Saturday, June 28, 2014

Eileen Gibb

Eileen Gibb was the author of a series of books featuring 'The Adventures of Sammy the Shunter' which were published by Ian Allan in a small, oblong format similar to the railway stories of the Reverend W. Awdry, whose 'Thomas the Tank Engine' the series closely resembled. The stories were still being reprinted in the 1970s.

Their author was Eileen Holder, born Eileen Mabel Gibb in Croydon, Surrey, on 3 August 1911, the daughter of Benjamin Gibb and his wife Mabel. During the Second World War, she was secretary to Sir Kenneth Clark, where she met and became friends with many eminent artists, including Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer and writers such as Philip Larkin.
Eileen married John Terrance Holder in 1942 and had two children after the war. John (1905-1987) worked on the small gauge Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, which remains a hugely popular tourist attraction in Kent. running between Hythe and Dungeness. He was the son of a brewer and engineer John Alexander Holder (1856-1957) who had a passion for trains and built a miniature railway at his home at Broom House, Broom, near Stourbridge, Worcestershire, which included a bridge that took that railway across a lake.

After the Great War, "Captain Jack" (as he was known), moved to Keeping House in Beaulieu, Hampshire, taking the miniature railway and the bridge with him. Queen Mary and King George V were filmed taking a ride on a miniature railway at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 to show that they were "one of the people", and shots of John Holder driving the train are often shown in programmes about the royal couple. (A brief, silent [but rather noisy!] British Pathe film with a clip is available on YouTube.)
The family were living in Cobham, Surrey, in the 1950s when the Sammy stories were written. John Holder worked for Ian Allen, who began publishing books on transport—and railways in particular—in 1942. "I think this exposure to so much railway stuff must have fired mum's imagination to produce her stories," recalls Eileen's daughter.

For Robin, Eileen Gibb wrote stories featuring a new character called 'Tubby the Odd-Job Engine' which starred another Thomas look-alike. The series, launched in the first issue (28 March 1954) was illustrated for many years by Arthur W. Baldwin who had been associated with the Sammy the Shunter books. After a year or so, the short Tubby yarns began alternating with other characters ('Tracey the Tug Boat', 'Basil Bus Stop', etc.) but continued to appear until volume 14 (1966) when the series took on a wider focus and became 'Honeytown Tales', still featuring Tubby but also giving more space to other inhabitants of Honeytown.

I've yet to establish when the series ended but it was probably around the time that Robin folded in 1969. The few records that remain relating to Robin indicate that these later stories, published in the 1960s, were by actor Donald Bissett.

But what of Eileen Gibb? She made a number of contributions to Robin Annual (3-8, 1955-60) but beyond that seems to have given up writing in the early- to mid-1960s. After her writing finished she engaged her creativity in many different forms, including woodworking, pottery and painting. She was an artist in one form or another until her final stroke. She died in 2003, aged 92.

The Adventures of Sammy the Shunter:
    1 Sammy Gets Streamlined. London, Ian Allan, Dec 1949.
    2 Sammy Goes to the Circus. London, Ian Allan, Sep 1950.
    3 Sammy Goes to Sea. 1951?
    4 Sammy Goes to America. London, Ian Allan, Nov 1951.
    5 Sammy Goes to Fairyland. London, Ian Allan, Aug 1952.
    6 Sammy Meets Father Christmas, illus. Arthur W. Baldwin. London, Ian Allan, Nov 1952.
    7 Sammy and the Old Engines. London, Ian Allan, Jun 1954.
    8 Sammy Joins the Scouts. London, Ian Allan, Jun 1955.
    9 Sammy Goes to the Pole, 1957?
    Sammy the Shunter Bumper Book, illus. Jack Atkins. London, Ian Allan, Oct 1954.
    Sammy Saves a Railway Line, illus. Jack Atkins. London, Ian Allan, 1965.
Billy the Bus series:
    1 Billy and the Robbers, illus. Arthur W. Baldwin. Hampton Court, Surrey, Ian Allan, Feb 1953.
    2 Billy Goes Exploring. London, Ian Allan, May 1953.
Sammy Rhymes series:
    1 Sammy Goes to School. London, Ian Allan, Jul 1953.
    2 Sammy Sees the Doctor. London, Ian Allan, Feb 1954.
Tubby the Odd-Job Engine, illus. Jill Franksen. London, Hulton Press, 1959.

My Trains Book. London, Ian Allan, 1953 (contains 'The Holiday Train' and 'Sammy on the Christmas Tree' by Eileen Gibb).

(The Sammy the Shunter covers I grabbed from a 2007 eBay sale. Tubby the Odd-Job Engine is from Robin Annual 5 (1957) and is © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd. Originally published 27 April 2007. My thanks to Carolyn Holder for supplying additional information for this update.)


  1. My grandfather had one of these in a box of holiday reading, along with several comics. I never thought the story was as good as Awdry's, someone I'm proud to say I actually met thanks to my Dad (also a vicar). He had a brilliant train set, and that's all I can really remember. It must have made a real impression though because I will have been about three!

  2. I spent the first five years of my life in a dirty dreary north London suburb just after the war. I remember being given 'Sammy Gets Streamlined' and loving the bright illustrations and the jolly story. Like so many children's tales it has two levels, with a "pretending to be something you're not won't make you happy" message behind it. I had several other Sammy books after and loved them all. I also had several Awdry books, my first being 'James the Red Engine' which I also enjoyed and read over and over again.

  3. May not be related, but possibly by same author, Egbert the engine, A4ish size About a small tank engine who gets lost and ends up on the London Underground. Title 'Egbert goes to London' (?) 1950's ish. Any ideas welcome.

  4. Mike,

    I think the book might be by someone called Rodney Hobson. I've found a mention of a book called The Monster Trains Book (London, Ian Allan, c.1950), which the dealer describes thus:

    "Large format book with 86 pages made of thick card with B&W printed text and illustrations and 12 pages of bright colour illustrations and text. Paper covered illustrated boards are rubbed and with small parts of the paper missing. Spine slightly slanting and corners bumped. Inside "This Book Belongs to" is filled in, but all other pages are clean and free from inscriptions and none of the puzzles have been done. No date, circa 1950. Stories by Rodney Hobson are "Jim Steele Railway Investigator - The Boat Train Adventure" & "Egbert the Engine" . Chapters on The Engine Driver, The Guard. The Station Master, etc. Story title by Eileen Gibb is "Sammy is Snowbound"."

    The British Library dates the book 1950.

  5. I was born in 1949, and one of my most poignant memories is of the 'Sammy the Shunter Bumper Book'; I must have had it for Xmas around 1956 and absolutely adored it, and, I'm sure it cemented my life-long love of railways. Happy memories and thanks for the information-as I'm sure there was no author's name on my copy.

  6. I first came across Sammy the Shunter in Scarborough on Harold Elliot's very large 0 gauge model railway where he used to chase Sammy along the tracks with a rolled up newspaper. That was in the late 50's/early 60's and has been in my memory ever since. In those days my parents bought the Bumper book of Sammy's stories and I bought a replacement only last year. Great fun with both book and the model.




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