Sir Nigel Gresley statue ruffles Mallard fans’ feathers

A group of people holding plastic ducks at the unveiling of a statue to railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley on the 75th anniversary of his death at King's Cross. Picture: Clive Gee/PA
A group of people holding plastic ducks at the unveiling of a statue to railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley on the 75th anniversary of his death at King's Cross. Picture: Clive Gee/PA
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HE was the locomotive designer behind one of the most famous trains ever created.

And now, Edinburgh-born Sir Nigel Gresley has been honoured with a statue at one of the UK’s biggest train stations – but not without ruffling a few feathers in the process.

Sculptor Hazel Reeves stands next to her statue of the railway engineer, Sir Nigel Gresley, with his grandson Tim Godfrey. Picture: Clive Gee/PA Wire

Sculptor Hazel Reeves stands next to her statue of the railway engineer, Sir Nigel Gresley, with his grandson Tim Godfrey. Picture: Clive Gee/PA Wire

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The bronze sculpture was originally due to feature a duck next to the eminent engineer because he designed the Mallard locomotive.

But the bird was missing when the statue was unveiled on the 75th anniversary of Sir Nigel’s death at King’s Cross in London yesterday, because his family, and others, were not keen on its inclusion.

SEE ALSO: Full steam ahead for Flying Scotsman on Waverley Line

More than 3200 people signed a petition which called for the duck to be reinstated, claiming it would spark interest in the engineer’s achievements.

And a hardy band of protesters even gathered at the station, holding aloft rubber ducks on sticks to make their point.

William Whitelaw presents railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley with a silver model of the engine named after him, November 1937. Behind them is the actual locomotive, the 100th Pacific class loco to be built. Picture: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

William Whitelaw presents railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley with a silver model of the engine named after him, November 1937. Behind them is the actual locomotive, the 100th Pacific class loco to be built. Picture: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Around 200 people were on the concourse at King’s Cross to catch a first glimpse of the finished sculpture, which was unveiled by members of the Gresley family and Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy.

John Cameron, president of the Gresley Society, told the crowd: “There has been what I might call a lively debate about the statue design and the proposal to include a mallard duck to emphasise Sir Nigel’s link with the locomotive of that name. However, the Gresley Society trustees decided not to include such a feature.

“I do realise there may be some who still have different views on the matter.

“But today is all about honouring the memory of Sir Nigel Gresley and his various achievements.”

A wooden duck next to a statue of railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley at King's Cross railway station, London. Picture: Clive Gee/PA Wire

A wooden duck next to a statue of railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley at King's Cross railway station, London. Picture: Clive Gee/PA Wire

Born in Dublin Street in the New Town in 1876, Sir Nigel became chief mechanical engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway.

His Flying Scotsman was the first steam locomotive to exceed 100mph in service, while the Mallard achieved a then world-record speed of 126mph in 1938.

Sir Nigel was knighted for his career achievements in 1936. He died at home unexpectedly on April 5, 1941 at the age of 64.

The statue shows him holding a copy of The Locomotive magazine, which carries a 
description of Mallard.

A computer generated mock-up of the statue, with duck. Picture: supplied

A computer generated mock-up of the statue, with duck. Picture: supplied

In a speech to mark its unveiling, Sir Peter said: “This marvellous sculpture commemorates a man who looked relentlessly forward in his day to more powerful locomotives, faster locomotives and the world steam speed record with Mallard.

“We’re proud to have Sir Nigel on our station as a commemoration to a great railway mechanical engineer who pushed the technical boundaries of the steam locomotive further than anyone else.”

Sculptor Hazel Reeves said her work shows Sir Nigel “in a moment of quizzical reflection”.

She added: “He’s looking out towards the future.”

A memorial plaque to Sir Nigel was unveiled at Waverley station in 2001.

newsen@edinburghnews.com