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Rowland Emett and The Far Tottering Railway

If we have any Rowland Emett or Festival of Britain items in stock you will find them here

When a steam train called Nellie first appeared in the pages of Punch Magazine in 1944 nobody could have foreseen how these cartoon creations would become working machines. 

Rowland Emett was born in New Southgate, London, the son of a businessman and amateur inventor. His grandfather was Court Engraver to Queen Victoria. Educated at Waverley Grammar School in Birmingham Emett excelled at drawing. Although he had no mechanical or engineering training, he was already inventing devices as a child and registered his first patent at the age of thirteen for a Pneumatic Acoustic Control for a gramophone. His later studies took him to the Birmingham School of Arts where his ambition was to become a landscape painter and in 1931 his painting Cornish Harbour was exhibited at the Royal Academy.

In 1939, he submitted his first drawing to Punch magazine but this was promptly rejected by the Art Editor who advised him to try again. Emett did try again sending in 7 small drawings, 5 of which were retained and published. From the first half page drawings, rapid success put his cartoons onto full-page and colour plates and into the Almanack Calendars. Nellie the steam train made her debut in the March 8th, 1944 issue of Punch, and a whole new world was created. The Branch Lines of Friars Crumbling radiated out to destinations such as Far Twittering, Buffers End, Long Suffering, Freezing in the Marrow and St. Torpid's Creek. During the Second World War while still producing drawings for Punch, he worked as a draughtsman for the Air Ministry. On 12th April 1941, he married Mary Evans, the daughter of a Birmingham silversmith. It was Mary who would manage his business interests. They had a daughter, Claire.

In 1950, Emett was approached by the organisers of the Festival of Britain with a view to creating a full-size passenger carrying version of his railway system. Initially reluctant, he finally agreed and began creating the designs. Nellie was the first engine to emerge from the workshops. Two of his other trains (Neptune and Wild Goose) were also created for the renamed Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Lines. Nellie and the Far Tottering Railway carried over 2 million passengers at the 1951 Festival.  

During the 1960s, he was commissioned to create the Honeywell-Emett Forget-Me-Not Computer and in 1968, he designed the car and other machines for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1970, work started on the Rhythmical Time Fountain, this machine with long spinning arms and four clock faces supported by a giant sunflower can still be seen in the Victoria Shopping Centre in Nottingham. These are just a few of the many machines or things as he preferred to call them designed by Rowland Emett.

I have only a vague recollection of the Festival of Britain and Emett's cartoons but became interested in finding out more after buying a collection of books and other items from an auction. Among the many books were a dozen or so jig-saw puzzles and five of those featured trains from the Far Tottering Railway. .

If we have Rowland Emett or Festival of Britain items in stock you will find them here

Valentine's produced a series of Rowland Emett Festival of Britain Postcards - these are just some of them -


Books by Rowland Emett

1943 - Engines, Aunties & Others
1946 - Sidings & Suchlike, explored by Emett
1948 - Home Rails Preferred
1948 - Saturday Slow
1949 - Far Twittering; or, The annals of a branch line
1949 - Buffers End, arrived at by Emett 1950 - High Tea, infused by Emett
1951 - The Emett Festival Railway
1952 - New World for Nellie
1952 - Nellie Come Home
1952 - The Forgotten Tramca
1953 - Emett's Domain: Trains, Trams, and Englishmen; the Best of Rowland Emett
1976 - The Early Morning Milk Train: The Cream of Emett Railway Drawings
1977 - The Early Morning Milk Train: The Cream of Emett Railway Drawings
1977 - Alarms and Excursions: and other transports transfixed by Emett
1981 - Emett's Ministry of Transport

Rowland Emett also illustrated many other books by different authors and contributed to several magazines including Punch.

If we have any Rowland Emett or Festival of Britain items in stock you will find them here

Primary Source: Rowland Emett : Chris Beetles, Ryder Street, London.

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