A trib­ute to the man who res­cued Fly­ing Scots­man

THOMAS BRIGHT pays trib­ute to one of preser­va­tion’s most in­flu­en­tial and pas­sion­ate sup­port­ers, Sir Wil­liam McAlpine.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

There might be no Fly­ing Scots­man with­out Sir Wil­liam McAlpine. Nor might there be main line steam, the ‘Ja­co­bite’ or the Rom­ney, Hythe & Dym­church Rail­way if not for him. In fact, many things that en­thu­si­asts take for granted were only pos­si­ble be­cause of Sir Wil­liam’s in­volve­ment, in­ter­ven­tion and in­ter­est. If preser­va­tion had a fig­ure­head, he was a wor­thy can­di­date. To many, Sir Wil­liam was the man who saved ‘Scots­man’, but to say he is re­mem­bered solely for his re­la­tion­ship with the world’s most fa­mous steam lo­co­mo­tive is to do him a gross dis­ser­vice. He was so much more. Sir Wil­liam might have been a busi­ness­man first and fore­most, but he was an en­thu­si­ast through and through, and ded­i­cated much of his time, energy and re­sources to sup­port­ing preser­va­tion projects across the coun­try.


Born on Jan­uary 12 1936 at the Dorch­ester Ho­tel in Lon­don, Sir Wil­liam Hep­burn McAlpine claimed he had the rail­way bug from birth. As a mem­ber of the McAlpine con­struc­tion and civil en­gi­neer­ing dy­nasty, he had rail­ways in the blood. His great-grand­fa­ther, Sir Robert McAlpine, 1st Baronet, built the West High­land Line and pi­o­neered the use of con­crete in the con­struc­tion of the rail­way’s bridges and tun­nels – no­tably on Glen­finnan Viaduct – earn­ing him the nick­name ‘Con­crete Bob’. One of Wil­liam’s ear­li­est mem­o­ries was his nanny tak­ing him in his pram to a rail­way bridge near the fam­ily’s Lyt­tle Hall home in Nut­field to watch the trains go by, with the young­ster per­suad­ing his min­der to stay as long as pos­si­ble. Rail­ways were also an in­te­gral part of the fam­ily busi­ness, as the firm em­ployed steam lo­co­mo­tives to as­sist in the con­struc­tion of large projects, fer­ry­ing ma­te­ri­als wher­ever they were needed. In his hands-on ap­proach to the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions, the young Sir Wil­liam of­ten ac­com­pa­nied his fa­ther on site vis­its. For any­one doubt­ing his en­thu­si­ast cre­den­tials, there is no greater mea­sure of Sir Wil­liam’s pas­sion for rail­ways than the line at his fam­ily home in Faw­ley Hill. Many an en­thu­si­ast has dreamt of their own pri­vate rail­way – Sir Wil­liam ac­tu­ally had one. The seeds for what is now one of the most sin­gu­lar rail­ways and mu­seum col­lec­tions in Britain were sown in 1965 when, at the age of 29, Sir Wil­liam ac­quired his first steam lo­co­mo­tive. Dur­ing a visit to the fam­ily firm’s Hayes de­pot, he learned that one of the lo­co­mo­tives stored there – Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST No. 31 (Works No. 1026) – was due to be scrapped. The lo­co­mo­tive had been em­ployed by the com­pany for the en­tirety of its life, but had lain out of use since 1961. Sir Wil­liam can­celled the scrap­ping or­der and, de­ter­min­ing that the lo­co­mo­tive was in good con­di­tion (it had been over­hauled at Hayes prior to its last contract at Llan­wern Steel­works), or­dered it to be de­liv­ered to Faw­ley Hill. So that he had some­where to both store and run his new toy, Sir Wil­liam laid an ini­tial 100 yards of track. This would ex­pand over the years into what is now the Faw­ley Hill Rail­way, a one­mile pri­vate line which boasts a gra­di­ent of 1-in-13 – the steep­est ad­he­sion-worked in­cline in Great Britain. The mo­tive power col­lec­tion would also grow, with the sub­se­quent ac­qui­si­tions of Avon­side 0-6-0ST Pits­ford and 0-4-0ST El­iz­a­beth, as well as the un­usual Avel­ing & Porter 4wWT Si­rapite. Faw­ley Hill was no­table not only for its mot­ley col­lec­tion of lo­co­mo­tives, but also its in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of rail­way ar­chi­tec­ture. An in­vited vis­i­tor to the line on one of its open days would be greeted by the ex-Great Eastern Rail­way sta­tion build­ing from Somer­sham, the ex-Mid­land Rail­way Shob­nall Malt­ings sig­nal box, the sta­tion façades from Ludgate Hill and Broad Street, the Water­loo sta­tion arches, a cast iron Lon­don, Chatham & Dover Rail­way crest… The list goes on. All this, in ad­di­tion to the be­wil­der­ing amount of rail­wayana and other rail­way-re­lated ex­hibits dis­played in Faw­ley Hill’s ded­i­cated rail­way mu­seum, be­lieved to be the big­gest such col­lec­tion in Britain out­side of the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum, makes the rail­way unique. Such was Sir Wil­liam’s in­ter­est in pre­serv­ing rail­way ar­chi­tec­ture that he was chair­man of the Rail­way Her­itage Trust (which helps the ‘big rail­way’ look af­ter his­toric in­fra­struc­ture) from its in­cep­tion in 1985. His in­flu­ence saved many iconic struc­tures from de­mo­li­tion and en­sured their restora­tion. In the early 1970s came the two events in Sir Wil­liam’s life for which he is ar­guably best re­mem­bered. The first was his res­cue of the Rom­ney, Hythe & Dym­church Rail­way. The death of its founder, Cap­tain J.E.P. Howey, in 1963, mired the 15in gauge line in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. Two re­tired bankers pur­chased the line, but ow­ing to the dam­age in­flicted upon the rail­way dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, in­vest­ment was sorely needed. In 1968, a con­sor­tium bought the rail­way but with much of the track re­quir­ing re­newal, con­sid­er­a­tion was given to clos­ing parts of the line.

Pleas reached Sir Wil­liam’s ears, who re­jected buy­ing the rail­way out­right, but in­stead led a group of 20 back­ers, each pro­vid­ing at least £5,000, to not only give the rail­way a se­cure fi­nan­cial foot­ing, but also the nec­es­sary in­vest­ment it needed. On Fe­bru­ary 14 1972, the RHDR was pur­chased by the Rom­ney, Hythe & Dym­church Rail­way Hold­ing Co. Ltd, with Sir Wil­liam as its chair­man and ma­jor share­holder. Dur­ing this time, it came to Sir Wil­liam’s at­ten­tion that one of the RHDR’s orig­i­nal lo­co­mo­tives – Krauss 0‑4‑0TT No. 4 The Bug – was ly­ing in a derelict state in a Belfast scrap­yard. It had been built to haul works trains but, be­ing too small and un­der­pow­ered for the ma­jor­ity of the line’s traf­fic, was sold in 1933 to a Black­pool show­man who in turn sold the en­gine on to Belfast Zoo for use on the Belle­vue Park Rail­way. The Bug was sold for scrap when the line closed in 1950, and it was only by chance that it sur­vived, buried be­neath other scrap in the breaker’s yard. Sir Wil­liam bought the be­lea­guered en­gine for £300 and sent it to Cush­ing En­gi­neer­ing in Kent where, in 1974, it re­ceived a com­plete re­build and sub­se­quently re­turned to traf­fic.


The same year he came to the res­cue of the en­gine with which he would be for­ever as­so­ci­ated: Fly­ing Scots­man. In 1972, the ‘A3’ was stranded in San Fran­cisco af­ter an ex­hi­bi­tion tour of the United States, os­ten­si­bly to pro­mote Bri­tish busi­ness, had bankrupted its then‑owner Alan Pe­gler, and No. 4472 was in dan­ger of be­ing re­pos­sessed by var­i­ous cred­i­tors. Re­al­is­ing ‘Scots­man’s’ pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion, staunch preser­va­tion­ist and Bress­ing­ham Steam Mu­seum supremo Alan Bloom con­tacted Sir Wil­liam urg­ing him to in­ter­vene. McAlpine con­tacted Alan Pe­gler’s col­lab­o­ra­tor Ge­orge Hinch­cliffe and paid for him to fly out to Amer­ica to li­aise with the lawyers han­dling ‘Scots­man’s’ sale. With the rail­road com­pa­nies to which Fly­ing Scots­man En­ter­prises owed money seek­ing cus­tody of the ‘Pacific’, time was short to res­cue the en­gine. Fly­ing Scots­man’s fate was de­cided dur­ing a transat­lantic tele­phone call in Jan­uary 1973. Sir Wil­liam asked Ge­orge: “If I buy the lo­co­mo­tive, can you get it home?” The re­sponse was “Yes”, to which Sir Wil­liam replied: “If I get it back, will you run and man­age it for me?” Ge­orge was hes­i­tant, es­pe­cially in light of his ex­pe­ri­ence with the ill‑fated Amer­ica tour, but af­ter re­ply­ing in the af­fir­ma­tive, Sir Wil­liam said: “Go ahead then, I’ll send the money.” With that, McAlpine took own­er­ship of one of the world’s most fa­mous lo­co­mo­tives; one that would re­main un­der his stew­ard­ship for the next 23 years – longer than any other pri­vate owner. Sir Wil­liam later re­flected on his in­ter­ven­tion: “I think it was al­most my pa­tri­otic duty. I did feel that it needed to be saved and it should be brought home. Some­body ought to do it, and at that stage I didn’t re­ally know how it would be done, whether other peo­ple would want to join in, or what. But then the die was cast. Ge­orge got it home.” Un­der Sir Wil­liam’s stew­ard­ship, Fly­ing Scots­man en­joyed ar­guably the most sta­ble and pros­per­ous era of its preser­va­tion ca­reer, with the high­light be­ing a trip to Aus­tralia where it set a world record for a non‑stop steam‑hauled train – 422 miles. Shortly af­ter its re­turn to the UK, Sir Wil­liam agreed for it to be turned out in its lat­ter‑day BR guise as No. 60103 for the first time since 1963, and from 1993, co‑owned the lo­co­mo­tive with Pete Water­man. How­ever, just two years later, the lo­co­mo­tive was with­drawn with a cracked fire­box, and the en­gine was sold in 1996 to Dr Tony March­ing­ton.


Fly­ing Scots­man wasn’t the only main line lo­co­mo­tive owned by Sir Wil­liam: also un­der his wing was No. 4079 Pen­den­nis Cas­tle, which he had bought from Mike Hig­son, in part­ner­ship with the Hon. (later Lord) John Gret­ton, in 1971. Need­ing some­where to sta­ble the four‑cylin­der 4‑6‑0, as well as Fly­ing Scots­man and Sir Wil­liam’s grow­ing col­lec­tion of rolling stock, the pair iden­ti­fied the for­mer Bri­tish Steel Cor­po­ra­tion site at Mar­ket Over­ton, Rut­land, where they erected a four‑road shed for sta­bling and restora­tion pur­poses. BR’s de­ci­sion to dis­con­nect the Mar­ket Over­ton branch from the

it was al­most my pa­tri­otic duty. i did feel that it should be brought home SIR WIL­LIAM McALPINE

net­work in early 1974 thwarted Sir Wil­liam’s plans to turn the site into a main line steam fa­cil­ity so, in 1976, nearly all the rolling stock and equip­ment was shipped to Steam­town, Carn­forth. The fol­low­ing year, Sir Wil­liam and John Gret­ton sold No. 4079 to Hamer­s­ley Iron Co., and the lo­co­mo­tive was shipped to Aus­tralia. Speak­ing to Steam Rail­way at the time it was an­nounced that Pen­den­nis Cas­tle would be re­turn­ing to Britain, Sir Wil­liam said: “There was some crit­i­cism of me when it went to Aus­tralia, but I only sold it in the first place be­cause it was ly­ing in the shed un­used, it was out of gauge for many of the lines in the north of Eng­land that we wanted to run it on, and it was in need of ex­ten­sive boiler re­pairs which we had no money for. “When Hamer­s­ley ap­proached me, it was Fly­ing Scots­man they ac­tu­ally wanted to buy. I said ‘no – but you can have Pen­den­nis Cas­tle in­stead’… Brunel ex­tended the Great Western to Amer­ica; I’d like to think I ex­tended it to Aus­tralia.”


Re­al­is­ing Steam­town Rail­way Mu­seum (as it was then called) would be per­fect for his re­aligned pur­poses, Sir Wil­liam pur­chased 65% of Steam­town shares and trans­ferred his lo­co­mo­tives there, ex­panded its fa­cil­i­ties and at­trac­tions, and turned it into what was, ar­guably, Britain’s first rail­way ‘theme park’, hold­ing var­i­ous open days and of­fer­ing brake van rides. Sir Wil­liam fa­cil­i­tated the re­vival of the ‘Ori­ent Ex­press’, help­ing lo­cate and se­cure a num­ber of Pull­man cars which were re­stored to main line stan­dard by the Sea Con­tain­ers Group, which leased part of the Steam­town site, as well as ad­vis­ing James Sher­wood on run­ning a pri­vately owned lux­ury train on the main line. Sir Wil­liam also pur­chased his own rake of vac­uum-braked ‘Metro-Cam­mell’ Pull­mans in the late 1970s, ren­o­vat­ing them for main line rail­tours, as well as the for­mer BR Spe­cial Trains Unit coaches when it be­came the first part of Bri­tish Rail to be pri­va­tised. Sir Wil­liam owned many car­riages in his life­time, in­clud­ing rare pre-Group­ing ex­am­ples. One of the most sig­nif­i­cant was for­mer Great Eastern Rail­way First Class sa­loon No. GE1, which was unique in hav­ing an in­spec­tion platform at one end. This coach could of­ten be seen ac­com­pa­ny­ing both Fly­ing Scots­man and Pen­den­nis Cas­tle on main line rail­tours, but one of its most im­por­tant du­ties was when it was used on a nor­mal ser­vice train over the Fort Wil­liam-Mal­laig line, to con­vince BR of­fi­cials of the vi­a­bil­ity of run­ning reg­u­lar steam ser­vices over the line. They were clearly swayed, and it was apt that Sir Wil­liam’s pri­vate coach helped to­wards reg­u­lar steam ser­vices over the line built by his great-grand­fa­ther. Sir Wil­liam was also in­te­gral to the for­ma­tion in 1975 of the Steam Lo­co­mo­tive Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion formed to li­aise with BR with re­gards to run­ning steam on the main line, and en­sur­ing it could con­tinue and ex­pand. It was his in­volve­ment with the SLOA that brought Sir Wil­liam into contact with David Ward, the-then BR Di­rec­tor of Spe­cial Trains. In his fore­word to the Oak­wood Press biography on Sir Wil­liam, David writes: “It would be safe to say that steam op­er­a­tions on the main line would have ceased in the 1970s had it not been for Sir Wil­liam’s in­flu­ence in coun­ter­ing the bu­reau­cracy and op­po­si­tion, much of it at a very high level, to steam’s con­tin­ued op­er­a­tion.” At the time of Sir Wil­liam’s death, David told Steam Rail­way: “Sir Wil­liam had enor­mous in­flu­ence in places where it mat­tered and he used it with great dis­cre­tion. “He was a most friendly and gen­er­ous host at meet­ings, and it was rare to come away from a meet­ing with him with­out achiev­ing the progress wanted. It was all done qui­etly and with­out any fuss. “In the 22 years I had re­spon­si­bil­ity for pre­served steam on the main line, he never went over my head un­less I said this was his best op­tion. When he owned Fly­ing Scots­man he never sought priv­i­leges not avail­able to oth­ers and he would say to me ‘if you want my help please let me know’.” As a mea­sure of the high re­gard in which he was held by his fel­low en­thu­si­asts, Sir Wil­liam was pres­i­dent, pa­tron or chair­man of count­less so­ci­eties and groups. He made things hap­pen. He was noted for say­ing two things. Firstly, he of­ten said: “No or­gan­i­sa­tion man­ages any sit­u­a­tion worse than the Gov­ern­ment.” Se­condly: “Never fall out with any­one – you never know when you might need them.” SR


The man who saved ‘Scots­man’: Sir Wil­liam and Penny Vau­doyer – the daugh­ter of Alan Pe­gler – at the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum, just af­ter Fly­ing Scots­man’s in­au­gu­ral main line run on Fe­bru­ary 26 2016.


Pen­den­nis Cas­tle and Fly­ing Scots­man run in par­al­lel at Northam, Aus­tralia, on Septem­ber 24 1989.


Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST No. 31 climbs the fear­some 1-in-13 gra­di­ent to Somer­sham sta­tion on the Faw­ley Hill Rail­way on June 13 1999.


Fresh from its visit to Aus­tralia, and still wear­ing its commemorative head­board, Fly­ing Scots­man stands un­der the coal­ing tower at Carn­forth on May 23 1990.

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