Go back to article: Flying Scotsman: modernity, nostalgia and Britain’s ‘cult of the past’


Alan Pegler retained his affection for Flying Scotsman up until his death in 2011. So powerfully did he shape the profile and image of Flying Scotsman that his compromised and historically inaccurate ‘restoration’ of 1963 has embedded itself on the consciousness of so many enthusiasts as the only ‘correct’ appearance of the locomotive. This appearance had finally changed in the 1990s when the double chimney, smoke deflectors and BR livery had been restored. Later the locomotive would be painted apple green and the number 4472 reinstated but the double chimney and deflectors remained (the greater efficiency these gave at a time when the locomotive was being heavily operated being the reason given). It was thus as a strange hybrid that the National Railway Museum acquired Flying Scotsman in 2004. The numerous complaints this prompted showed how closely people mistakenly associated her 1920s appearance with Pegler’s 1960s restoration. As one letter received by the museum on the subject in March 2005 put it:

Please settle an argument. We watched a programme on TV about the “Flying Scotsman” running to York & Scarborough. What happened to the original one (the one without deflectors, single funnel only the original 4472 owned by Pegler. Not this “pretender” in your museum. I [am] sure I have seen the same loco in Swanage (not the original one). People keep saying this is the “Flying Scotsman”, its not...[22]

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the NRM’s 2015 decision to restore the locomotive to as close to its final BR appearance as far as practicable was met with howls of complaint. The restoration, concluded in 2016, is also a compromise in order to satisfy modern safety requirements and accommodate later alterations to the engine that cannot easily be changed. The question of her appearance remains an emotive subject but Flying Scotsman, now the oldest working main line steam locomotive in Britain, has always been something of a chameleon. As a preservation trailblazer the spirit of Flying Scotsman is very much tied up in its story post preservation: it is the period in which an idea of what this locomotive is and what it stands for – even if misrepresented – was cemented and is today a key factor in its overall significance and popular perception as ‘the most famous steam locomotive in the world’.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160507/006