Today marks the 100th anniversary of perhaps the most famous British steam locomotive in the world, Flying Scotsman, commencing its service for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in 1923.
With a fault identified in the same year, and its removal from service, Flying Scotsman was refitted and renumbered for the British Empire Exhibition at the Empire Stadium in Wembley from 1924-1925. The name Flying Scotsman (along with its new number ‘4472’) was chosen to advertise the company’s non-stop service from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley of the same name.
Touted as an icon of speed and style, during its time under LNER Flying Scotsman was used to market the first non-stop run from London to Edinburgh on ‘The Flying Scotsman’ route in 1928, advertising it as ‘The Most Famous Train in the World’. And in 1934, when it achieved an authenticated speed of 100mph, they made sure this achievement was covered in the national press.
Into the 21st century, far beyond the usual level of railway enthusiasm seen for other locomotives, Flying Scotsman has continued to have a prominent impact on our love and nostalgia for steam-powered travel. Purchased for the National Collection in 2004 and steaming back into action in 2016, we have found a renewed and stronger sense of national ownership and drive to remember and celebrate this symbol of the steam age.
Our love for Scotsman comes from our personal recollections of interactions with this (in the words of NRM Associate Curator Bob Gwynne) ‘memory machine’. More so than this, since 2016 Scotsman has functioned as a moving memory machine. Its restoration and ability to tour around the country means we can travel to our most convenient stretch of railway network—or even be hauled along the tracks—to spend time with this iconic engine, and experience the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of steam travel.
It’s hard to find ways to talk about and celebrate Scotsman that have not already been done in countless books, documentaries, films, events and exhibitions—including in two fantastic publications from our Collections and Research team, The Flying Scotsman: Speed, Style, Service and The Flying Scotsman: The Train, The Locomotive, The Legend. But the team at the National Railway Museum and our wonderful partners have done just that!
Today, we are commencing our Flying Scotsman Centenary Programme, where we will celebrate what Flying Scotsman means to each of us and why we find it so special. We hope this year will allow you to not only recall but also create new fond memories of Flying Scotsman and the steam era.
Our programme includes the remarkable refresh of our Flying Scotsman exhibition, Flying Scotsman: 100 Years, 100 Voices, a fantastic book written by Michael Morpurgo and gorgeously illustrated by Michael Foreman, Flying Scotsman and the Best Birthday Ever which launched during the King’s Cross 170 event Scotsman participated in back in October, and not to be missed centenary events at York and Shildon over the coming year.
Keep an eye on our Centenary Programme, and join us as we come together to fondly remember and create a whole heap of new memories of our experiences of Flying Scotsman and find out what it means to us.