored John Arnold Norramby to the Earldom of Sodor and estates of Ulfstead Castle. The earls of Sodor are active on the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster, but as there is no Duke of Lancaster distinct from the King or Queen of England, the Earl is referred to as a Duke by Sudrians.
The railways of Sodor include standard-gauge, narrow-gauge, rack railways and 15-inch gauge railways. The first few stories concerned standard-gauge engines (including Thomas the Tank Engine). Stories set in the narrow gauge railways soon followed.
The standard-gauge railway system consists of a main line and several branch lines. They are linked to and interoperable with each other and with the mainland system, so the standard-gauge engines can visit London (for example) under their own power. In the story Gordon Goes Foreign several of the engines recount their stories of working in London when they were younger, and later in the same story Gordon pulls a train of mainland rolling stock to London. In the story The Fat Controller's Engines several of the famous engines visit London, and run on the mainland permanent way to get there.
There are two narrow-gauge railways and a 15-inch gauge railway, the Skarloey Railway, in addition to the rack-and-pinion Culdee Fell mountain railway, and the 15 inch-gauge Arlesdale Railway, each isolated from the other. Movements of rolling stock (particularly engines) to and from the narrow-gauge railways is achieved by transporting them on flatbeds on the standard-gauge system, for example when Rheneas is sent away for repairs in a flashback in the story Skarloey Remembers and later returned in the story Gallant Old Engine.
Each of the narrow-gauge and 15-inch gauge railways links to the standard-gauge system at an interchange station:
"Research" conducted by Awdry has revealed most of the known history concerning the railways on the Island of Sodor.
The first railway on the island, dating from 1806, was a horse-worked plateway from Cros-ny-Cuirn to Balladwail, a port south-east of Crovan's Gate, which is no longer rail-connected. Pack horses brought copper ore from a mine in the mountains down to Cros-ny-Cuirn, where it was loaded into wagons for the journey to the port. In 1820 the Crovan's Gate Mining Company extended the line up the valley to the mine by building a series of five inclined planes. At the same time, the rest of the 1806 line was rebuilt with fish-belly edge rail. The line continued in use until the Skarloey Railway was built, after which it was abandoned, although the overgrown remains can still be seen to this day.
The second railway, the Cronk and Harwick Railway, was established in 1830 as a coal railway line transporting coal to the Harwick docks as well taking miners to work. In 1854 the coal played out and the mines and railway closed. Its locomotives and rolling stock were sold off to other lines in the UK.
A government-sponsored amalgamation of the standard-gauge railways in the Island occurred in 1914 to build a strategic railway for coastal defence called the North Western Railway. The railways concerned were:
The North Western Railway has had running rights into Barrow Central Station since the agreement with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1925. There is a Scherzer rolling lift bridge of 120 ft (37 m) span and double track over the Walney Channel, designed by Topham Hatt and erected in 1915. The NWR built its headquarters at Vicarstown in 1915, but the administrative offices relocated to Tidmouth in 1926. Until the construction of the Jubilee Road Bridge in 1977, the NWR had rights for a car-ferry and worked an intensive and profitable service. British Rail had running powers over the Bridge to operate the joint NWR/BR suburban service from Barrow to Norramby.
On through- or express-trains, engines from the NWR are detached at Barrow and "Other Railway" engines take over. Since 1925 the NWR has also had its own loco shed, turntable and servicing facility here. There is also a joint goods-yard for exchange traffic.
With the nationalisation of the railways across the United Kingdom, the North Western Railway became the North Western Region of British Railways. It was allowed to keep a large degree of independence from the rest of the network, which explains why steam traction survived. The other railways on the island were not affected by the nationalisation. Since privatisation, the railway has again become the North Western Railway Company and, unlike most post-privatisation train companies, is responsible not just for the running of the freight and passenger operations, but also for the maintenance of the track and of the infrastructure of the railway.
All of the railway lines created in The Railway Series have their own pages with information on routes and the stations served.
The Island of Sodor in the Thomas & Friends television series differs significantly from that in the books. Wilbert and George Awdry's notes have been largely overlooked. The television version of Sodor appears quite larger and has more industry. The connection to the British mainland was not acknowledged until the 2013 feature-length film special King of the Railway, which introduces "The Vicarstown Rolling Bridge", connecting Sodor to the mainland Britain.
In the 2000 film Thomas and the Magic Railroad, the Island was portrayed vastly differently not only to the Railway Series but also to the television series. Sodor was a magical land that was supported by a magical railway line called "The Magic Railroad". Without the Magic Railroad, the island would vanish off the face of the Earth. In the film, one could only travel to Sodor via The Magic Railroad or gold dust. This means the only way Diesel 10 and Splodge (Splatter and Dodge) could have arrived on Sodor is via boat.
In The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, Awdry explained how Sodor was politically part of the United Kingdom. While the Isle of Man had retained Home Rule, since the 15th century Sodor had been attached to the Duchy of Lancaster and is therefore part of England, although this has not been allowed to disturb the Sudrians' independent lives.