Harborough artist who illustrated Thomas the Tank Engine and Ladybird books honoured with a green plaque

An artist who created the illustrations for six Thomas the Tank Engine books and more than 30 Ladybird titles has been honoured with a green plaque in Kibworth Beauchamp.

Friday, 14th June 2019, 10:11 am
Everyone gathers around the green plaque at the site of where artist John T.Kenney lived. PHOTO BY ANDREW CARPENTER
Everyone gathers around the green plaque at the site of where artist John T.Kenney lived. PHOTO BY ANDREW CARPENTER

John T Kenney was born in 1911 and trained at the Leicester College of Art. Between 1957 and 1962, he illustrated six books in the Rev W Awdry’s Railway Series – better known as the Thomas the Tank Engine books.

His art also became known across the world due to his work with Loughborough-based publisher Ladybird Books, as he illustrated a total of 31 titles between 1954 and 1972 – the majority of them focusing on important historical figures.

Mr Kenney, and his wife, Peggy, lived in Kibworth Beauchamp between 1949 and 1958. He died at Smeeton Westerby in 1972 at the age of 61.

Richard Clowes Chairman and Deputy Lieutenant, Chairman Pam Posnett MBE, Stephen Butt nominator, Stephen Needham and Val Payne. PHOTO BY ANDREW CARPENTER

On Thursday, June 13, he was honoured by Leicestershire County Council with the unveiling of a green plaque at the site of his former home in Kibworth.

The plaque was put on the former old Kibworth Medical Centre, now the Honey Hive day nursery, in Smeeton Road.

Stephen Butt, who nominated Mr Kenney for the award, said: “I am delighted that John Kenney is to be recognised and honoured by the village he made his home. There are many people in Kibworth who remember John and Peggy, and countless millions around the world of all ages who have enjoyed his illustrations.

“John Kenney and Clarence Reginald Dalby, the two artists who created Thomas the Tank Engine, as we know him today, were both graduates of the Leicester School of Art. They both served their country during WWII, and they had strong associations with Kibworth.


"John lived in Kibworth and Clarence created the polar bear logo for Fox's Glacier Mints - the Fox family lived in Kibworth. Every community has its special people. It's just lovely that we in Kibworth have John Kenney who entranced generations of young readers with his illustrations.”

County council chairman, Pam Posnett MBE said: “Generations of children grew up with the Thomas the Tank Engine and Ladybird books and their beautiful illustrations are instantly recognised around the world. John Kenney was an extremely popular choice among the people of Leicestershire to receive a green plaque and I am delighted to be involved in its unveiling.”

More information on the green plaque scheme can be found by visiting www.leicestershire.gov.uk/greenplaques

Smeeton Road as it looked when John T Kenney lived there, and before it was straightened and the building now occupied by the nusery built off to the left near where the white building stands in this image.
John T Kenney at work
John T Kenney's work
A painting of Market Harborough High Street by John T.Kenney