New exhibition to celebrate the achievements of Sir Nigel Gresley

On 23 April 1924 the British Empire Exhibition opened at Wembley Stadium with one of the star exhibits, the Doncaster built railway engine Flying Scotsman, making an appearance that would set her on the path to stardom.
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Exactly 100 years after that momentous event, on Tuesday 23 April 2024, a new exhibition called ‘Gresley - Genius of Steam & Speed’ will open at the Danum Gallery, Library and Museum in Doncaster.

It will celebrate the achievements of locomotive designer Sir Nigel Gresley and the unsung heroes that worked alongside him to create Flying Scotsman.

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Featuring a selection of letters and notebooks from Gresley’s own hand, to artefacts such as his hat and passport, this fascinating exhibition will bring to life Gresley’s own life and career, while also remembering some of those unknown Doncaster people who made his extraordinary achievements possible.

New exhibition to celebrate the achievements of Sir Nigel Gresley.New exhibition to celebrate the achievements of Sir Nigel Gresley.
New exhibition to celebrate the achievements of Sir Nigel Gresley.

One of those characters featured in the exhibition is Doncaster man Harry Harper, who worked for many years as Gresley’s personal assistant. Although from different social backgrounds, it is evident that Gresley and Harper were close, sufficiently so for Sir Nigel to entrust several of his personal notebooks and papers to Harper.

That amazing treasure trove of papers is at the centre of this exhibition.

Additional materials for the exhibition, including the audio-visual app guide, were supported and created by XP Trust students, who recently published their book ‘Rail City’.

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Speaking about the exhibition Chris Barron, Trustee of the Doncaster Grammar School Railway Collection Trust said: “Harry Harper handed over what we now call ‘The Gresley Papers’ to the Doncaster Grammar School Railway Museum in 1963 but for decades they have been largely unknown and unseen to the world in general.

"These documents are of great historical significance and have provided the impetus for this entire exhibition. We are delighted to have worked closely with Heritage Doncaster and The Gresley Society in making them public.”

Also speaking about the exhibition Philip Benham, Chairman of The Gresley Society said: “One hundred years on from the event that first thrust the world’s most famous locomotive into the limelight, it is fitting to see the achievements of Flying Scotsman’s creator commemorated in this wonderful exhibition. It is all the more appropriate that it is being held in Doncaster, where so many of Gresley’s achievements took place.”

Damian Allen, Chief Executive at City of Doncaster Council, who has long supported the work of rail heritage groups in the area said: “This is another important celebration and milestone in the life of our railway history. Our city is fast assuming its rightful position as a centre for such activity and this event serves to reveal even more about our proud past and ability to collaborate with a wide range of partners.”

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This free exhibition runs from 23 April – 21 September 2024 and is a wonderful, not-to-be missed opportunity to gain an insight into one of the most important engineers in the history of the railways, while celebrating the role that Doncaster and its people played in the construction of locomotives like Flying Scotsman.

The exhibition is a collaboration between The Trustees of the Doncaster Grammar School Railway Collection, The Gresley Society Trust, Heritage Doncaster, and XP Trust.