Flying Scotsman

Scotsman’s 100mph driver

Williams (Bill) Sparshatt was Flying Scotsman’s most famous driver. He began his career as a locomotive cleaner in 1890 and by 1931 he was a ‘top link’ (most senior) driver at the Kings Cross shed. As a driver Sparshatt established a reputation for speed and excellent time keeping.

Sparshatt’s reputation brought him to the attention of Nigel Gresley and the London & North Eastern Railway publicity departments. Between 1931 and 1936, Sparshatt became a public face of the LNER, posing on Flying Scotsman with several celebrities (in 1932 he was waved off from Kings Cross by holder of the land speed record holder, Sir Malcolm Campbell).

On 30 November 1934 Sparshatt was assisting Gresley and the LNER in running speed tests between Leeds and Kings Cross. During this test Flying Scotsman was officially recorded as reaching the magic speed of 100mph – the first time this speed has been officially reached in the United Kingdom.

These speed exploits were more than just mere publicity stunts – they were experiments in operating high-speed train services. The results let directly to new trains such as The Silver Jubilee, which ran from London to Newcastle in four hours, and locomotives like the A4 class Mallard that became the world speed record holder for speed traction.

“If we hit anything today, we’ll hit it hard”
(Bill Sparshatt, 30 November 1934)

This photograph was probably taken at King's Cross Station in London. It shows the driver, W Sparshatt, and his fireman, R Webster. The picture was taken on the day of the record-breaking 100-mph run between London and Leeds. (Image ref: 10458981)
This photograph was probably taken at King’s Cross Station in London. It shows the driver, Bill Sparshatt (left), and his fireman, R Webster. The picture was taken on the day of the record-breaking 100-mph run between London and Leeds. (Image ref: 10458981)
A rare photograph of Flying Scotsman during it's record breaking run from Leeds to London (William McAlpine Collection)
A rare photograph of Flying Scotsman during its record breaking run (William McAlpine Collection)
The arrival of Flying Scotsman at King's Cross Station following its record-breaking run in 1934. In the cab are the driver, William 'Bill' Sparshatt (shaking hands with Nigel Gresley), and his fireman, R Webster (Image ref: 10465938)
The arrival of Flying Scotsman at King’s Cross Station following its record-breaking run in 1934. In the cab are the driver, William ‘Bill’ Sparshatt (shaking hands with Nigel Gresley), and his fireman, R Webster
(Image ref: 10465938)

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.