Andrew Dow was the driving force behind the Sir Nigel Gresley statue project until his resignation in March over the decision of his colleagues on the Gresley Society Council to remove the mallard. The two other Council members who were working with him on the project also resigned.
This tribute was given by one of them, Nigel Dant, at Andrew Dow’s funeral in Yorkshire last week. It is reproduced here with permission from Nigel Dant and the Dow family.
Tribute to Andrew Dow by Nigel Dant
A number of you in this congregation, like me, will have known Andrew through his love of railways. His interests in this field were many and he managed to spread his time and his talents widely.
Andrew 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.
Indeed, it was his long-running series ‘That reminds me’ in Steam World which particularly drew his name to my attention because he seemed to posses this unique ability to write interestingly and persuasively on almost any railway topic under the sun, however obscure and from the merest crumb of an idea.
So it was that I eventually met Andrew, fairly late in both our lives, through his involvement in the Gresley Society. We had both been Council members for a number of years and I remember there was often an element of tension when an Agenda item particularly grabbed his passion.
Allow me to take you through the last couple of years during which he embarked on his last great project.
When in 2012 the Gresley Society received a substantial bequest from one of its members thoughts immediately turned to how this might be used – in keeping, of course, with the role and aspirations of the Society. Andrew was always a stickler for using the Society’s assets appropriately and wisely. Both Andrew and I separately prepared papers for a Council Meeting at York in March 2013 and between us we came up with between fifteen and twenty suggestions covering all areas of interest.
Out of these suggestions, a bust of Sir Nigel Gresley seemed an idea worthy of further consideration and I was tasked with making some initial investigations around costs and practicalities. This I did reporting back at the next Council meeting with a sum which I thought would blow the idea out of court. Imagine my surprise then, when Andrew chipped in with the question ‘How much would a statue cost then?’ And from that moment the Gresley Statue Project was conceived.
It was almost a forgone conclusion that Andrew and I would form the nucleus of the Sculpture Group (as we called ourselves) setting out on a path which neither of us had trodden before. Where do you start with such a project and, indeed, would any organisation welcome such a statue on their property?
I soon learnt to appreciate both Andrew’s capacity for work and his organisational skills. He was crystal clear when it came to communicating his ideas and always swift to praise a job well done. Equally he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He had an enormous network of friends and colleagues and if he didn’t know the particular person we needed to approach then he probably knew someone who did. So we started with Network Rail since, on balance, we felt a statue of Sir Nigel would sit most appropriately on one of their properties.
Andrew, always one step ahead of the game, had his own ideas on this and whilst Doncaster might have seemed the most appropriate venue, in his mind Kings Cross was an even better one. So through a contact of his in York we were given an introduction to the station management at Kings Cross who pretty much welcomed us with open arms.
As in his writing, Andrew when in face to face discussion could be very persuasive and his argument that the statue should sit in front of the west block of Kings Cross station, below the offices where Gresley and his senior colleagues had worked, was nothing short of inspired. But it wasn’t just Network Rail who we had to convince. Camden Council and English Heritage would also need to give their consent so, nothing daunted, Andrew set up a joint meeting with them to not only seek an initial response but also to ascertain how we might best achieve a positive result.
As with our Network Rail meetings we found both Camden and English Heritage immensely helpful and encouraging. However, we were keen not to prejudice the outcome of any of our discussions or submissions and so agreed that all details of our proposal should be keep under wraps until all necessary permissions had been received. And we maintained this position as long as we reasonably could.
In the meantime we were starting to have long and detailed discussions with Hazel Reeves (our chosen sculptor) about the form of the statue. Hazel was introduced to us through my connections in the world of arts (one of the few areas where I felt I could dare to pull rank on Andrew). I was initially very nervous about how he would receive her. I needn’t have worried. From the outset Andrew recognised her as a true professional in her field. Whilst she might not have been a railway enthusiast (and certainly not a Gresley aficionado – though she quickly became a willing disciple) she had done a great deal of homework before our first meeting and she took copious notes during all our discussions.
Andrew’s enthusiasm for the statue project was becoming infectious and by March 2014 we had Council agreement to commission an initial model (or maquette) cast in bronze which, in turn, would allow us to proceed with making an application to Camden, English Heritage and Network Rail for a larger-than-life statue of Sir Nigel Gresley on the brand new concourse at Kings Cross station.
I cannot tell you the fun Andrew had looking around Hazel’s studio in Billingshurst on one of the occasions when we were inspecting the initial clay models. He was like a child in a sweet shop. Discovering that the lost wax casting process was used in the production of the maquette gave him opportunity to display his knowledge of the subject gleaned from his years at Rolls Royce. By early July of 2014 the finished bronze maquette had been displayed to Council to their unanimous approbation and this was followed a few days later by the formal on-line submission to Camden.
During the run up to the formal submission I was being bombarded by emails and telephone calls from Andrew asking for an opinion on this or a view on that. With the submission made I assumed that there might be a small lull in activity over the Summer. Not a bit of it, during the eight weeks waiting for a decision Andrew turned his mind to the publicity machine to raise the necessary capital, revamping the Society website, the unveiling day and the guest list. All his organisational skills were coming to the fore.
The statue was approved exactly as we had asked for it in a prime position on Kings Cross station. This was almost beyond our wildest dreams. We met several times in London during the last quarter of 2014 and always we would start with a discussion over a cup of coffee sitting on the balcony overlooking the place where the statue would stand. For some reason, I always ended up picking up the tab!
In early 2015 despite all that was going on in the background, we continued to forge ahead with promoting the statue and seeking corporate funding. A hastily convened meeting with East Coast in York, who we knew were ceasing their contract within a couple of months, saw Andrew at his cheekiest . They listened attentively to our story and, whilst making it clear they were not themselves in a position to assist us financially, nevertheless offered to open some doors with their successors. They then asked what sort of sum of money we were looking for to which Andrew replied – without hesitation – ‘well a five figure sum would be very welcome’. Had they been continuing in business, I think we would have got it.
The conversation with East Coast then turned to the unveiling ceremony and we explained that whilst we had a number of thoughts on that, we hadn’t yet settled on any individual. Their advice, which somewhat surprised us, was ‘It is much easier to start at the top and work down; why not try for a Royal?’. I was going to let Andrew write that letter.
However, events overtook us on that side of things.
Andrew had planned that the unveiling of the statue would be a day the railway fraternity would remember, putting both Sir Nigel Gresley and the society created in his name on a national if not international level. And so one of our final acts was to request that on 5th April 2016, up to four Gresley locomotives should be lined up at the buffer stops in platforms 5, 6, 7 and 8 at Kings Cross. Network Rail duly took the request on board, maximum engine lengths were supplied and watering facilities discussed. Their principal concern, apart from getting the locos into and out of the Cross, was to ensure the continued running of the timetabled train service around the locos. In the event they agreed that initially two could be accommodated, but I think, if time and circumstances had allowed, Andrew would have persuaded them to accept all four.
What a magnificent day that would have been.
It saddens me to think that a few individuals have worked so hard to destroy that spectacle.
Andrew, you were an inspirational railway colleague, a man of infectious enthusiasm, a visionary and a true friend.
Rest in peace.