The Little Train comes to Newcastle

  • 14 September 2011

The Art Fund has helped Seven Stories, Britain's museum of children's books in Newcastle upon Tyne buy a complete set of watercolour illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, one of the most important and influential illustrators of the 20th century, for The Little Train by Graham Greene.

The latest acquisition by Seven Stories, Britain’s museum of children’s books in Newcastle upon Tyne, will capture the hearts of young train enthusiasts as well as book lovers. It is a complete set of watercolour illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, one of the most important and influential illustrators of the 20th century, for The Little Train, one of only four picture books for children written by Graham Greene – better known for his adult novels such as The Third Man and The Power and the Glory.


The book

The Little Train is the first of four picture books by Graham Greene to be issued with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone in 1973 and 1974. The book was first published in 1946, with illustrations by Greene’s mistress, Dorothy Craigie. Many of Craigie’s illustrations are already in the Seven Stories collection so now, for the first time, the two sets of pictures will be seen together. Ardizzone’s charmingly nostalgic images contrast sharply with the dramatic modernist style of Craigie’s earlier work.

The story

The story of The Little Train is in similar vein to other tales featuring train characters which appeared around this time – including of course Thomas the Tank Engine, which also appeared in 1946. In dull and dreary post war Britain, with rationing at its height, trains represented an escape from the everyday, a route to adventure and exploration. Greene’s Little Train, like so many of his characters, is a flawed hero – a little engine with a taste for big adventures, who runs away from the sleepy rural comfort and security of Little Snoreing, and steams down the main line. His journey takes him far from home, through the Great Gloomy Mountains, via Tombe Junction, to the dirty crowded environs of Smokeoverall. Here the engine’s courage – and coal - fails him. In the nick of time, he is rescued by ‘the great Jock of Edinburgh, the famous Scottish express,’ who pushes him home to the safety of Little Snoreing, where he is welcomed with open arms.

The purchase

The artwork was put up for sale earlier this year by Antoinette Ardizzone, widow of Nick Ardizzone, the artist’s son. It was the first time the original pictures had been seen in public and Seven Stories immediately decided to raise the money to buy them. Seven months on, the purchase has been made possible by grants from the Art Fund, the V&A/MLA Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National Libraries.