An Andover business has received thousands of free trains in honour of an iconic blue steam engine.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Thomas the Tank Engine, Trainmaster, which runs train-themed parties across the UK, has been given 1500 push-along trains by toymaker Mattel.

Trainmaster founder Chloe Cotton said it was “a great way for Trainmaster to get back to business” after lockdown.

The Reverend Wilbert Awdry first came up with the stories of the lives of trains on the island of Sodor for his son Christopher, while the latter was ill with measles. He published the first of the series, The Three Railway Engines, in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1946 that Thomas the Tank Engine debuted in the second novel of the series.

The blue train has since become popular around the world, with a variety of series, films and other projects based on the franchise, featuring stars such as Ringo Starr, Olivia Coleman and Sir John Hurt.

This inspired mum of three Chloe to start her party business in Andover after her Thomas-loving son Jasper kept having his train tracks pulled apart by his brother Henry. At the time, Chloe joked to husband Jeremy that they should hire a hall and build an enormous train set and after some thought realised that this could be a great business idea.

Chloe started running train events in town with a giant hands-on train track, ride on trains, train slides and more. Over the next 18 months, her business grew as she started serving locations across the country.

In September 2019, Chloe began to expand nationwide with branches from Yorkshire to Gloucestershire. During lockdown, events had to stop, but further branches were founded in Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex.

Chloe said: “When I started Trainmaster I was just aiming to provide a great play experience for my son and didn't have any long-term goals and to think that three years later we are running in 15 counties is just unbelievable.

“We aren't a franchise but run in a unique way: all Trainmaster counties are run by either a parent of a train-crazy child or a train-obsessed adult and we all love what we do."

Her business came to the attention of Mattel, who celebrated Thomas the Tank Engine’s 73rd birthday in 2019 by giving Chloe 1000 goodie bags containing surprise trains to give away.

They’ve now teamed up again to give away 1500 trains, so that children across the country can receive a free train after attending a Trainmaster party.

Chloe said: "After a terrible year with lockdowns and closure, this is a great way for Trainmaster to get back to business! It is so fantastic to have Mattel onboard for a second time to enable us to celebrate Thomas and friends' birthday.

“We are only a small business and it is great that Mattel are recognising our hard work. I can't wait to see our customers' faces when they receive their train.”