Design dispute over memorial to Scots rail pioneer

The statue of Sir Nigel Gresley and the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive. Picture: TSPL
The statue of Sir Nigel Gresley and the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive. Picture: TSPL
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FEATHERS are flying in a row over a new statue commemorating a famous Scots-born railway pioneer Sir Nigel Gresley that will stand in London’s Kings Cross Station.

But designs for the memorial were altered after the engineer’s family suggested including the bird would invite ridicule and “detract from its dignity”.

William Whitelaw presents railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley with a silver model of the engine named after him in November 1937. Picture: Getty

William Whitelaw presents railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley with a silver model of the engine named after him in November 1937. Picture: Getty

The tribute was commissioned by the Gresley Society Trust to honour the engineer, whose Flying Scotsman was the first steam locomotive officially recorded at over 100mph in passenger service and whose Mallard still holds the record for being the fastest steam locomotive in the world after clocking up 126mph.

It is due to be unveiled on the concourse at King’s Cross to mark the 75th anniversary of his death in April next year.

Artist Hazel Reeves had included the duck to acknowledge Sir Nigel’s interest in wild fowl and as a nod to the record-breaking engine that helped make his name.

Now Gresley enthusiasts have launched a campaign to reinstate the bird, with an online petition already attracting nearly 900 signatures.

Libby Ranzetta, who instigated the petition, grew up in the Hertfordshire village of Watton at Stone where Sir Nigel lived with his daughter’s family.

She says people are “dismayed” the duck was cut from the plans.

“It makes the statue engaging and charming,” Ms Ranzetta said.

“It links Gresley to his most famous achievement, the steam traction speed record with his loco called Mallard.

“It sparks interest in, and curiosity about, the statue and the man.

“Very few people alive today would recognise a likeness of Gresley. Even little children will want to know why the duck is there.”

But Sir Nigel’s grandson, a duck breeder based in Shropshire, has hit out at the move.

“It’s a statue for a man, not a stupid duck,” said Tim Godfrey, who grew up in the home where the engineer spent the final years of his life.

“I think the Flying Scotsman was just as important a locomotive as the Mallard - are they going to have a little Scotsman with a kilt and wings sitting on his shoulder?”

However, support for the duck’s reinstatement has been “fantastic”, according to Ms Ranzetta.

“We hope that with 1,000 or more signatures, the Gresley Society will be able to go back to Sir Nigel’s grandsons and convince them the mallard is what makes the statue noticeable and engaging.”

She hopes getting the duck back in will be a “win-win” situation for everyone concerned.

“People love it and it would be a great memorial to this great man.”

But Mr Godfrey said the campaigners have “no business” calling for the duck to be put back in.

“They are not members of the Gresley Society. They are not contributing to the cost of the statue.

“What are they trying to do? Is the duck more important than the man?

“I think the statue is brilliant. It’s a wonderful idea and it’s a very good likeness of him.

“The Gresley Society, which is instigating and paying for the statue, has 12 councillors. All voted against the duck and dismissed it.

“So if the general public, who have no interest in it whatsoever and who think they know better than we do, if they don’t shut up God knows what will happen. It’s a load of rubbish.”

But designs for the memorial were altered after the engineer’s family suggested including the bird would invite ridicule and “detract from its dignity”.

The tribute was commissioned by the Gresley Society Trust to honour the engineer, whose Flying Scotsman was the first steam locomotive officially recorded at over 100mph in passenger service and whose Mallard still holds the record for being the fastest steam locomotive in the world after clocking up 126mph.

It is due to be unveiled on the concourse at King’s Cross to mark the 75th anniversary of his death in April next year.

Artist Hazel Reeves had included the duck to acknowledge Sir Nigel’s interest in wild fowl and as a nod to the record-breaking engine that helped make his name.

Now Gresley enthusiasts have launched a campaign to reinstate the bird, with an online petition already attracting nearly 900 signatures.

Libby Ranzetta, who instigated the petition, grew up in the Hertfordshire village of Watton at Stone where Sir Nigel lived with his daughter’s family.

She says people are “dismayed” the duck was cut from the plans.

“It makes the statue engaging and charming,” Ms Ranzetta said.

“It links Gresley to his most famous achievement, the steam traction speed record with his loco called Mallard.

“It sparks interest in, and curiosity about, the statue and the man.

“Very few people alive today would recognise a likeness of Gresley. Even little children will want to know why the duck is there.”

But Sir Nigel’s grandson, a duck breeder based in Shropshire, has hit out at the move.

“It’s a statue for a man, not a stupid duck,” said Tim Godfrey, who grew up in the home where the engineer spent the final years of his life.

“I think the Flying Scotsman was just as important a locomotive as the Mallard - are they going to have a little Scotsman with a kilt and wings sitting on his shoulder?”

However, support for the duck’s reinstatement has been “fantastic”, according to Ms Ranzetta.

“We hope that with 1,000 or more signatures, the Gresley Society will be able to go back to Sir Nigel’s grandsons and convince them the mallard is what makes the statue noticeable and engaging.”

She hopes getting the duck back in will be a “win-win” situation for everyone concerned.

“People love it and it would be a great memorial to this great man.”

But Mr Godfrey said the campaigners have “no business” calling for the duck to be put back in.

“They are not members of the Gresley Society. They are not contributing to the cost of the statue.

“What are they trying to do? Is the duck more important than the man?

“I think the statue is brilliant. It’s a wonderful idea and it’s a very good likeness of him.

“The Gresley Society, which is instigating and paying for the statue, has 12 councillors. All voted against the duck and dismissed it.

“So if the general public, who have no interest in it whatsoever and who think they know better than we do, if they don’t shut up God knows what will happen. It’s a load of rubbish.”