How hopelessly dim-witted – for Gresley to go without his duck

Guardian journalist Ian Jack made a thoughtful addition to the thousands of words written about the great Gresley statue debate, in an article entitled Duck and cover: there’s no row like a railway enthusiasts’ row published on 16th January.

The whole thing is well worth a read (as are the comments at the end), but here’s Ian Jack’s conclusion:

Sometimes during my short investigation of this story, I thought of how it might suit a dark Ealing comedy such as Kind Hearts and Coronets: Gresley was from the cadet branch of the family, which meant that after he was knighted in 1936 there were two Sir Nigel Gresleys, the other being the baronet. At other times I thought of Marcel Varnel’s Oh, Mr Porter!: the first scene, in which men in top hats and ladies in fine dresses have gathered to name one of Gresley’s streamliners and Will Hay’s clumsiness nearly drowns them all in a flood of misdirected engine-water.

But mainly what I thought was how sad and stupid it would be – how hopelessly dim-witted – for Gresley to go without his duck.


Gresley statue letters in the Times – January 2016

james dow lettter1 (Copy)James Dow, son of the former Gresley Society Vice Chairman Andrew Dow BEM, kicked off a slew of pro-mallard letters in the Times last week. Dow Senior was the driving force behind the statue project, and resigned when most of his colleagues voted to remove the mallard.  (James’s grandfather George Dow was Press Relations Officer for LNER during WWII.)

The following day (27th Jan), a second letter highlighted the importance of the molehill in the St James’ Square statue of William III.


On 28th Jan a third letter-writer felt the mallard deserved a standalone statue, whilst a fourth the next day talked of other notable statues that include animals.stationary duck

mans best friends 29.1



Independent poll shows overwhelming support for Gresley’s mallard

The Independent ran a story about the statue a couple of months ago, and an online poll. 94% of over 4,000 voters to date want the mallard on the statue.

Here’s a comment from the poll (which is still taking votes):

If they take the duck away, it will just be a statue of some old guy in a suit. There’s hundreds of them just in London, almost nobody will even notice it.

If they keep the duck, people will notice the statue. Then people will read the plaque to learn why there’s a statue of a duck; which means they will learn about Sir Nigel Gresley and his work. Plus, if he didn’t want to be associated with ducks, he shouldn’t have called his super-fast steam train the Mallard!

mallard kings cross

Vanessa Feltz: “100% pro duck”

The great statue debate kicked off in March 2015 with a phone-in on BBC Radio London. The host, Vanessa Feltz, fielded call after call in favour of reinstating the mallard to Sir Nigel’s statue, and, saying she wasn’t supposed to take sides, was clearly baffled by the Gresley Society’s decision to remove the duck:

Which is the statue that you are going to take your grandchildren to see; which is the statue that you will make a pilgrimage to see; which is the statue that you will take a picture of yourself next to: the one with the duck or the one without it?
I’m 100% pro-duck.

Vanessa Feltz, BBC London 31.3.15

vaness feltz


Mallard decision makes no sense

The (aptly named) BBC1 programme Pointless this week had a round on ‘famous Nigels’. Sir Nigel Gresley was easily the most obscure Nigel – only 5 out of 100 people said they had heard of him.

How many more people have heard of Mallard? When BBC Newcastle did a feature on the statue story recently they carried out a straw poll to find out how much ‘people in the North East’ know about Gresley (including customers of the city’s Flying Scotsman pub).
Nobody had heard of Gresley, but about half had heard of Mallard.

So, against all the evidence, the Gresley Society trustees insist that Sir Nigel is so famous that people will see the statue and instantly know – and care – who it depicts. They won’t. That’s why Gresley needs the symbolic mallard at his feet.

What on earth is preventing the trustees from seeing sense? They have taken this peculiar stance – which is completely at odds with public opinion and the views of respected figures in the railway preservation movement. Why?

1-1928-gresley-on-Flying-Scotsmans-footplate-phil-marsh-collectionGresley is pictured here (second from right) on the footplate of Flying Scotsman. Doubtless you, GresleyDuck reader, recognise him – but would the average King’s Cross commuter?

Mallard more famous than Gresley

According to the Government’s guidance for charities, the aim of the Annual General Meeting is to provide the trustees the opportunity to explain their management of the charity to the members. It also “provides the members of the charity with an opportunity to ask questions before voting on business items on the agenda”.

Unfortunately the Gresley Society trustees weren’t in the mood for answering our questions at their recent AGM, which was a shame, because there were a number of things we were keen to ask. 105 things actually.

Here’s one:mallard newcastle 1
Q86. A straw poll for BBC Radio Newcastle ascertained that nobody knew who Sir Nigel Gresley was. By contrast 50% knew what Mallard was. What does this tell you about the value of a mallard on the statue?

With or without the mallard?

The Independent ran a story of the Gresley statue this week, and the corresponding article on i100 carried a poll where readers were invited to vote for or against the mallards’ inclusion in the statue. Two days later, and with over 3,500 votes, 94% are in favour of retaining the mallard.

with reader Tez Watson sent in this picture, showing both options. Which do you prefer?

A long term Gresley supporter speaks out

Veteran Gresley Society member Ron Vale, writing in Heritage Railway (issue 207), suggests the Society should restore the mallard on the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley and, in doing so, salvage its own reputation:

mcintosh fbDavid McIntosh (pictured) said in his letter in the July issue that he respects the views of ‘long term supporters’, of which I am presumably one, having been a member of the Gresley Society for over 25 years. I must say though that the Gresley Society has not treated its members with respect over the statue, and I feel the comments he makes in his letter cannot go unchallenged.

The first I was aware of the Council’s decision was via a rail related forum. I understand there was a small insert in the Spring issue of the Gresley Observer (the Society Journal) advising members of the councils decision, it wasn’t in mine. I would be interested in what it said. Perhaps he could forward me a copy.

The sea-change in the Council from overwhelming enthusiasm to utter horror of the duck being present looks sinister. He says it was due to pressure by The President and Vice Presidents (including the grandsons) and ‘senior officers at other related organisations’ but we have not been told who these other people are, and why they outrank the Council (who originally approved the with-mallard design unanimously) and members (who likewise approved the design, at our November AGM where the maquette was presented). So whilst the Council rejects any comments from strangers for its retention, they willingly accept the word of strangers to remove it.

Chris NettletonCouncil Member Chris Nettleton (pictured) is quoted in the Burton Mail as saying:

“The people who wanted the duck to stay were so bitter that they went to the press and broke the code of secrecy.”

Was the Council really intending to keep the removal of the mallard a secret? This is madness.

I am also unhappy at the disrespect Mr McIntosh’s letter shows towards a contributor to the statue project who expressed his disagreement with the decision. Incredibly, contributors were not consulted about the removal of the mallard either. The Gresley Society has behaved indefensibly badly, in my view, in taking the public’s money for one thing and delivering something quite different. This is not the august Society I joined.
I fear for the future of the Gresley Society when the chairman is so dismissive of the views of ‘strangers’ who have shown an interest in the statue.

Vice President Tim Godfrey clearly shares David McIntosh’s views of the public, and has also done our reputation immense damage with his outburst in the Scotsman, which, in a story about the campaign to save the mallard, reported:

“..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 “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?”

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.

“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.”

This last comment about the general public must rate as a good contender for most arrogant quote of year. How on earth are we to sustain Sir Nigel’s legacy and fulfil our mission statement (“The advancement and education of the public in particular by the promotion of interest in the life and works of Sir Nigel Gresley”) if we actively exclude all but the current, inner circle of Gresley enthusiasts, aka ‘long term supporters’?

spencer (Copy)Finally, David McIntosh has said elsewhere with reference to the statue that ‘we have never regarded small children as a target market for our work’. Surely the children of today could be the members of tomorrow so we must nurture them. We are all getting older and if any present members of the Society are still about in 25 years time I will be surprised, and with no new blood the Society will also die. Every other preservation movement is aware of furthering the younger support except us, where it would appear we are actively discouraging interest.

I sincerely hope the Gresley Council can somehow find the courage of their earlier convictions when they approved the with-mallard statue design, and restore the mallard and the reputation of the Gresley Society.

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.”