Hello, my name is Pete Coleman and I would like to tell you a little bit about the story of the "Railway Children" by Edith Nesbit.
Click here for a short summary of the plot of "The Railway Children".
Click here to find out if "The Railway Children" really existed.
Click here to find out in which part of the country the story was set.
Click here to find out if the Railway Children had a Surname.
One evening after dinner when Father is enjoying his after-dinner cigar,
the family are discussing the possibility of mending Peterís toy steam engine,
which has suffered an unfortunate accident, there comes a knock at the front
The Maid calls Father into his study. Although the children cannot hear what is being said, they can hear voices that are raised in anger. When the shouting finally stops, Father leaves the house with two official looking gentlemen, and their Mother looks extremely worried.
Mother tells the children that Father has had to go away on business and that she does not know when he will be coming home again. There follows some weeks of misery and anxiety for the children. Mother is almost always out, coming home late and tired. The children make a promise to each other to be on their best behaviour and not to ask Mother any questions about her obvious sadness.
One morning, Mother seems to be more cheerful and tells the children that they are going to move to a "darling little house" in the country. The children are relieved to see Mother in a happier mood, but are still aware that something is very wrong.
Mother and the three children move to "Three Chimneys", an isolated cottage deep in the sleepy countryside. Mother cannot afford to send the children to school, and so the children find themselves with a whole summer of freedom to look forward to. Mother tells the children that they will have to play at being poor. Mother always seems to be busy now, she is writing stories to sell to the magazines of the day. After living in the hustle and bustle of London, and with the countryside being so quiet, the children naturally enough find themselves being attracted towards the only real source of interest around, and that is the railway. They come to know, and make friends with the porter at the station. His name is "Perks" and the children spend many a happy afternoon in the porterís office drinking tea and chatting to him about the railway.
As the story unfolds, the children find themselves being caught up in many exciting adventures involving the railway and also the nearby canal. They make new friends at the station and in the nearby village. Every morning the children wave at the 9:15 train, they call this train "The Green Dragon" and they send their love to Father by it. They make one particular new friend; an old gentleman that rides on the "Green Dragon" every day, he turns out to be a rather special old gentleman, and he holds the solution to Fatherís mysterious disappearance and eventual happy reunion with his family.....
The part of the country that the story of
the Railway Children was set in is..............
Well, to be honest I don't think that we will ever truly know the answer to that question. Edith Nesbit quite plainly used differing geographical and topographical elements throughout the story to suit the moment. She was never beyond completely ignoring the fact that something was "quite impossible" (i.e. red flannel petticoats in the early 1900's), so that she could turn it to use in her stories.
There have been several quite eloquent theories published as to where the Railway Children was set, with one or two of them being quite bizarre, and various arguments have been forwarded to support thier theories and claims. However, my opinion, and I must stress it is only my opinion, is that the setting for the Railway Children is an amalgam (mix) of several places that Edith visited and came to love. Whilst some of the topographical and geological clues in the story would indicate a setting in the north of the country (and Edith loved some of the wilder areas of the north, she had visited her sister on the north Yorkshire moors, staying at a house nearby that was called "Three Chimneys"), some of the place names would indicate a setting in the south-eastern part of the country i.e. "Maidbridge" = Maidstone/Tonbridge in Kent, both areas that Edith enjoyed visiting, and then some of the railway equipment, terminology and dialects would seem to indicate a setting in the western part of the country, and so it goes on.
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In Edith Nesbit's original story the family's surname was never mentioned. However, in the 1970 EMI film adaption the surname of "Waterbury" was used (which was actually the name of the watchmakers who made the watches that the children received from the railway company in recognition of thier bravery in saving a train from disaster)!