The UK has a proud tradition of producing some of the most iconic and best-loved steam engines the world has ever seen.

However, just imagine if the likes of the Flying Scotsman or the Mallard had never come to pass or even failed to get off the design table. There is one man that if it was not for him, some these giants of the UK's golden age of steam would never have come to pass. This man is Sir Nigel Gresley. Famed for his innovative design techniques, brought to life some of the most renowned locomotives in British railway history.

Both the Flying Scotsman and Mallard became legends in their own right but it was Sir Nigel that was the brains behind the two engines. It could be argued that the Edinburgh-native revolutionised the way people thought about creating steam engines and that a non-stop route between London and Scotland could be developed through his creations.

Early life

Sir Nigel was born on June 19th 1876 in Edinburgh and was the fifth child of the rector of Netherseal (part of Derbyshire nowadays), the Reverend Nigel Gresley. Following his education at Marlborough College he became an apprentice at Crewe Works with F.W. Webb during the races to the North. This is where his love of steam engines came to life.

He honed his drawing and designing craft at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) working under the guidance of engineer J.A.F Aspinall and alongside some of the most innovative designers in the business. It was at London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) where Sir Nigel truly came into his own, where he was given the role of chief mechanical engineer (CME).

In this role he was able to develop his policy for big engine which allowed to create some iconic engines such as the GNR A1, A3 and the famous streamlined A4 locomotive.

The Flying Scotsman and Mallard

The Flying Scotsman and Mallard were two of Sir Nigel's finest creation and quickly became legends in their own right. The former became the premier class of engine which patrolled the east coast route between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh Waverley while the latter has gone down in history as being the fastest steam train in the world.

Both engines were designed by Sir Nigel and created at the famous Doncaster railway works but little did people know that they would chug their way into the nation's hearts. So much so that the Flying Scotsman was subject to a campaign to be returned to public ownership after long spells in the US and in different parts of the UK.

Mallard entered the history for being the first-ever steam-powered locomotive to achieve a speed of 126mph. The Flying Scotsman had also crashed through the 100mph barrier a number of years prior but with its streamlined shape, Mallard was truly a dominant force when it came to racing up and down the UK's railways.

Sir Nigel Gresley is currently honoured at Edinburgh Waverley station with a plaque depicting his name alongside the two engines.