This 7 foot 4 inch high bronze sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley (right) has been commissioned from award-winning sculptor Hazel Reeves by the Gresley Society Trust. It is to stand on the Western Concourse at King’s Cross station in London, beside the entrance to the Ticket Office, and by the wall to West Offices where Sir Nigel and his principal assistants worked until the outbreak of war. The statue is due to be unveiled on 5th April 2016, the 75th anniversary of Sir Nigel’s death.
The picture shown is a computer-generated image of how the statue was to look in situ, based on a bronze maquette (scale model) that the sculptor has made for promotional purposes. Sir Nigel is holding a copy of The Locomotive Magazine.
The mallard at Sir Nigel’s feet was ‘not only in a nod to the Mallard [the world record-breaking steam locomotive], but because Sir Nigel was famous for feeding ducks at his Hertfordshire home’ reported the Camden New Journal in July 2014, when planning permission for the statue was sought.
The Gresley Society Trust’s application for planning permission stated:
“This duck is no mere whimsy. It is an allusion to Sir Nigel’s most famous locomotive, the Mallard, which holds the world speed record for steam locomotives. It is also an allusion to Sir Nigel’s habit of feeding mallards at his pre-war home in Salisbury Hall.”
Based on the man and mallard design, permissions were successfully sought from Camden Council, English Heritage and Network Rail, and in November 2014 the Gresley Society set about raising the expected £95,000 cost through donations from the public.
In early March 2015, with half the funding secured, the Society announced that it had decided to remove the mallard from the statue and make other unspecified alterations, following ‘widespread consultation’. Asked to explain the decision, Gresley Society chairman David McIntosh referred to ‘significant adverse feedback from many influential old friends’ [personal correspondence]. However, it must be said that comments about the statue on Facebook and Twitter had been overwhelmingly positive up to that point. (And remained so after it).
Rank and file Gresley Society members were not consulted about the removal of the mallard, nor were those who had donated to the statue appeal based on the with-mallard design.
It appears that the Society was forced into the decision out of respect for the views of Sir Nigel’s two grandsons, who felt the mallard would cause ridicule.
The news about the removal of the mallard was picked up by the Times and the railway press, with many people expressing their views on Facebook and Twitter, and in letters to the Times. See here for details.
An overwhelming number of people who expressed a view were in support of the mallard’s inclusion, and a petition calling for it to be reinstated was started in April 2015.
The petition currently has over 2,950 signatures.
This somewhat contentious explanation for the current situation has been offered by Gresley Society Chairman, David McIntosh:
“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.
A special Council meeting was held at which it became clear that we faced a clear choice between either, respecting the clearly expressed reservations of colleagues, friends and long-term supporters whose opinions we respect, and amend the design or, risk a fundamental breech in our relationship with these key individuals. The outcome of our discussion was a unanimous decision, with two abstentions, to delete the mallard. Three Council members felt unable to accept this decision and decided to resign.
Much comment has been made about the nature of the relationship between Sir Nigel and wildfowl – to describe him as an “ornithologist” is a gross exaggeration as is the claim that he “bred Mallards”, which are of course wild animals! He was as much likely to view birds over the barrel of a gun, as a typical country gent of the 1930’s.
Mr McIntosh has been criticised by Gresley Society members for his damning comments about the mallard’s supporters, made in interviews with Steam Railway, which published a detailed account of the statue affair in July.
In August, the Gresley Society’s Patron Sir William McAlpine signed the petition. He joined leading railway editors, authors and artists in supporting the mallard’s inclusion. However, the Gresley Society trustees, at their AGM in December, made it clear they are not interested in listening to anybody else on this matter – not even their own members. They have since, in Steam Railway Magazine, admitted to breaches of charity law in denying members votes at the AGM, and, in response to a series of complaints, the Gresley Society Trust is currently under investigation by the Charity Commission.
Chairman McIntosh continues to claim that Gresley Society members and donors to the statue appeal support the trustees’ no-duck stance, but he should not: members and donors have never been asked for their views. Donors can request a refund, but they have not been contacted with this information – many do not realise the statue has been changed since they donated, let alone know about the refund. The notice is hidden on the Gresley Society’s home page (see our arrow).
Mr McIntosh and his colleagues seem unlikely to change their decision in time for the 5th April unveiling, but we remain hopeful they will see that reinstatement of the mallard on the statue is the best course of action both for the Gresley Society, and for Sir Nigel Gresley’s legacy.
The campaign continues.