Why is this the best-known steam engine
in the world?
No 1472 was the third of a class of steam locomotives that was eventually to number 79 engines, and did not originally even carry a name. The Great Northern Railway A1 4-6-2, though, was the biggest express steam engine ever to have been seen in Britain at the time. It was
No 1472 that was chosen to be displayed at a major exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and for this it was given the name Flying Scotsman.
It hauled the London & North Eastern Railway’s first King’s Cross-to-Edinburgh non-stop express in 1928, but was beaten by a slightly longer Euston-to-Glasgow non-stop run by the London Midland & Scottish Railway’s Pacific No 6201 Princess Elizabeth in 1936. It officially broke the 100mph barrier in 1934 but unofficially this speed had been achieved 30 years earlier. An identical engine to Flying Scotsman soon eclipsed its speed record with a 108mph burst of speed in 1935.
Flying Scotsman was perhaps becoming the best-known of the class of 79 LNER A1s, but none of its record feats actually stood for long. In 1935, the A1s were superseded by the A4s, streamlined engines with more speed and power, and these raised the speed record first to 112mph, and soon to 126mph.
From then on, Flying Scotsman was just one of many engines that played a vital part in hauling East Coast Main Line expresses between King’s Cross, the north and Scotland, for another 30 years, but it had no more claim to fame than any of the others.
It still had its name, though, and, when the final curtain came in early 1963 and the engine was withdrawn from service by British Railways and expected to be scrapped, it was purchased by a businessman who had every intention of keeping the engine running.
Flying Scotsman certainly had claims to fame from the early years of its main line career, but it was 1963 when it really started to hit the headlines – after it had retired. This might not have happened had the engine not had such a memorable name.
Flying Scotsman has now become the one steam engine in the world of which everyone knows the name, and which most people would even recognise. It was briefly the only main line steam engine running in the whole of Britain, and it has travelled across the Atlantic and across America. It has circumnavigated the globe, steamed across Australia, broken the record for a non-stop run with steam (again), and been sold for easily the highest price ever paid for a steam engine.
But it has had its down side, too. It has had several owners, some of whom have bought it on the strength of its earnings potential, based on the name Flying Scotsman. This value has perhaps been overestimated, and two of Flying Scotsman’s one-time owners have been bankrupted.
It has been said that Flying Scotsman’s fame is such that it should have been preserved by the nation anyway. A large number of steam engines was preserved ‘officially’ and many are now on display in the National Railway Museum at York, but Flying Scotsman was simply not considered unique or historically important enough at the time. The streamlined A4 Pacific
No 4468 Mallard was chosen, along with Gresley’s
V2 2-6-2 No 4771 Green Arrow. Flying Scotsman was not sufficiently different from these two to justify its preservation.
Now, of course, its ongoing 40 years of fame (if not fortune) has earned it a place in the National Railway Museum collection and, after an unprecedented fund-raising campaign and a National Heritage Memorial Fund grant, the museum was able to clear the enormous debts of the engine’s owning company and acquire Flying Scotsman for the nation, and for a British public who clearly hold the engines in high esteem.
If it had not acquired fame, largely as a result of its name, in the 1920s and 1930s, then maybe Alan Pegler would not have had the enthusiasm to purchase it in 1963. If it had been scrapped, what would then have become Britain’s most famous steam engine?
The question is asked whether Flying Scotsman can run for ever. The answer is probably yes, at a price. Like any steam engine, it is a mechanical object, built of steel. As parts wear out they are replaced. Little of the original engine now exists and there has been much rebuilding and improvement carried out, before and after 1963.
The legend that is Flying Scotsman can run for ever; it will be apple green, numbered 4472, carry the famous name and be recognisable as the ultimate in British express steam design elegance. It may not be all the original steel, but the legend that is Flying Scotsman goes far beyond its physical characteristics.
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The Bookazine goes into every aspect of the Flying Scotsman's history, its development, use and the people behind the world's most famous engine.