Sir Nigel

  • Carriage & Wagon Superintendent, Great Northern Railway 1905 – 1911
  • Locomotive Engineer, Great Northern Railway 1911 -1922
  • Chief Mechanical Engineer, London & North Eastern Railway 1923 – 1941
  • President, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 1936 – 1937

Sir Nigel Gresley was one of the great engineers at the zenith of steam traction. More than seventy years after his death, his fame continues, not least in the locomotives he designed which can still be seen today, including Mallard, which still holds the world speed record for steam traction, and the immortal Flying Scotsman.

Sir Nigel Gresley was one of the leading British locomotive designers of the age of steam. A mechanical engineer of great skill, he also had the imagination and boldness to innovate, a flair to organise and to lead, an artist’s eye for line and proportion, and a touch of showmanship.

Early Years

He first made his mark designing carriages for the Great Northern Railway. His designs were stylish and modern, and when in 1911 the post of Locomotive Superintendent fell vacant Gresley, though still quite young for so senior a post, was appointed. This put him in charge of the running, repair and maintenance of all of the railway’s locomotives and rolling stock, and of all new design. Over the next thirty years he produced a range of successful, modern locomotives. The most impressive was the massive, graceful pacific Great Northern, which was unveiled in 1922.

On 1 January 1923 the Great Northern Railway became a constituent company of the London and North Eastern Railway. Gresley was appointed its Chief Mechanical Engineer, the post he held until his death in 1941.

Revolutionary Locomotive Designs

He designed railway vehicles of all kinds and functions, but it was his Pacifics above all which made his reputation. For thirteen years he refined the design, which reached its peak in the streamlined A4, one of which set the world speed record for steam. Gresley’s Pacifics always caught the public eye and the attention of the press, particularly with events such as the inauguration of the non-stop service between King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley.

There were other impressive designs too, such as the puissant P2 2-8-2, built for power over the demanding main line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Then there was the revolutionary No. 10000, which was a noble attempt to use the marine water-tube boiler for railway use. It was a brave experiment, and massive yet graceful. The water-tube boiler was not successful.

Rolling Stock

In rolling stock, Gresley’s lasting invention was articulation, used for suburban rolling stock and for the beautiful streamline trains of the 1930s, the Silver Jubilee and The Coronation. They set patterns of design and operation which dominate our railways today, such as fixed formation trains, and at-seat service rather than the use of a dining carriage. Articulation is much used today, in passenger trains (such as the TGV and Eurostar); in freight trains (such as carriers for containers and car components); in maintenance machines (such as tampers and ballast cleaners); and in trams, (almost universally).

In addition to all this creativity, Gresley was active in the engineering institutions; he served on government committees, and he undertook consultancy work for the government. By the early 1930s he was at the top of his profession, while his renown amongst railway enthusiasts had become without peer.

At the start of the war he moved is office to his home at Watton-at-Stone. He died there, in office, on 5th April 1941 at the age of 65.