Friday, 29 April 2016

You rang, Mallard?

I paid a flying visit to Edinburgh recently, to see some friends and the band Frightened Rabbit, although by the time I returned home, I felt partly like I had been on a tour in tribute to Sir Nigel Gresley. Sir Nigel is possibly most famous for being the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway, and for the steam engines he designed.

Those of you who have read this blog before, something that strikes me as unlikely but remotely possible, will already be aware from my post Steam Work, that he was the designer of Mallard, the fastest steam engine in the world (which reached 126 mph (203 km/h) on 3 July 1938). Among other achievements, he had also designed the famous Flying Scotsman, which had only recently been renovated and undertaken a celebratory journey from Kings Cross to York. This train, as many will also be aware, was equally famous, being the first steam locomotive to have reached 100 miles per hour (160.9 km/h), which it did on 30 November 1934

When I arrived at Kings Cross, which I still find impressive for its successful meshing of modern and old, I discovered that only a few days before, a statue had been unveiled to Sir Nigel Gresley. I did not know it at the time, but there was a campaign running to reinstate a companion statue of a mallard duck, which had originally been planned to accompany Sir Nigel, to commemorate not only the engine of the same name, but his apparent fondness for feeding ducks at his home. I recalled Sir Nigel, from my trip to the National Rail Museum, and took a picture of the statue, thinking no more about it.

The next day, whilst admiring the fine waiting room at Edinburgh Waverley railway station, pictured above, I discovered a plaque commemorating the life and work of Sir Nigel, who had been born in Edinburgh 140 years before...

and on the train heading back down south, I noticed a large sign beside the track, commemorating the spot, at Stoke Summit on the East Coast Main Line, where in 1938 Mallard had set the world speed record for a steam locomotive. It was gone in a flash, but it felt like a sign, in every sense of the word. We can never know what impact we will leave on the world, but at that moment, it felt that Sir Nigel had definitely made his mark.

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