Nigel Gresley

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Nigel Gresley

H N Gresley.jpg
Born(1876-06-19)19 June 1876
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died5 April 1941(1941-04-05) (aged 64)
Engineering career
DisciplineLocomotive engineer
Employer(s)Great Northern Railway,
London and North Eastern Railway

Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley CBE (19 June 1876 – 5 April 1941)[1] was a British railway engineer. He was one of Britain's most famous steam locomotive engineers, who rose to become Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). He was the designer of some of the most famous steam locomotives in Britain, including the LNER Class A1 and LNER Class A4 4-6-2 Pacific engines. An A1 Pacific, Flying Scotsman, was the first steam locomotive officially recorded over 100 mph in passenger service, and an A4, number 4468 Mallard, still holds the record for being the fastest steam locomotive in the world (126 mph).

Gresley's engines were considered elegant, both aesthetically and mechanically. His invention of a three-cylinder design with only two sets of Walschaerts valve gear, the Gresley conjugated valve gear, produced smooth running and power at lower cost than would have been achieved with a more conventional three sets of Walschaerts gear.

No. 4472 Flying Scotsman


Salisbury Hall, Gresley's home during the 1930s
Memorial plaque to Gresley's achievements displayed in the main hall of Edinburgh's Waverley railway station

Gresley was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, during his mother's visit there to see a gynaecologist,[2] but was raised in England at Netherseal, Derbyshire, a member of a cadet branch of a family long seated at Gresley, Derbyshire. After attending school in Sussex and at Marlborough College, Gresley served his apprenticeship at the Crewe works of the London and North Western Railway, afterwards becoming a pupil under John Aspinall at Horwich of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR). After several minor appointments with the L&YR he was made Outdoor Assistant in the Carriage and Wagon Department in 1901; in 1902 he was appointed Assistant Works Manager at Newton Heath depot, and Works Manager the following year.

He became Assistant Superintendent of the Carriage and Wagon Department of the L&YR in 1904 and a year later moved to the Great Northern Railway (GNR) as Carriage and Wagon Superintendent. He succeeded Henry A. Ivatt as CME of the GNR on 1 October 1911. At the 1923 Grouping, he was appointed CME of the newly formed LNER (the post had originally been offered to the ageing John G. Robinson; Robinson declined and suggested the much younger Gresley).

During the 1930s, Sir Nigel Gresley lived at Salisbury Hall, near St. Albans in Hertfordshire. Gresley developed an interest in breeding wild birds and ducks in the moat including Mallard ducks.[3] The Hall still exists today as a private residence and is adjacent to the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, with its links to the design of the famous Mosquito aircraft during World War II.

In 1936, Gresley designed the 1,500 V DC locomotives for the proposed electrification of the Woodhead Line between Manchester and Sheffield. The Second World War forced the postponement of the project, which was completed in the early 1950s. Edgar Claxton was Gresley's assistant throughout this project, working on power supply, equipment and systems, besides carrying out the trials.[4]

Gresley was appointed CBE in 1920[5] and was knighted in the 1936 Birthday Honours by King Edward VIII.[6] Also in the latter year, Gresley was awarded an honorary DSc by Manchester University and presided over the IMechE.

Gresley died on 5 April 1941, after a short illness, and was buried in the Churchyard Extension of St Peter's Church, Netherseal, Derbyshire. At this time, Gresley was serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers Railway Staff Corps.[7]

He was succeeded as the LNER CME by Edward Thompson.


A memorial plaque to Gresley's achievements was unveiled at Edinburgh Waverley railway station in 2001. It was created by the Gresley Society and incorporates line drawings of his Flying Scotsman and Mallard locomotives.

Following the redevelopment of the site previously home to Doncaster College, the square outside the new Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council Offices and Cast Theatre was named Sir Nigel Gresley Square, in honour of the designer of some of the most famous steam locomotives built at Doncaster Plant Works following a public poll of Doncaster residents hosted by the Doncaster Free Press. Sir Nigel Gresley Square was opened to the public as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, by the Mayor of Doncaster Mr. Peter Davies and two of Nigel Gresley's grandsons, in May 2012.

LNER Class A4 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley is named after its designer.

A statue of Gresley was unveiled at King's Cross station in London on 5 April 2016, the 75th anniversary of his death.[8] Sculptor Hazel Reeves originally included a duck alongside Gresley in reference to his hobby of breeding water fowl and his bird-themed locomotive names such as Mallard, but this was removed from the final design when two of Gresley's grandsons complained it was "demeaning".[9]

The Wetherspoons public house in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, is named The Sir Nigel Gresley in his honour.


Locomotives designed by Gresley[edit]

LNER Class A4 4488 Union of South Africa, a classic Gresley design, restored.


See: Locomotives of the Great Northern Railway


See: Locomotives of the London and North Eastern Railway


Coat of arms of Nigel Gresley
Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley Achievement.png
Sir Nigel was an agnate of the Gresley baronets.[12][13][14]
A lion passant Ermine armed langued and collared Gules.
Vaire Ermine and Gules.
Meliore Fide Quam (More Faithful Than Fortunate)


  1. ^ biography Archived 27 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine accessed 15 November 2007
  2. ^ Jones, Robin (2013). Mallard 75. Horncastle: Morton's Media Group Ltd. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-909128-15-6.
  3. ^ Don Hale, Mallard, Aurum Press, 2005, ISBN 1-85410-939-1 pages 51–52
  4. ^ Johnson, E.M. (2018). Woodhead – The Electric Railway (Scenes From The Past 29, Part 3). Foxline Publishing. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-909625-82-2. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  5. ^ "Civilian War Honours – Order of the British Empire – Commanders (C.B.E.)". The Times. 31 March 1920. p. 18.
  6. ^ "No. 34307". The London Gazette. 21 July 1936. p. 4669.
  7. ^ CWGC. "Lieutenant Colonel Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley | War Casualty Details". CWGC. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  8. ^ "Statue of railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley set to be unveiled". ITV News. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  9. ^ "'Demeaning' duck absent from Sir Nigel Gresley statue". BBC News. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  10. ^ Harris, Michael (1995). Great Northern Railway and East Coast Joint Stock Carriages from 1905. Headington: Oakwood Press. pp. 17, 101, 107. ISBN 978-0-85361-477-7. X56.
  11. ^ "BBC - Nation on Film - Railways - Golden age".
  12. ^ Burke's Peerage General Armory. p. 427.
  13. ^ "Drakelow Hall – General History". Burton-on-Trent. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  14. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 1936. p. 352.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hughes, Geoffrey (2001). Sir Nigel Gresley: The Engineer and his Family. The Oakwood Library of Railway History. Usk: Oakwood Press. ISBN 978-0-85361-579-8. OL118.

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by Chief Mechanical Engineer of the
Great Northern Railway

Succeeded by
Preceded by
Chief Mechanical Engineer of the
London and North Eastern Railway

Succeeded by
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Succeeded by