At 16:15 on Tuesday 7th June 2016, we were privileged to witness the legendary Flying Scotsman elegantly steam past the Survey Systems Head office here in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
The locomotive was built in Doncaster becoming the first locomotive of the newly formed London and North Eastern Railway(LNER). It left the works on 24 February 1923 with number 1472. It was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley as part of the A1 class – the most powerful locomotives used by the LNER at that time. By 1924, when it was selected to appear at the British Empire Exhibition in London, the loco had been renumbered 4472 – and had been given the name ‘Flying Scotsman’ after the London to Edinburgh rail service which started daily at 10am in 1862.
The British Empire Exhibition made Flying Scotsman famous, and it went on to feature in many more publicity events for the LNER. In 1928, it was given a new type of tender with a corridor, which meant that a new crew could take over without stopping the train. This allowed it to haul the first ever non-stop London to Edinburgh service on 1 May, reducing the journey time to eight hours.
In 1934, Scotsman was clocked at 100mph on a special test run – officially the first locomotive in the UK to have reached that speed.
War to Retirement
LNER passenger locomotives had always been painted Apple Green. But during the Second World War, Flying Scotsman was repainted in wartime black, in common with all railway stock. (We recently repainted it this colour temporarily.) After the war, it became green again, and was rebuilt as an A3 Pacific.
In 1948, rail travel in Britain was nationalised with the formation of British Railways. Scotsman, now numbered 60103, was painted blue for a time, then BR Green.
It remained in this colour until 1963, when it was retired by British Rail. By this time, it had undergone several alterations to improve its performance – but it had been pulling trains for 40 years, and steam engines were becoming old-fashioned.
Preservation and ownership
In January 1963 Alan Pegler bought Flying Scotsman. As part of the deal, Pegler negotiated a complete overhaul of the locomotive. It was converted back to single chimney condition and repainted to London & North Eastern Railway livery. The tender was exchanged for a corridor type, and an agreement made that enabled it to run on the main line. In a blaze of publicity Scotsman ran its last train for BR on 14 January 1963.
In May 1968 on the 4th anniversary of the first non-stop run, Flying Scotsman travelled non-stop from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh.
In 1969 Flying Scotsman headed for America. The first year tour broke even, but the second lost money. To try to balance the books Pegler arranged for the train to travel to San Francisco. Trading was good but sponsorship didn’t materialise. Alan Pegler was forced into bankruptcy and for now at least, Scotsman was stranded in the USA. However, in 1973 Flying Scotsman was brought back to the UK after William McAlpine heard about the situation in the USA and promptly put together a rescue plan.
Following a successful tour of Australia, Scotsman ran special trains around Britain. In 1993 it received an interim overhaul and pop impresario Pete Waterman bought a 50% stake in it. In February 1996 businessman Tony Marchington bought Scotsman outright for £1.25 million.
Saved for the Nation
In 2004, Flying Scotsman hit the headlines again with yet another crisis over its ownership. A campaign spearheaded by National Railway Museum to save the locomotive for the nation amassed the support of thousands, confirming its status as a national treasure. Since 2006, Flying Scotsman has been undergoing an extensive restoration in the workshop of Riley & Son (E) Ltd. It has now completed last phases of the painstaking £4.2m project to bring the legend back to life, resplendent in its BR green livery in its guise as 60103.
As the restoration process comes to an end, all eyes are – once again – trained on the world’s most famous locomotive. The next chapter in the Flying Scotsman story will be its triumphant return as a working museum exhibit, conquering yet another record as the oldest mainline working locomotive on Britain’s tracks. Undoubtedly one of the jewels in the crown of the museum’s world-class collection, it will now be presented to a new generation of Scotsman fans captivating the public for generations to come.
The appeal to keep the steam icon in Britain was supported by a £1.8 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the generosity of the public. The restoration has also been undertaken with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £275,000.