Thursday, September 20, 2007

Would you like Sodor with that?

We all absentmindedly misplace things from time to time; the house keys in the fridge, the latest Harry Potter novel on the bookcase instead of in the bin. It’s called getting old and senile, and to be honest I’m used to it nowadays. Misplacing an entire island, on the other hand, isn’t something that most of us could manage every day, but apparently that’s what happened in the case of the Island of Sodor.
What do you mean, what the hell am I rambling on about? The Bishopric of Sodor and Man, that’s what; a Church of England diocese covering the Isle of Man and its adjacent islets.
Only Sodor itself is missing, which is basically what this article’s about.
Here’s what we managed to pull off a website, the address of which, with a certain amount of irony, I’ve currently misplaced:
“The Norwegian diocese of Sodor was formed 1154, covering the Hebrides and the other islands along the west coast of Scotland…the Isle of Man was included in with these southern isles. Norway controlled all these islands until 1266, when they were ceded to Scotland. The Isle of Man was detached from the Scottish islands and came under the suzerainty of the Kings of England in 1334. Thereafter it was held by feudal Lords of Man (the Stanleys, Earls of Derby, from 1406 to 1736 and the Dukes of Atholl from 1736) until the lordship was purchased by the British Crown in 1765. The right to appoint the Bishop of Sodor and Man belonged to the Lords of Man, and continued to be exercised by the Dukes of Atholl after the 'revestment' in 1765 until it was surrendered to the Crown in 1828. It is possible that the origin of the name "Sodor" was lost and its meaning was applied to this islet as the seat of the bishop. The termination "and Man" appears to have been added in the 17th century by a legal draughtsman ignorant of the proper application of the name of Sodor to the bishopric of Man…”
And so on and so forth. (How dull was that? No wonder nobody reads history books these days. I wouldn’t mind but that’s the heavily edited down version. Now I remember why I didn’t bookmark the page.)
Anyhow, if the ‘Island of Sodor’ sounds familiar then it might be worth rewinding your memories several hundred years to childhood, and in particular Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books.
Yes, you did read that right…the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian has entered the realm of fat controllers and talking steam trains. And, yes, we are implying that Thomas and Edward and Percy all lived on the mythical Island of Sodor and that their home was indeed one and the same as our own missing bishopric.
Again, let’s turn to the experts…and again I’ve forgotten which website I copied this information from, which explains why I usually leave these matters up to Michelle, but not being as big a fan of Thomas and Friends as myself she thought it best to leave it in my hands, which was obviously a mistake…er…where was I? Oh yes, the following quote was taken from a Thomas the Tank Engine website…somewhere:
“After publication of the first books, the Rev Wilbert Awdry was asked by readers to explain where the stories took place. Whilst on holiday on the Isle of Man, he discovered that the local bishop had the title "Bishop of Sodor and Man"...The Rev Wilbert Awdry and his brother George liked the name, and invented the fictional Isle of Sodor, which they located between the Isle of Man and Walney Island. They made maps and invented a history of its people and railway engines. A map of 1958 shows the island as originally planned, some five times the size of the Isle of Man.”
Want to see the map? We thought you would, so here it is:

This version was actually scanned in from the inside cover of a Thomas the Tank Engine compendium (hence the crease). You can just see the Fleetwood peninsula and the Fylde coast in the bottom right hand corner. It’s interesting that the train lines connect to the mainland at Barrow…well, it’s interesting if you like that sort of thing, at any rate.
So, apparently, the Bishopric of Sodor and Man was invented by the Reverend Awdry in 1154 and Sodor itself sank into Morecambe Bay when the fat controller ate one mince pie too many in 1976 taking Ringo Starr down with it…or something like that. Which is all fine and good…except (and there always has to be an ‘except’ with us)…well, take a look at the map below:

What you’re viewing here is a detail from Gough’s map of Lancashire circa 1360 (otherwise known as the Bodleian Map because…well, that’s where it’s currently held we suspect). It’s a bit complicated, mainly because it’s highly inaccurate, runs from east to west rather than the usual north to south, and frankly doesn’t bear much resemblance to anything produced over the last few centuries by the Ordnance Survey. But don’t let that distract you. In the bottom right hand corner, if you look closely enough, you should be able to locate Anglesey. And directly above it on the mainland you should also be able to find Cockersand Abbey (or Cokersand as it’s labelled). Now, the interesting things here are the two islands between said ‘Cokersand’ and Anglesey.
The larger of these two landmasses, presumably somewhere off North Wales, is actually named on the map, but try as we might we’ve never been able to decipher what it says. To the best of our knowledge neither has anybody else. The fact that, in reality, neither of these islands exists (at least, not nowadays) has a lot to do with it.
So, the question is, was one of these islands the legendary Sodor?
Let’s move forwards chronologically to 1546 and George Lily’s map, again confusingly sideways but perhaps a bit more accurate than Gough’s rather feeble attempt at cartography.

Now, on Lily’s map, the Isle of Man is clearly visible off our coast as always (labelled as Mona) and Anglesey is clearly included (once again) in the spot where you’d expect to be. However, the mysterious island opposite Cockersand Abbey as shown on Gough’s map now appears to have disappeared, leaving only the enigmatic island situated off the Welsh coast, along with it’s equally enigmatic scribble of a name.
Nowadays, of course, this latter island too has vanished. Whether it, or the Cockersand Island, or even the mysterious Island of Sodor, ever really existed in the first place is still open to debate. But one thing’s for certain, any future marine excavations off our coast that manage to unearth a fat controller will probably have struck the jackpot.
Eat your heart out Atlantis.


John said...

Hey Brian,

Hate to rain on your parade, but your first map is labeled as Gough's Map of 1330, and the labeled island appears to read 'prestnlu', which doesn't mean anything to me, although it could be related to preston and prescott. Anyways, if you look at a good copy of Gough's map of 1360, courtesy of, it is clearly labeled 'prestholm' with some scribble above it that looks like 'mcrsoft'.

Certainly not Sodor, although evidently the shifting sands did provide the odd island or two over time. Not one large enough to provide railroads, or even Bishoprics, but you do provide a good case for Sodor existing somewhere, once upon a time.

I can't upload the map detail here, but I can email it separately if you want it.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

John said...

Me again,

I posted the map detail at your messageb board.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

John said...

PS Happy Birthday, ye ole blackguard!

Brian Hughes said...


I must admit the detailed version you've put up at the forum is considerably clearer than ours and it does seem to read Mcscfhgzx (something or other) Prestholm. Still no idea what or where it's supposed to be though, 'cos the island doesn't exist nowadays.

Having said that, the really mysterious island, which also doesn't exist nowadays, if it ever did, and, who knows, might still be Sodor, isn't the labelled one but the round blob off Cokersand (Cockersand Abbey). Hence the Fylde and Wyre connection.

The larger of the two islands, with the scribbled name on it, is presumably somewhere off Wales, or rather was...or possibly wasn't, if you see what I mean?'re right. It's my birthday today. (I'm now eleven years old, but my doctor's warned me that if I don't cut down smoking, drinking and eating all the wrong food I won't make it to thirteen.) So I'm off for a slap up feast, a wee dram or eight of whiskey and a big fat cigar.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, a bit late but you can't have everything can you! Will be turning up with booze but without boyfriend soon..wednesday, mother permitting.
from A very bored librarian indeed

Brian Hughes said...

Cheers Carol. I thought you said you were coming down on Sunday? That means I'll have to buy my own whiskey tomorrow then. Oh...and don't forget the cake. Can't have a belated birthday party without cake. And eighteen candles if you remember...I like to be accurate about these things.

Sue in Spain said...

Great article Brian! Been v. interested in what lies between Fylde and Isle of Man ever since I saw something about the now underwater Singleton Thorpe in the old Marton library.Love that old building, by the way. Spent hours reading Worzel Gummidge books there when I should have been studying Thomas the Tankie it seems. Fortunately my son Riki´s an expert but neither of us had twigged to the location of Sodor until reading your article!Fascinating stuff.

Belated birthday wishes and a virtual bottle of Rioja!

Susan O´Hara

Brian Hughes said...

Cheers Sue.

I must admit it took me by surprise when I first saw the Thomas the Tank Engine map. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are actually set around Morecambe Bay...alebit a very alternative version. It seems that quite a few famous authors regard the Fylde as an excellent place to set their books...they're just not shouting about it.

JahTeh said...

Good post Hughes, you managed to confuse the internet, insult Harry Potter, Thomas the Tank Engine and fat people.

Now that I know it was your birthday, I'll go eat a cake or five.

Ann O'Dyne said...

I do wish I was as droll as that bad girl Jahteh.

and God I'm getting an education at this place.
I had previously thought Worzel Gummidge was a mod band back in the sixties.

I fixed that link at my place, and it is worth following.
Honoured, as always, by your visit.

Anonymous said...

18 that 1 candle per decade?

Brian Hughes said...


Just for the record, I did not insult Thomas the Tank Engine.


I always thought Worzel Gummidge was a sexually transmitted disease to be honest.

Anonymous...who I strongly suspect is Carol with nothing better to do...that's 1 candle for every I.Q. point. Now get back to your duo decimal sorting...or whatever it's called.