King’s Cross was quiet yesterday morning as I waited for the York train to become ready to board. Had it not been, I probably would have missed the recent addition of a statue honouring the engineer Sir Nigel Gresley by Hazel Reeves. The bronze of the statue blends in with the bronze of the brickwork that forms its backdrop. The statue was unveiled on April 5th, the 75th anniversary of Gresley’s death and is sited a few yards from the Kings Cross office in which he worked for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).
No plaque is yet in place and a typed sheet of A4 in a plastic wallet stuck to the wall nearby is the only written acknowledgement of the locomotive engineer who gave us those famous steam locomotives the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard.
Reeves original conception was for Sir Nigel to be accompanied by a duck – a reference both to the fastest steam locomotive in the world (Mallard achieved 126 mph) and his hobby of breeding water fowl in the moat of Salisbury Hall, his Hertfordshire home. Sadly, this witty and human touch didn’t meet with universal acclaim. Two of Sir Nigel’s grandsons felt that the addition of a duck would be “demeaning” and the dispute split the trustees of the Gresley Society Trust, three of whom resigned.
According to press reports, when the statue was unveiled last week by members of the Gresley family and Network Rail Chair, Sir Peter Hendy, there was a protest by the pro-duck lobby with several yellow rubber ducks in evidence. No ducks remained yesterday. No doubt they have decamped to the nearby Regent’s Canal or perhaps they caught the eye of Trim, Matthew Flinders’ statuary cat, from nearby Euston Station!