The Great Northern Railway Class A1 Pacifics were the largest express locomotives to be seen in Britain during the 1920s. They were big, they were successful and they were noticed. The third engine of this class, No 1472, was selected to be displayed at a major exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and for this it was given a name that helped in making it one of the most famous steam locomotives of all time: the Flying Scotsman.
Today, the name means different things to different people. Some talk of the train service and some of the locomotive that worked on this service, but if you ask someone to name a steam locomotive the Flying Scotsman is usually the one they will plump for. It has been in service for over 70 years, travelling as far afield as America and Australia and achieving unrivalled fame by appearing in the Thomas the Tank Engine books1, and is known by name and appearance to millions of people.
Before embarking on this journey, it is necessary to distinguish between a train, an engine and a locomotive. A train is a collection of rolling stock, coaches or wagons, hauled by one or more vehicles that move under their own power. These vehicles are the locomotives and can be steam-powered, diesel-powered or electric. The appearance of steam locomotives, while differing significantly from that of either diesel or electric locomotives, is still familiar to many, despite the fact that few remain in regular service. The term steam engine on the other hand, while widely taken to mean a steam locomotive, originally referred to a stationary, steam-powered engine normally used as a pumping engine or other mechanical device in old-fashioned factories. Few steam engines are still in regular use today, though there are probably some that have been preserved for historical reasons. The modern usage of the term 'steam engine' is generally taken to mean the same as 'steam locomotive.'
As well as the above terminology, it is also important to explain the term 'Pacific'. Steam locomotives are classed by their manufacturers - Flying Scotsman's class being A1 and subsequently A3 - but locomotives are additionally classified by their wheel arrangements. Flying Scotsman is a Pacific because its wheel arrangement is 4-6-2, sometimes written 'ooOOOo'2. This represents the arrangement of driving wheels and non-driving wheels on the main body of the locomovite, in other word not including the tender3. The first four, or 'oo', means that there is a front 'bogey' ahead of the driving wheels that contains four leading wheels, two on each side. Then the six, or 'OOO', means that there are six driving wheels, three on each side. These transfer power from the pistons to the track. The final 2, or 'o', means there is a 'trailing bogey' beneath the firebox, containing two wheels, and normally it is this bogey that the tender is connected to. Tank engines also use this classification, but to avoid confusion, tank engines normally have a 'T' after the number, such as 0-6-0T.
A 'bogey' is a fixture which enables wheels to be connected to railway locomotives or rolling stock to allow wheels to turn in relation to the main body of the vehicle, helping larger vehicles go around corners. This is mainly seen on coaches, but express steam engines, and almost all modern electric and diesel locomotives, have bogeys too.
It wouldn't be right to have an entry about such a locomotive without a section on the man who made it possible, and that man was Sir Nigel Gresley. Throughout a remarkable career as an engineer he pioneered new railway technologies and pushed the limits of what was widely regarded as either foolish or impossible. His love for flowing designs and simple elegance, not something normally associated with hulking great railway locomotives, can be seen in the exquisite examples of his A1 and subsequent A3 and A4 designs. One of the A4s was even christened Sir Nigel Gresley in his honour.
Born on 19 June, 1876 as the fifth child of the rector of Nethersale, Derbyshire, the Reverend Nigel Gresley, he was schooled at Marlborough College before becoming an apprentice at Crewe Works. After his apprenticeship, Gresley spent a year working as an improver in the fitting and erecting shops at Crewe to improve his practical knowledge, and in 1898 he moved to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) to acquire some design and drawing experience. By 1904, he had become the assistant superintendent for the L&YR Carriage and Wagon Department and in 1905, at the age of 29, he resigned this position before taking up an almost identical one with the Great Northern Railway (GNR) at Doncaster, where he remained for the rest of his working life.
Around 1911, Gresley's ingenuity began to show through in his designs, and indeed in this year he was made the Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the GNR. His first three-cylinder A1 Pacific Great Northern was built in 1922.
By this time, though, the GNR had become part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER), being absorbed when the independent companies were grouped together into the 'Big Four'4. John G Robinson was the LNER's first choice as CME, but Robinson was close to retirement and recommended Gresley in his place, meaning the A1s, which at this point numbered only about three, could continue to be produced.
As well as his design triumphs, Gresley was active in the engineering institutions, served on government committees, and undertook government consultancy work. By the early 1930s he was at the top of his profession, while his renown amongst enthusiasts had become iconic, and in 1936 he received a knighthood for his services to engineering. He died in office on 5 April, 1941.
The big question was:
Were Gresley's A1 Pacifics any good?
The answer came as both a 'yes' and a 'no'. The 'yes' came when the A1 was tested against the A2, a design by Sir Vincent Raven of the NER, both of which were in service on the LNER. Both designs were good but Gresley's were considered better, so while the Raven design only ever totalled five engines the Gresley design stayed in production and eventually totalled 79 engines. The 'no' came when the A1 was tested against the Castle class of rival company GWR. When Flying Scotsman appeared at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, it appeared next to the GWR's 4-6-0 No 4073 Caerphilly Castle, which was described by GWR publicists as Britain's most powerful express engine, so naturally there had to be a face-off between the two. The comparative tests took place on both LNER and GWR routes since both areas were different and these differences would reflect on the design of the engine. Rather surprisingly the Castle won this contest, particularly in terms of economy, although even the power output of the Castle slightly surpassed that of the Pacific.
Gresley took these lessons on board and began rejigging his designs for the A1. He incorporated the use of long-lap piston valves, increased the boiler pressure from 190 to 220psi, increased the amount of superheating and slightly reduced the cylinder diameter, resulting in a new class of engines that were called 'super-Pacifics' and officially classified as the A3. All later engines were built to these new specifications and eventually all but one of the A1s were rebuilt as A3s.
After juggling around with the idea of streamlining, Gresley and his team eventually produced an even more extensively modified version of the A3, the A4. This streamlined and powerful beast came after inspiration from a German diesel service, but the LNER A4s were a vast improvement on these designs and were able to haul seven or eight coach trains at record speeds, whereas the German diesel could only safely manage two or three. In fact, these locomotives were so fast that even today the world speed record for a steam locomotive stands at 126mph and was achieved by probably the most famous A4 of them all, the Mallard.
The Flying Scotsman was the third of the Gresley A1 Pacifics to be produced and was designated No 1472. This great locomotive was ready for her first public appearance on 22 February 1923, and had cost £7944. It wasn't until the following year, however, that her big break came, as it was selected to be displayed at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and for this she was given the name Flying Scotsman. So successful was the exhibition that she also made an appearance in 1925.
In 1924, as well as the Wembley exhibition, the locomotives of LNER were renumbered, and the renowned '4472' was given to Flying Scotsman.
On 1 May, 1928 she made her first historical landmark, completing the first non-stop long distance journey from London King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley, some 392 miles in just over eight hours. On 30 November, 1934 she again made history when she achieved the first authenticated 100mph for steam traction while travelling between Leeds and London5. Between these high points of her service, the Flying Scotsman continued her normal duties and was eventually upgraded to A3 class, although the prestigious express routes were gradually being taken over by Gresley's new A4 class locomotives.
In 1948, the four regional rail companies were nationalised to become British Rail and the Flying Scotsman was renumbered once again to '60103' and repainted in dark green BR livery. She continued in full service until 1963 when she was finally withdrawn, having completed some 2,076,000 miles.
Rescued from the scrapyard, she was purchased on 16 April, 1963 by enthusiast Alan Pegler, who continued to run her in mainline service for short excursions6. By 1969, the Flying Scotsman was the only steam locomotive running on the main line, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a regular schedule as the infrastructure for steam services was fast disappearing.
In September of that same year she was shipped to Boston, following an offer to embark on a US tour. This proved disastrous for both the locomotive and her owner, as a change in the UK political climate resulted in many of the tour's sponsors pulling out, leaving her owner broke and the Flying Scotsman stranded at a US army base.
Her saviour came in the form of Sir William MacAlpine, who, in February 1973, purchased her jointly with Pete Waterman and arranged her safe return to England. Continuing to offer mainline excursions, the Flying Scotsman also concentrated on touring the local preserved railways, where she was always guaranteed to be a crowd puller. In 1988, she embarked on a highly successful Australian tour, completing a world record non-stop run by steam of 422 miles. She was withdrawn from service for a second time on 28 April, 1995, having suffered a cracked firebox.
On 23 February, 1996 Flying Scotsman was purchased by Dr Tony Marchington, who proceeded to finance a major restoration, and on 4 July ,1999 the beautifully restored Flying Scotsman made her inaugural run from King's Cross to York. In early 2004, things were to change again when Flying Scotsman Plc, unable to secure an opportunity for a visitor centre in Edinburgh, put the locomotive up for sale. Fearing an overseas sale, a campaign was launched to save the Flying Scotsman for the nation. Donations poured in from young and old alike and, along with financial help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, the Flying Scotsman finally arrived at her new home at the National Railway Museum on 29 May, 2004. The locomotive was in public ownership once more after 41 years in private hands.
Most recently - in fact at the time of writing - the Flying Scotsman is undergoing its major ten-year overhaul at the National Railway Museum Workshop in York, which it's hoped will be completed by late 2007. This overhaul, though, is not being hidden away from the public. Visitors to the NRM now have access to a viewing gallery above the workshops so they will be able to see the progress being made on the locomotive first hand. This gallery is part of The Flying Scotsman Story Exhibition, which is one of the NRM's newest attractions and illustrates the story of the Flying Scotsman route, train service and locomotive.
The 'Flying Scotsman' was originally the name of the premier Anglo-Scottish express train between King's Cross and Edinburgh. This train dates back to Great Northern Railway days in 1864, when it was the fastest on the East Coast route7. By 1910, the entire King's Cross to Edinburgh route only took eight hours and 45 minutes, and during the summer, a 9.50am relief train ran non-stop to Doncaster, then non-stop to Newcastle, with a North Eastern Railway engine.
The train was informally known as the 'Special Scotch Express', and then 'The Flying Scotchman'. This is sometimes said to originate from the famous ship The Flying Dutchman, but another explanation is that the express stage coaches that were used were often referred to as 'Flying'. Officially, the GNR always referred to the train as 'the 10 o'clock'.
During the LNER days the train continued running and the new Gresley A1 Pacifics were an ideal choice of locomotive. In 1927, the relief train started running non-stop from King's Cross to Newcastle with A1 Pacific No 4475 Flying Fox at the head. This engine launched what was to be one of the longest regular non-stop workings by a steam engine. By this time the 'Flying Scotchman' had become known as the 'Flying Scotsman', a name which appeared on all official timetables and headboards from 1927 onwards.
It was on 1 May, 1928 that the LNER began running their 'Flying Scotsman' Service non-stop from King's Cross to Edinburgh, and the first engine to haul the northbound train was No 4472 Flying Scotsman itself. This was the first time a train had regularly travelled such a distance8 and one of the things that made it at all possible for the engine crews was the corridor tender, allowing crew changes en route, that was fitted to some Pacifics, including Flying Scotsman.
Although the Flying Scotsman locomotive was withdrawn from service in 1963, the 'Flying Scotsman' train service continued to run practically uninterrupted, while other named trains on the route came and went. Other, faster trains appeared in both the steam and diesel ages, some of these running non-stop to Edinburgh, but they were all short lived by comparison. The 10am 'Flying Scotsman' survived them all until 1982, when its departure time was changed to 10.35am.