This weekend, the world-famous steam locomotive, the London and North Eastern Railway’s A1 No.4472 Flying Scotsman, was finally unveiled after a lengthy restoration. Bedecked in its wartime black livery, the machine remains as ethereal, graceful and majestic as it did when first unveiled in the 1930s.
Designed by one of England’s truly great – and sadly overlooked – engineers, Sir Nigel Gresley, the locomotive has a long and profoundly fascinating story. What is significant today is the fact that the locomotive, the first in the world to reach a speed of 100mph among various other astonishing feats, was named after the express of the same name, which has been running for 149 years and has just been relaunched. This express was the very manifestation of the enterprising modernity and engineering genius – not to mention the sheer power of the force of will – of Victorian Britain. By the time that Flying Scotsman was displayed at the British Empire Exhibition in 1934, a journey that might have taken days a mere 70 years previously was now possible in just eight hours.
The express also stands as a reminder of how profoundly important a connection between the capital cities of Scotland and England was to the strength and unity of the United Kingdom. It is perhaps a little sad to consider that it seems that while the locomotive and the service with which it shares its name continue on their journeys to this day, the bridge that they were instrumental in building between the home nations is in danger of collapse. So let us celebrate the continued ingenuity of English engineers and skilled craftsmen – and lament the decline in the Union that provided the context for their innovations and the manifestation of their genius.