The mallard is an iconic ‘must’ for Sir Nigel Gresley’s statue

The petition to reinstate the mallard on the planned statue of Sir Nigel Gresley at King’s Cross station is fast approaching 1,500 signatures. There are some excellent comments on the petition too; here is a selection from the past week:Paddington

“Kings Cross Station is an appropriate home for the loco Mallard and a place appropriate to honour Sir Nigel.

What have the grandsons contributed to the statue?!!??!??!

If we can have a children’s character at Paddington Station (Paddington Bear), what is wrong with having a duck at Sir Nigel’s feet?

It was likely that his inspiration for the locos came while he was in the peaceful surroundings feeding the ducks!”

There was even a Paddington Trail of statues of the bear…

“The Mallard is a brilliant idea as it draws attention to the statue and will be something appreciated by future generations. The other ‘Mallard’ was undoubtedly Gresley’s greatest design.”


SP-Statue-wall-front-view“The mallard is an iconic must for those ‘in the know’, and will raise an enquiry from those, especially children, who don’t !!”


“The money was raised with the Mallard in place, and the Mallard will make the statute more appealing”


“Mallard represents the pinnacle of Gresleys work after Flying Scotsman and will enhance what would be just another statue of a famous person to be walked past and ignored by many of the younger generation.”

Making the bronze maquette: Sir Nigel Gresley and mallard

Sculptor Hazel Reeves – commissioned by the Gresley Society to create the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley – has been blogging about the design and build process. Here’s her latest post, which explains how her clay scale model (maquette) of the statue was replicated in bronze:

The clay maquette of Sir Nigel Gresley and the Mallard arrived safely in the Docklands at Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry. Their team made the two moulds – one for the figure and one for the Mallard – and cast them in wax. Two weeks later I was presented with the wax version of the sculpture to check. There is always a need for me to do some minor tweaks at this stage. Additions are made in white wax. I use my wax tools to make other amendments. Time also to position the Mallard. One of the Bronze Age team are always nearby to provide advice or assistance – and a welcome cup of coffee.

sng maquette head

Queen’s Birthday Honours: Andrew Dow, British Empire Medal

Former Gresley Society Vice Chairman, Andrew Dow, who resigned from the Society over the statue issue (having lead the project), has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, published today.

IMG_1250 (Copy)The honour is awarded for services to railway heritage. From 1992 to 1994 Andrew was head of the National Railway Museum in York. He was a past president of the Stephenson Locomotive Society and one time Commercial Director of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Permanent Way Institution. He also served on the boards of many railway charities and societies, including the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway Association, the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society, the Great Central Railway Society and the British Overseas Railway Historical Trust, amongst many others. He was also a prolific writer of articles in the railway press ranging from book reviews to a monthly column.

Sadly, Andrew Dow died in April. See Nigel Dant’s tribute to his Gresley Society colleague and friend, and the Telegraph obituary.

In a statement, Andrew’s family said:

“We are absolutely thrilled that he has been awarded the British Empire Medal. We always knew what an intelligent, committed and wonderful man he was in his private life, but it means a great deal to us that his expertise and contribution to railway heritage has now been recognised publicly as well. Although we are sad that he is not able to receive the Award himself, he was told – in confidence – before he died that he would be receiving the BEM. He was humbled and quite overwhelmed by the Honour. The whole family look forward to receiving the BEM on his behalf later in the year”

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Why the statue was to include a mallard – the sculptor’s story

Sculptor Hazel Reeves, who has been commissioned by the Gresley Society to make the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley, writes about the process from inception on her blog, and it makes for fascinating reading.

She describes the initial brief here, and her painstaking research:

We wanted a larger-than-life sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley, with his old [King’s Cross office] building as a backdrop, representing the past, with him looking out to the new concourse, and to the future.

There were still so many more questions to answer. At what age should he be depicted? What pose would be appropriate? What should he be wearing? It was time for me to get stuck into researching the man, his life and his engines.

This post on Hazel’s blog talks about the decision to include a mallard duck in the statue:

maquette-with-kings-cross-backgroundCaught off guard in a moment of reflection, Sir Nigel appears relaxed and relatively informal, with his hand in his jacket pocket and a copy of his trade journal, The Locomotive, in his other hand. This is his terrain. This is where he works. A twinkle in his eye suggests his good sense of humour. He was an authoritative yet not an autocratic man. He demanded excellence and commanded loyalty.

But why the duck?  This is no mere whimsy. This companion to Sir Nigel, alludes to his record-breaking Mallard locomotive but also his well-documented love of waterfowl. According to his Grandson Tim Godfrey, Sir Nigel “used to live at Salisbury Hall in Hertfordshire, which had a moat, and he started a collection of wildfowl – wild ducks and so on – that he was very keen on….some of his locomotives were named after them” (Shropshire Star, April 29, 2013).

In addition, the Mallard duck was to rouse the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the man, including the younger generation: getting them to come closer, to read the wall plaque and scan the QR [Quick Read] code, to find out more about this incredible engineer. So, the inclusion of the Mallard was to attract interest far beyond the ranks of committed railway enthusiasts.


Pictures from the Society of Women Artists exhibition

Hazel Reeves’ Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard took pride of place at the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition preview on June 4th, when HRH, Princess Michael of Kent visited, as did Michael Portillo.

The show is open to the public until 3pm on June 13th, at Mall Galleries, The Mall London SWl

HRH is pictured here (left, with Hazel Reeves (wearing glasses), right; photo Ed Sepple).

HRH Jelley and Reeves for Twitter (1)

Hazel discussing the maquette with Michael Portillo (photo Ed Sepple).

Hazel and Portillo cropped (1)

Without the mallard, Gresley is destined to remain in obscurity

In this article (also published as the Star Letter in June’s Heritage Railway magazine), Nigel Dant, one of the three Gresley Society Council members to resign over the statue, speaks out about the rationale for including the mallard, and the short-sighted decision to remove it.

Duck Ma’lard?

No one has offered to research, fund and commission a statue of my grandfather, but if they did I think I would want to grab their hand, shake it profusely and thank them from the bottom of my heart. Not so the grandsons of Sir Nigel Gresley.

SP-Statue-wall-front-viewFollowing more than a year of intense behind the scenes work by the late Andrew Dow and myself during which we not only found a sculptor, finalised the design of the statue and, most importantly, negotiated permissions with all the necessary parties (Network Rail, Camden Council and English Heritage) to place the statue at a prime London location – against the western block of Kings Cross station with his back towards his old office – the grandsons declared that the inclusion of the mallard was both inappropriate and demeaning.

Inappropriate? Sir Nigel and Mallard are synonymous surely. Agreed, he designed many beautiful and innovative steam locomotives but his greatest claim to fame – still taught to school children today – is that his A4 pacific Mallard holds the world speed record for steam. A record which is likely to stand forever. The grandsons contend that Flying Scotsman is more famous. Well it might be, but it doesn’t hold the world speed record for steam and whilst it does hold a number of other records they are not so easily identifiable – except to the enthusiast fraternity.

sngIn designing the statue Andrew and I were conscious of the Gresley Society‘s mission statement which is, broadly, to educate the public about the work and life of Herbert Nigel Gresley. Let’s be honest, whilst he was a great locomotive engineer he was never a well known public figure. There is little movie footage of him and none including him speaking, so today’s public have no intimate knowledge of him other than through books and pictures.

The purpose of the mallard – an ‘attribute’ in artistic terms – was to draw people’s interest and to make them curious about its presence. Having done that the QR code on the statue’s plaque would have directed them to the Gresley Society web site where the exploits of Mallard, Flying Scotsman and the beautiful trains which Gresley designed for them to haul would be explained in more detail. That is how you educate.mallard-steam-trai_2606909k

The model (maquette) of the statue was presented to the Gresley Society council in July 2014 to universal approbation. So why, in the ensuing six months, did everything change? Well, it appears that having registered their disapproval of the mallard in late November the grandsons decided to approach all the Society’s vice presidents and council members (excluding those who had put in the work to design the statue) and persuade them one by one to remove the mallard.

Meetings have been convened, the purpose of the mallard has been re-explained as, indeed, has the fact that there is no intention to denigrate Sir Nigel’s memory. But all to no avail. To re-work a well-known phrase ‘The gentlemen are not for turning’. So it appears that despite what any other members in the Gresley Society might think the grand old men at the top have spoken and no one shall dissent.

As Chairman David McIntosh declared at the last Council meeting in March, following a vote to remove the mallard ‘We have our statue’. What he failed to realise of course was that we already had our statue. What he and the other old gentlemen of the Society had achieved was merely to agree to a lesser and, let’s be honest somewhat ineffectual, statue.

So, against all the odds, Andrew and I managed to negotiate for a statue of a little known (outside the railway enthusiast world) locomotive engineer to stand on arguably one of the prime locations in London. But thanks to the short sighted interference of a few and with nothing to draw the attention of the passing public .

And what of the Gresley Society’s mission statement. Well clearly knowledge of Sir Nigel’s achievements must remain within that self-appointed clique known as the Gresley Society’s governing body. What a pity.

There will be ducks

toymallardIt seems inevitable that Sir Nigel Gresley will be accompanied by a duck at King’s Cross station, even if it’s not the bronze mallard we are all hoping for.

colourful duckSo many people have told us now that the statue is destined to be adorned with plastic ducks, decoy ducks, rubber ducks, yarn ducks, and any number of duck-like objects, that we believe them.

Certainly it’s not something we want to see, and we remain hopeful the bronze mallard will be reinstated.

But the Gresley Society have defied public opinion on the statue, and must accept there will be consequences.



Gresley’s grandsons have no right to dictate

Another heartfelt comment from the petition today as we approach 1,300 signatures. I thought it best to tone down exactly what the petitioner said about the vice presidents:

The absence of the mallard destroys the link the Society is trying to create. Gresley’s grandsons only have a voice because of people like me who have kept their grandfather’s memory alive – they have no right or status to dictate on this matter and I am very disappointed indeed with the Gresley Society vice-presidents.

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Andrew Dow obituary in the Telegraph

The Telegraph published an obituary today to Gresley Society vice-chairman and driving force behind the statue project, Andrew Dow. Here’s an extract:

[Andrew Dow’s] greatest love – after his family – was the LNER, personified by its pre-war chief mechanical engineer Sir Nigel Gresley. Dow claimed that the initials of the rival Great Western Railway really stood for “Gresley Was Right”.

Recently, as vice-chairman of the Gresley Society, he had been one of the prime movers behind a plan to erect a statue of Sir Nigel at King’s Cross station. The bronze was commissioned, Dow drummed up the necessary funding and the unveiling was put in the diary for the 75th anniversary next year of the locomotive engineer’s death.

The statue also included a duck, standing beside the great man, representing the A4 class Pacific Mallard, which in 1938 set a still unsurpassed record of 126 mph for a steam-hauled train. Gresley himself had kept ducks on his estate.

Gresley’s grandsons felt, however, that siting a waterfowl on the same plinth would “demean” the statue, and after some controversy the Gresley Society agreed to let the duck go. Dow – already suffering from cancer – and two fellow supporters of the project resigned.

See also the tribute by Nigel Dant (one of other two to resign), here.