Since 1862, the ‘Flying Scotsman’ train service has been transporting passengers between London and Edinburgh in true style. The Flying Scotsman story is rooted in the origins of the railways in nineteenth-century Britain. When this new mode of travel exploded in popularity, it was delivered by a railway industry which was a hotbed of financial competition and aggressive expansion as companies vied to attract passengers.
Against this backdrop, three different railway companies decided to join forces to create a quality through service between London and Edinburgh. In the 1860s, the North British Railway, the North-Eastern Railway and the Great Northern Railway (the operators of the East Coast Main Line) built a new set of carriages the ‘East Coast Joint Stock’, to ensure a quality through service on the East Coast Main Line.
In 1862, the first “Special Scotch Express” service between London and Edinburgh ran: two trains departed simultaneously at 10:00am from King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley, they arrived at their destinations 10 and a half hours later. The much-needed direct link between the English and Scottish capitals, which included a half hour stop in York for lunch, quickly became a fixture in the life of the nation.
The journey was seen as such a notable feat of speed and convenience that a new, unofficial name for the service came to the fore: in 1875, the first use of the epithet “The Flying Scotchman” was first recorded in the Times. The service proved more than equal to this popular nickname, and by 1888, the journey time had been reduced to eight and a half hours.
By 1923, Britain’s multiple railway companies had been merged together and the three members of the East Coast Joint Stock became part of the newly-formed London and North Eastern Railway. Soon after, the PR-savvy LNER capitalised on the increasingly popular name for their renowned express train service by officially renaming it the “Flying Scotsman” in 1924. The company also ensured instant celebrity status for the flagship star of their locomotive fleet, the Doncaster-built number 4472, by giving it the same name as the iconic train and exhibited it at the ‘British Empire Exhibition’ in Wembley 1924 and 1925.
The LNER continually innovated during the interwar years to ensure the Flying Scotsman express service maintained its position at the forefront of the public consciousness. In 1928, the train was equipped with a new corridor tender which enabled a replacement driver and fireman to assume control without stopping the train. Amidst a blaze of worldwide publicity, Flying Scotsman hauled the train of the same name from London to Edinburgh without stopping on 1 May 1928, the first run of what was then the longest non-stop scheduled service in the world.
The LNER undertook frequent publicity stunts to amplify the Flying Scotsman name as the premier train between London and Edinburgh. In 1932, crew members on board the Flying Scotsman conversed via telephone with the crew of the Imperial Airways airplane ‘Heracles’ while both sped northwards alongside each other at 90mph. In 1933, the train was pitted against an aeroplane and a motorboat during a two mile race along the River Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire – and again came out on top, with the plane finishing second and the speedboat finishing in last place.
On a special test run from Leeds to London on 30 November 1934, Flying Scotsman became the first steam locomotive to officially travel at 100mph, a speed recorded by the LNER ‘dynamometer car’ which was designed for recording the results of locomotive tests. Headline-grabbing feats like these secured the Flying Scotsman train service huge fame that still endures today.
To establish the Flying Scotsman train as the epitome of style as well as speed, the LNER promoted it as ‘a hotel on wheels’ in the inter-war period, starting the enduring legend of the age of high-class rail travel. On-board luxuries included a ladies’ retiring room, a hairdressing saloon (which provided 18 haircuts and three shaves on its first trip), and a ‘travelling newsman’ from W. H. Smith who supplied the latest papers, including those published on the day of travel. Passengers could also enjoy fine dining in an opulent Louis XVI-style restaurant, sip a special “Flying Scotsman” in the bar, or, for a brief period, watch a film in the train’s cinema car.
Today, the Flying Scotsman train service is operated by Virgin Trains East Coast, lead sponsors of the National Railway Museum’s Flying Scotsman season. In October 2015, the new-look Flying Scotsman train was unveiled in its striking new Virgin Trains East Coast livery at Edinburgh Waverley station. While nineteenth-century passengers were thrilled by the prospect of arriving at their destination 10 and a half hours after departure at 10am, today’s Flying Scotsman traveller boards the service at 5:40am at Edinburgh and disembarks exactly four hours later at King’s Cross having stopped just once at Newcastle and enjoyed modern conveniences such as Wi-Fi, device charging points and a variety of catering options.
We’re bringing the glamour back – three new exhibitions
As part of our Scotsman season, we’ll be bringing to life the lasting fame of the historic service with three new exhibitions. Our free Stunts, Speed and Style display gives visitors the chance to step on board a line-up of four historic locomotives that hauled the famous Flying Scotsman passenger service from its nineteenth century origins through to the post-steam era.
Our ground-breaking ticketed exhibition Service with Style offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the vintage glamour of the Flying Scotsman passenger service as well. Three carriages of the kind that would have accompanied the London-Edinburgh service will recreate the atmosphere of the world’s longest-established express train. Audio and film clips, archive news footage and signature tastes inspired by historic Flying Scotsman menus will be used to bring the world of the luxury service to life.
Discover beautiful images and interesting stories in Andrew McLean’s stylish, illustrated The Flying Scotsman: Speed, Style, Service hardback exhibition book on ‘the world’s most famous train’. Andrew McLean is the National Railway Museum’s Head Curator.