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.
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.
Following 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.
In 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.
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.