How much of Flying Scotsman is original?

As the locomotive’s overhaul nears completion, this is a perennial question asked of us, and really, the answer is ‘not much’. Over the course of its 90 plus year history as a working locomotive, parts have been replaced at every overhaul – plus of course the locomotive was rebuilt from A1 to A3 specification. It is more of an assemblage of parts bearing the name and taking the familiar outline that is known and loved by so many.

Flying Scotsman just after refurbishment in April 1928 at Doncaster Works (Image from National Railway Museum Collection)

Flying Scotsman just after refurbishment in April 1928 at Doncaster Works
(Image from National Railway Museum Collection)

Working locomotives are often compared to Grandad’s hammer – which has had three new heads and two new handles – but it’s still Grandad’s hammer. Even locomotives which have been part of the museum for over a century are not original to how they came out of the works: our history files are full of recorded and some unrecorded alterations. For example in the 1950s and 60s when the National Collection was being drawn up, the policy was to ‘build back’ locos to the condition as close as was possible to when they were new. That is how some of the locos came to acquire wooden fittings and other compromises were made to try and fit the requirement of making the exhibit appear as it did on the day it came out of the works.

This is why the Midland Compound has a Somerset & Dorset Railway class 7F loco tender and its history file refers mystically to ‘numerous cosmetic changes’ without actually specifying what those changes were! Ironically, famously the former Highland Railway locomotive Ben Alder, set aside for preservation in the 1953 was sent for scrap in 1966 as it was felt to be insufficiently original to allow a sympathetic restoration to take place.

Scotsman looking quite different in wartime black in 2011at the museum

Scotsman looking quite different in wartime black in 2011 at the museum

Over Flying Scotsman’s working life, it has had several changes of boiler, wheels, cylinders and tenders. Many components were interchangeable, not just between the A3 class, but also the V2s such as Green Arrow and so it is with our two locomotives in the collection. There are A3 parts on the V2 certainly. In addition, when Alan Pegler bought Flying Scotsman for preservation in 1962, he had it overhauled and some parts were put on the engine from other A3s. In 1966 Pegler bought the boiler off sister engine Salmon Trout, and the latter’s cylinders were also acquired for spares and eventual use on Flying Scotsman. A photograph of a very sorry looking Salmon Trout exists showing it after stripping and it is basically wheels, frames and a tender – everything else was taken off it.

To make Flying Scotsman more useful for heritage use, Pegler also had the tender swapped for one from a sister A3 named Harvester, as this was one fitted with a corridor to allow for crew changes – and footplate guests on occasions. As initially preserved, the locomotive was already not as it had been when new in 1923 through a combination of use, overhaul and restoration. Changes of number and colour have followed the machine throughout its working life and are well documented in the history books.

Scotsman being worked on in Bury just last month.

Scotsman being worked on in Bury just last month.

In the ensuing 50 years of Flying Scotsman’s life as a heritage item, more pieces have been repaired or replaced and even the nameplates are not the ones it first carried when new. The story goes that when Alan Pegler hit financial difficulties during the locomotive’s sojourn in the USA, the nameplates were sold to provide much needed assistance in a difficult time.

The most recent overhaul is probably the most comprehensive ever undertaken on a steam locomotive outside British Railways service and more worn components found to need renewal, including the bufferbeam, which had not been off the engine in five decades.

So the question of much of Flying Scotsman is original? Well, it mainly consists of the rear two thirds of the frames, part of the cab sides and some parts of the motion and possibly the driving wheel splashers.

Perhaps most importantly there’s name itself. With the same basic outline and the associations that it has built up over nearly a century, and the history which it continues to write.


Scotsman is coming backfind out more about our 2016 season.

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About Dan Clarkson

Dan is Web Manager for the National Railway Museum.
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