Friday 6 May 2011

Sidings and Suchlike - Rowland Emett

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

The cartoons were created by a young artist by the name of Rowland Emett, and many of them featured trains and railways. 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. The cartoons became extremely popular and in 1950 Emett was approached by the organizers 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, Emett 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...

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, Emett submitted his first drawing to Punch magazine but this was promptly rejected by the Art Editor who advised him to try again. He did, sending in seven small drawings, five 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. During the Second World War while still producing drawings for Punch, he worked as a draughtsman for the Air Ministry.

See also;

The wonderful, whimsical world of Rowland Emett here

Anthony and Antimacassar by Rowland and Mary Emett here

The Emett Festival Railway a Puffin cut-out book here

Souvenirs from the 1951 Festival of Britain here

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