Gresley Society now ‘national target for criticism and contempt’

So much for the Gresley legacy, writes David Wilcock in Steam Railway (August edition), saying the Gresley Society has become a national target for criticism and contempt.

Here’s an extract from the 6-page article (see also here and here):

“The Gresley Society has earned its place in preservation’s hierarchy, if for no other reason than for its timely rescue of ex-Peterborough (New England) Gresley ‘N2’ 0-6-2T No. 69523 back in 1963, and its proud record of maintaining and operating that talisman engine over the ensuing 52 years.

69523-LSociety Council members have sometimes been accused of ‘playing trains’ with the N2 – but whichever side of the footplate you get your buzz, to greater or lesser degrees we’ve all done a bit of that.

In more than half a century, the 500-member Gresley Society has quietly ploughed its own furrow and offended almost nobody. Livery changes to the N2 are perhaps the closest it has come to ‘controversy’.

Now, suddenly, the Society finds itself a national target for criticism and contempt – the focus of anger and derision from a growing cross-section of people including its own members, other steam enthusiasts and even ‘ordinary’ members of the public who, until a few weeks ago, had never even heard of the Gresley Society.

SP-Statue-wall-front-viewThey have been moved to put their names and voices to an online petition [1,860 signatures as of today] following the decision of the Society’s ruling council to remove the symbolic mallard duck from a new bronze statue of Sir Nigel Gresley due to be unveiled at King’s Cross next April, on the 75th anniversary of his passing.

That might seem at first glance to be something of a tempest in a duck pond – but emotions are running high because the mallard – an endearing and obvious allusion to Gresley’s 126mph world record breaking ‘A4’ Mallard and intended as an aid to telling the Gresley story, especially to children and young people – has been booted out at the behest of Sir Nigel’s grandson, Tim Godfrey, 76, and his younger brother Ben.

mallard head onThe Godfreys – both Society vice-presidents who have no vote on the ruling council – say the mallard ‘demeans’ their grandfather’s image.

It’s a view that many people, myself included, find truly puzzling and difficult to rationalise, because the great LNER locomotive engineer’s achievements have been enshrined in British railway history for more than 75 years already – and his affection for ducks is a matter of record.”

Wilcock concludes:

“I wonder if, in the light of overwhelming public opinion in favour of keeping the mallard, the Gresley Society council is big enough to take the issue back to the boardroom table, and think it through again?

It might be prudent at the same time to reassess whether its core function is to perpetuate the memory and legacy of the great man – or to pander slavishly to the whims and fancies of his descendants. It can’t do both. To use a well-worn, but entirely apt phrase, it seems to me the Gresley Society has lost the plot.”

 

Sir Nigel’s legacy: not safe in the hands of the Gresley Society?

Is the great LNER locomotive engineer’s legacy safe in the Gresley Society’s hands? asks David Wilcock in the August issue of Steam Railway. His no-holds-barred analysis of the Society’s handling of the statue debacle rather suggests the answer is “no”.

Here’s an extract (see also this):

Resignations, a petition, and widespread indignation – but the protests over the Gresley Society’s decision to scrap the mallard from a new statue of Sir Nigel Gresley – at the behest of his two grandsons – appear to have washed over the Society’s elders like water off a duck’s back.

Until last November, the concept of a statue of Sir Nigel with the mallard at his feet enjoyed the unanimous and enthusiastic support of all 11 members of the Gresley Society Trust council. But as a direct result of pressure from the Godfrey brothers, the Society’s trustees voted (effectively by eight to three) to chop the mallard from the statue.

Society Chairman David McIntosh admitted: “When it comes to a decision between a duck and the friendship of Sir Nigel’s nearest living relatives, there is no contest. Harmony is more important than dedication to a minor issue.”sng and 7

Attracting attention to statues of men in suits

One of the many contentious arguments the Gresley Society has used in defence of its decision to remove the mallard from the statue of Sir Nigel concerns the duck’s role as an ‘attribute’ – defined in artistic terms as ‘some distinguishing addition to the principle figure.’

flindersThe Gresley Society say:

… artistic opinion is by no means unanimous that a modern statue needs something ‘extra’ in order to attract attention.

betjemanAnd whilst they may well be right that not everyone agrees an attribute is necessary (is ‘artistic opinion’ ever unanimous about anything?), the award-winning sculptor they commissioned for the statue thought it was.

As do the commissioners and designers of many other modern statues. Relevant examples include:

  • John Betjeman (St Pancras Station, 2007. Attribute: shopping bag)
  • Matthew Flinders (Euston Station, 2014. Attribute: dividers and his cat)
  • Terence Cuneo (ex Waterloo Station, 2004. Attribute: easel (and mouse))
  • statueBrunel-PaddingtonIsambard Kingdom Brunel (Paddington Station, 1982. Attribute: top hat)
  • James Henry Greathead (outside Bank Station, 1994. Attribute: plans)
  • stephensonGeorge Stephenson (Chesterfield Station, 2011. Attribute: dividers, wheel, model Rocket)

A few commentators have suggested other attributes for Gresley’s statue might work better than the mallard, for example a scale model locomotive (see Stephenson’s statue). But a mallard duck, in its apparent incongruity, is instantly recognisable across the concourse, and makes the link between Gresley and the thing that made him world famous – steam speed record holder Mallard.

Iconic and unforgettable. Which is why the sculptor chose it. Add to this Gresley’s well-known affection for waterfowl, and the mallard attribute works on all levels.

Only the star-struck Gresley Society hierarchy seem to think Sir Nigel is already so recognisable that he just needs to stand there looking benignly across King’s Cross station, and everyone seeing the statue – now and for the next 100 years or so – will know, or want to know, who it commemorates. Without the mallard, they will not.

SP-Statue-wall-front-view

 

 

 

David Wilcock: the Gresley Society has lost the plot

The August edition of Steam Railway has a six page article by David Wilcock, which is a no-holds-barred analysis of the way the Gresley Society has handled the statue debacle.

Wilcock concludes:
“I wonder if, in the light of overwhelming public opinion in favour of keeping the mallard, the Gresley Society council is big enough to take the issue back to the boardroom table, and think it through again?

It might be prudent at the same time to reassess whether its core function is to perpetuate the memory and legacy of the great man – or to pander slavishly to the whims and fancies of his descendants. It can’t do both. To use a well-worn, but entirely apt phrase, it seems to me the Gresley Society has lost the plot.”

Gresley Society Council members Mike Foreman and David McIntosh promoting the Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard statue in happier times,  before they ditched the duck, November 2014

Gresley Society Council members Mike Foreman and David McIntosh promoting the Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard statue in happier times, before they ditched the duck. Warley Model Railway Exhibition, November 2014

Top railway authors and artists get behind campaign to save Gresley’s duck

The campaign to save the mallard duck on the controversial statue of railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley has received a boost with the support of eminent railway authors and artists.

sng2The 7 foot 4 inch high bronze sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley was commissioned from award-winning sculptor Hazel Reeves by the Gresley Society Trust. It is due to be unveiled on the Western Concourse at King’s Cross station in London on 5th April 2016, the 75th anniversary of Sir Nigel’s death. The project, costing £95,000 is crowd-funded.

The original statue proposal included a mallard duck at the engineer’s feet, symbolising the Gresley-designed locomotive Mallard, which attained the world speed record for steam on 3rd July 1938. The mallard was also intended to draw attention to the statue and pique interest in Sir Nigel and his work.

Earlier this year, with half the funding secured, the Gresley Society announced that it had decided to remove the mallard from the statue because Sir Nigel’s elderly grandsons feared it would cause ridicule.

MallardA petition and campaign urging the Gresley Society Trust to reinstate the mallard was then launched, attracting overwhelming support for the duck in social media, national and railway press.

Amongst the campaign supporters are railway authors and artists, who this week spoke out against the decision to remove the mallard.

Don Hale OBE, in Mallard: How the ‘Blue Streak’ Broke the World Steam Speed Record, explains that the locomotive Mallard represented the pinnacle of Gresley’s career, saying it was the most magnificent locomotive he ever created and when it recorded the world speed record in 1938 it made him world famous, also out-running the Nazi German rival and giving Hitler his first humiliation and taste of defeat. He said:

“Gresley and Mallard were like a marriage made in heaven. Without Mallard he would have just been known as one of many outstanding railway engineers of his time. And without a tribute to Mallard, it will completely devalue this statue and make it worthless and futile.”

michael-williamsMichael Williams, author of best-selling railway books, including The Trains Now Departed, Steaming to Victory and On the Slow Train, has written widely about the genius of Nigel Gresley. He said:

“How nice to spark the imagination of a new generation of young people with this witty statue of Gresley and the duck. I live just up the road from King’s Cross station, and I know my own young children would love it…”

Christian Wolmar, whose many railway books include The Iron Road and Fire & Steam: How the Railways Transformed Britain, described Sir Nigel Gresley as one of the greatest ever locomotive engineers, and said:

“I support the duck!”

Joining the authors in support of the mallard on Sir Nigel’s statue are four top artists: Malcolm Root, Fellow of the Guild of Railway Artists (FGRA), Philip D. Hawkins FGRA, Jonathan Clay GRA and Matthew Cousins GRA. All have given examples of their work to be used in the campaign to reinstate the mallard.

Jonathan Clay, whose Birds In Flight drawing for the this website depicts a mallard flying ahead of the locomotive Mallard, and the mallard duck shown here, said:

“The inclusion of the mallard duck on the statue is an inspired idea. I urge everyone to sign the petition to keep the mallard.”

 

Calling Gresley Society members

Paul Bush writes:

I would urge all members of the Gresley Society who are supporting the save the Mallard campaign to let me know! I’m a member who spoke at the recent meeting in York, and would like to know the strength of support within the ranks of members. By the way there were only 30 or so members attending the last meeting at York.

Name and membership number is sufficient, and if you have given up membership or resigned over this issue, please let me know….

If I can prove that this issue has been, in the eyes of the members, handled badly, then the Council need to listen, and listen well, before the Society loses not only a Mallard on a statue but membership as well.

Paul Bush tuddytown1965@gmail.com

“Mallard” by Jonathan Clay, appears with kind permission in support of our campaign

Mallard

Gresley statue without mallard a ‘vanity project’ for old boys’ network

Responses, on Facebook, to the Gresley Society’s latest statue pronouncement have, amongst other things, called into question the Society’s motivation for persisting with their plans in direct opposition to public opinion.

As one commenter puts it:

Why do I now have the impression this is a vanity project rather than a monument which introduces people to a great man?

Others talk of an old boys’ network that places no value on the opinions of those outside it (indeed, the Chairman has more or less said as much).

However, disregarding public opinion may be a risky strategy, says another commenter, as it contravenes Charity Law:

[It] actually invalidates the Society’s charitable status where ‘education charities’ such as the Gresley trust can only be charities by virtue of the educational responsibilities.

 

 

oldboysnetwork

Gresley Society Chairman slams public interest in statue

In a letter published in July’s Heritage Railway, Gresley Society Chairman David McIntosh speaks out against statue campaigners and a contributor to the Society’s fund-raising appeal who expressed his disagreement with the decision to remove the mallard from the statue.

McIntosh is already on the record¹ as saying children are not a target audience for the Gresley Society’s efforts.

It seems from the letter that the Society is in fact solely concerned with ‘long-term supporters’ (whatever that means), and ‘the family’ (aka Gresley’s grandsons).

It is difficult to see how this stance can be reconciled with the Gresley Society’s charitable objects: THE ADVANCEMENT OF EDUCATION OF THE PUBLIC IN PARTICULAR BY THE PROMOTION OF INTEREST IN THE LIFE AND WORKS OF SIR NIGEL GRESLEY IN THE FIELD OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING.

hr july letter from mcintosh

 

 

Notes
1. The Gresley Society’s statement on the statue row includes the following:

“When we began to receive significant adverse comments on the presence of a duck at the feet of Sir Nigel from our President, all ten Vice-Presidents and senior officers at other related organisations, we quickly realised that we could not proceed without a careful re-appraisal of the project.

We are also aware that artistic opinion is by no means unanimous that a modern statue needs something ‘extra’ in order to attract attention.

Equally we have never regarded small children as a target market for our work.”

Gresley not known outside railway world

Commenter Christopher Clark on the importance of the mallard as a draw for people not yet acquainted with Sir Nigel Gresley’s work:

I was surprised to read that the grandsons of Sir Nigel felt that the addition of the Mallard was not in keeping with their grandfather’s image. Outside the railway world I don’t think he has an image and certainly to the vast majority of the many thousands who use King’s Cross every day the name Sir Nigel Gresley will mean nothing at all.

Without the duck the statue will just be another ‘man in a suit’ and of little interest to anyone. With the Mallard the statue will rival the Harry Potter shopping trolley as an attraction for visitors – particularly young children – travelling through the station with their parents. Their parents will have a reason for reading about the duck and the man standing next to it!!

In the 60 or so years since Sir Nigel died the family have had the opportunity to raise the money and negotiate with the authorities to erect a statue to recognise his contribution to railway engineering. For whatever reason they have chosen not to. What they have done, though, is to stop the addition of the one item that will attract peoples’ attention and make them curious to find out more about the great man.london_kings_cross_station_harry_potter_gleis_9_3_4