The English clergy has had its fair share of eccentrics and one such is Edwin “Teddy” Boston who combined his clerical duties with a life-long passion for steam engines and who inspired a much-loved children’s character.
Boston was born in Solihull in the West Midlands in 1924 and studied at Jesus College, Cambridge before training for the ministry.
In 1960, he became Rector of Cadeby and Vicar of Sutton Cheney, both in Leicestershire, which gave him the opportunity to indulge his obsession for steam.
In 1962, Boston bought a steam train that was about to be scrapped which he named ‘Pixie’ and set about building his own railway track in the rectory garden.
But Pixie was just the beginning. Boston then bought another decrepit steam engine that he named ‘The Terror’ and a massive steamroller that he christened ‘Thistledown’. He restored both and the latter became his favoured mode of transport around his parish.
A simple trip to the shops became a major logistical operation as Boston trundled along the narrow country lanes oblivious to the line of traffic backed up behind him before parking the steamroller in the market square while he went about his errands.
And it wasn’t just full-sized engines that was his passion. Boston was also obsessed by miniature railways and he scoured the country in search of the best examples. One of them was owned by another clerical steam enthusiast, the Rev W Awdry, author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books.
Awdry described how Boston had landed on his doorstep demanding to see the model railway that he had constructed in his study. The two became great friends and Boston was the inspiration for both the Fat Controller and Fat Clergyman in Thomas stories.
When he wasn’t studying model railways he was building his own in an enormous shed in his garden. In it, Boston painstakingly recreated the stretch of the Great Western Railway between Newton Abbot and Totnes in Devon as it looked in 1935.
Despite his eccentricities, Boston was extremely popular among his parishioners and after he died in 1986 a stained glass window was added to Cadeby church which depicts a portly figure driving a steam engine named Pixie.