Bernard Morris held his cut-throat razor tightly in his hands, steadied himself as best he could and prepared to draw the blade sharply across bare flesh.

Shaving and trimming his customers’ hair was not new; he’d been doing it for years at his father’s barber shop within London’s King’s Cross Station.

But this time he was clattering along at an eye-watering speed. Outside, the lush green countryside swept by in a blur, while up ahead the sweat-lashed crew of LNER A1 Class locomotive 4472 was grappling with a hungry and temperamental beast, shovelling coal into its blazing mouth and aware of every creak, chug and shudder as she powered, faster and faster, over the tracks.

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One sudden lurch, heaven forbid an emergency stop, and Bernard – along with one very trusting client – might rue the day someone decided that what 1920s Flying Scotsman passengers really needed was a hair salon offering shaves and trims for the gents, marcel waving and ‘shingling’ for the ladies.

HeraldScotland: Flying Scotsman making its way through the countrysideFlying Scotsman making its way through the countryside (Image: Newsquest)

But in April 1928, Bernard the barber was, it might be said, at the very cutting edge of a glorious age of rail travel, when speed, efficiency, comfort and service was all that mattered.

Of course, modern rail passengers might just settle for a train that is actually running: strikes, reduced timetables and bus replacement services have made a mockery of the old slogan that urged travellers to let the ‘train take the strain’.

The past week of strikes alone has seen an estimated 80,000 trains cancelled. Said to be the worst for rail disruption for 30 years, with around 16 million rail journeys cancelled and mounting concerns that dissatisfaction with the railways and a shift to home working could see an entire generation put off travelling by rail for good.

HeraldScotland: Flying Scotsman on her US travelsFlying Scotsman on her US travels (Image: Penny Pegler)

All a far cry from 100 years ago next month, when the now legendary Flying Scotsman locomotive, designed by Edinburgh-born Sir Nigel Gresley for the newly formed London and North Eastern Railway, emerged from the Doncaster workshops where she was built and set about capturing the heart of a nation.

Over the next ten decades, the Flying Scotsman locomotive would break records, become a focus for showcasing emerging technologies and go on to symbolise a long-lost age when travel, even if it was just a jaunt across the border, was something really quite thrilling.

Adored even by those with just a passing interest in trainspotting, her luck would hit the buffers more than once.

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As time took its toll and the passionate steam enthusiast who ploughed his heart and savings into keeping her running hit financial problems, even this most heralded of steam engines – the first officially recorded to exceed 100mph - would face an uphill fight to keep going.

HeraldScotland: Flying Scotsman was the first officially recorded to exceed 100mphFlying Scotsman was the first officially recorded to exceed 100mph (Image: Penny Pegler)

From the moment the locomotive hit the tracks on 22 February, 1923 to the string of celebratory centenary trips she will make later this year - including a four day jaunt from Kings Cross to Aberdeen, the Flying Scotsman’s story has been packed with twists and unexpected turns, high drama and desperate lows, threaded through with a nostalgic love affair with the age of steam.

She started life as just another locomotive charged with hauling passengers over almost 400 miles of East Coast Main Line between London’s Kings Cross station and Edinburgh Waverley.

The route had been established in 1862, when Walter Leith of the Great Northern Railway unveiled his Special Scotch Express service from London to Edinburgh, with simultaneous departures from King’s Cross and Waverley at 10am on the dot.

HeraldScotland: Flying Scotsman in the golden age of steamFlying Scotsman in the golden age of steam (Image: Penny Pegler)

The word ‘express’ may have been slightly ambitious: rail travel rarely exceeded 40mph – although even that might be welcomed by some of today’s frustrated passengers.

For those early rail travellers, speeding between the two capitals would take at least 10 and a half hours, including a half-hour lunchbreak at York.

Soon though, that relatively sedate journey would become the focus of a frenzied race between the west coast line and the east coast line, with operators challenging to see who could conquer the miles between London and Scotland fastest.

By 1895 the journey was down to six and half hours, but accidents and new employment laws saw a deal struck to fix the journey along both lines to eight and a quarter hours.

However, the search for better and faster was not over. And Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway, was about to play his ace card.

His Pacific LNER A-3 class locomotive would be more powerful than its predecessors. Five were built, but it was the third, locomotive number 4472, built at a cost of just under £8000, that would grab the headlines.

Sir Nigel Gresley came up with a design that made people sit up and take notice


“It was bigger than other locomotives at the time – as big as it could be within the British loading gauge; the width of bridges and tunnels through which a train can pass,” says Bob Wynne, associate curator at the National Railway Museum in York, of Sir Nigel’s Pacific A-3 locomotive design.

“It was right at the limit of what they could build at that stage, with a very big boiler.

“It was intended as a step forward, with capacity to pull heavier trains that now had corridors, restaurants, toilets and all these extra features that added weight to trains.

“Sir Nigel Gresley came up with a design that made people sit up and take notice.”

HeraldScotland: Flying Scotsman has a faithful following todayFlying Scotsman has a faithful following today (Image: Newsquest)

Engine 4472 had already racked up thousands of miles when she was given pride of place in the transport hall of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, parked alongside George Stephenson’s Rocket.

Apple green, 70ft long, weighing 97 tonnes, with six couple driving wheels each 6ft 8ins in diameter, she caught the eye of King George V, who made headlines by climbing on to the footplate and settling into the padded driver’s seat.

But it was LNER’s decision to christen 4472 and the London-Edinburgh route ‘Flying Scotsman’ that would stand her in good stead for a century and help save her for future generations.

She is, says Bob, a marketing success story: “Since 1924 the locomotive has been used as a marketing device by its owners.

“Once named Flying Scotsman, LNER used it as a promotional device as much as they could.”

Every opportunity was taken to highlight the train and locomotive as at the peak of engineering, innovation and luxury, from record-breaking speeds to opulent carriages with cocktail bars, a cinema carriage and hair salon, plush armchair seats, and bustling restaurant cars run by chefs in crisp whites and towering hats.

Her name became synonymous with speed: she entered the record books in May 1928 with the first ever non-stop London to Edinburgh service and six years later she clocked 100mph, an official land speed record for railed vehicles at the time.

There were countless ‘firsts’, such as in 1931, when new wireless technology enabled the results of the Derby to be transmitted to passengers even before some racegoers at the course knew which horse had won.

And in 1932 her crew made headlines when they spoke by telephone to the pilot of an Imperial Airways Heracles overhead.

The following year she beat, a speedboat and a plane in a race alongside the river Ouse in Cambridgeshire.  

But time and technology were moving just as rapidly, and by 1936 the Flying Scotsman locomotive was replaced on the flagship route to become a workhorse on minor lines between Manchester, Leicester and London.

Having once captured the imaginations of the nation, her fate seemed sealed in 1963 when diesel and Beeching’s railway cuts saw her earmarked to be scrapped.

With the clock ticking, a last-ditch meeting in Leith between a steam preservation campaign group and multi-millionaire rail enthusiast Alan Pegler would transform her fortunes.

He had already saved the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales. As chance had it, he had been in love with 4472 Flying Scotsman since seeing her as a child at the British Empire Exhibition.

HeraldScotland: Penny Pegler will enjoy marking the centenaryPenny Pegler will enjoy marking the centenary (Image: Penny Pegler)

His daughter Penny recalls his excitement and determination to keep her running.

“He knew she was doomed and felt it was a great shame for the Scotsman to be scrapped.

“She was the last of her kind and he didn’t want to lose this wonderful engine that he always loved.”

Having spent £3000 acquiring her, he lavished money restoring the engine. Revived, she offered pleasure trips - including a non-stop London-Edinburgh run in 1968.

He knew she was doomed and felt it was a great shame for the Scotsman to be scrapped

But, as Bob points out, steam was old-fashioned and rail authorities wanted to keep lines clear for new, faster diesel trains not clogged up with steam locomotives.

Denied the chance to drive his precious locomotive at home, Pegler struck a remarkable deal.

Loaded with British products and backed by the UK government, the Flying Scotsman embarked on a grand North American tour – complete with Sir Winston Churchill lookalike and actors in Shakespearean outfits – which aimed to highlight British engineering and innovation just as America was conquering space.

“The first part of the trip to America went very well – it was amazing,” recalls Penny.

“For the second part, the money was running out, sponsors dropped away, the UK Government changed. They no longer wanted an old steam engine in the States representing Britain.

“It was a very stressful time for my father but he was convinced another trip across the States would make enough money to pay for her to come back.”

Instead, the money ran dry and fears mounted that 4472 would be seized for scrap.

After months in limbo, £25,000 from construction boss Sir William McAlpine saved her for a second time.

Shipped home, restored and reborn, she now had another remarkable story of survival in her arsenal. And it would become even more impressive when she travelled to the other side of the world to star in Australia’s bicentennial celebrations.

There she covered 28,000 miles on Australian railways, setting a record for the longest non-stop steam locomotive journey - the 422 miles from Parkes to Broken Hill.

By 2000 and in need of investment, she sold for £1.5m to Derbyshire businessman and scientist Tony Marchington only for him to see his ambitious plans to create a Flying Scotsman attraction in Edinburgh rejected by the city council.

With his cash running out, a National Lottery grant and donation from Sir Richard Branson saved her for the nation.

Today, having undergone extensive restoration work, she is part of the National Collection at the National Railway Museum in York, still running and, says Bob, probably better known today, than in her operational heyday.

“If anything, the Scotsman’s fame has grown and grown since it ceased to be an ordinary engine,” he adds.

For Penny, who four years ago honoured her father by pouring his ashes into 4472’s firebox, believes she has an almost magical ability to ignite feelings of nostalgia and romance.

“Everyone has their own story of her,” she adds. “Everyone at some point will have seen her or travelled on her or knows of her.

“She has become a national icon.”