The Flying Scotsman is Britain’s favourite locomotive – an integral part of our national heritage and a working memento of the great age of steam railways.
Although the Class A1 locomotive was built in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway, her story dates back to June 1862, when a new rail service began from London to Edinburgh. Three operators joined forces to run the service: the Great Northern Railway, the North British and the North Eastern.
The service was called the Special Scotch Express, but railway workers, passengers and train enthusiasts referred to it as the Scotch Express or the Flying Scotchman.
Flying Scotsman launch
The locomotive that became known as the Flying Scotsman was built at the Doncaster Works between 1922 and 1923, to cover the London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley route. She was designed by Nigel Gresley and her class A1 classification denoted the fact she had her wheels in a 4-6-2 arrangement.
Initially, she was given the number 1472, but later became 4472. Attended by more than 26 million people, she was the star of the famous Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and appeared again at the Wembley Empire Exhibition of 1925.
The famous train broke a world record in 1928, when she completed the first non-stop journey from London to Edinburgh. The cab, dome and chimney were reduced in size so the locomotive would have full access to the East Coast Mainline.
In 1929, the locomotive was the star of the first “talkie” movie made in Britain – The Flying Scotsman, starring Ray Milland, Pauline Johnson and Moore Marriot. It was the first lead role for Welsh-born actor Milland, who went on to Hollywood superstardom.
The dramatic plot revolved around engine driver Bob, who was due to retire as the driver of the Flying Scotsman but on Bob’s final day at work, a disgruntled former employee, sacked for being drunk on duty, decides to take his revenge. He deliberately causes a train accident, as it was Bob who had reported him.
Nigel Gresley was so appalled by the many dangerous practices portrayed in the film, including decoupling the train from the locomotive while it was moving, that he insisted a disclaimer was added to the opening credits, saying that this would never happen in reality!
The Flying Scotsman broke another world record in 1934, when she was recorded travelling at a speed of 100mph. The record was authenticated and she became the world steam speed record-holder, with a resulting blaze of publicity, as the BBC and national press had covered the momentous occasion.
In 1948, rail travel was nationalised in Britain and British Railways was formed. In 1962, after being the service’s flagship locomotive since the 1920s, the old Flying Scotsman was banished to a tunnel, as she gave the “wrong impression” of a modern service. She was replaced by a new diesel model.
British entrepreneur and railway preservationist Alan Pegler saved the Flying Scotsman from her demise. A pressure group called “Save Our Scotsman” had been set up, but couldn’t raise enough money to purchase the locomotive. Pegler, a long-time railway enthusiast, stepped in and bought her outright.
Hundreds of people turned out to see the locomotive’s final run for British Rail on 15th January 1963, before the train was taken away for refurbishment. She was repainted apple green and became LNER number 4472. She was also returned to her original single-chimney design. The move attracted great media publicity and sparked public interest.
In 1968, after negotiations with British Rail, Pegler – who was awarded the OBE in 2006 for his drive and enthusiasm in railway preservation – was permitted to repeat the Flying Scotsman’s non-stop journey from London to Edinburgh on the 40th anniversary of the original trip.
The Flying Scotsman was taken on a high-profile tour of the United States in 1969. In true American style, she was kitted out with a “cowcatcher”, bell and hooter.
Sadly, during the American tour, Pegler suffered financial problems, leaving the Flying Scotsman stranded in the States. The locomotive was purchased by Sir William “Bill” McAlpine, director of construction company McAlpine, who organised a rescue package to bring her home to Britain.
Sir William, who died in March this year at the age of 82, almost single-handedly saved the train in 1973. She appeared doomed to rot in America, until he stepped in and funded her return to the UK. He had a lifelong fascination with railways and even had a full-scale line in the grounds of his home in Buckinghamshire.
In 1988, Sir William organised the Flying Scotsman’s tour of Australia, where she broke the non-stop world steam record after travelling 442 miles. Having travelled a total of 28,000 miles and spending 15 months abroad, she returned to Britain via Cape Horn
Flying Scotsman today
The iconic train was refurbished to the tune of £1.45 million in 1999, after being bought by wealthy businessman Tony Marchington. The revamp took four years.
She was bought by the National Railway Museum in 2004, with the £2.2 million asking price being raised by the Save Our Scotsman campaign, with contributions from business tycoon Sir Richard Branson, the Heritage Memorial Fund and the National Lottery.
Today, fully refurbished, the Flying Scotsman is a touring museum, travelling around the UK as a fully-functional historic exhibit. New generations of fans enjoy learning about the engineering science behind steam traction and seeing the historic train in action.
UK tour 2018
This autumn, the Flying Scotsman will be steaming through Cornwall and the surrounding region as part of a major UK tour. The locomotive will be in Taunton on 4th October, followed by a journey from Plymouth to Penzance on 6th October. She will travel back to Plymouth and leave for Exeter on 8th October.
This leg of the national tour is being run by Steam Dreams, who can be contacted on 01483 209888 to book tickets. Demand is expected to be high for the tickets to ride on a train known as Britain’s national treasure – the jewel in the crown of the National Railway Museum.
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