Archive for February, 2016

Flying Scotsman Returns!

Posted: February 29, 2016 in Trains

Loco Yard

Today, the world’s most famous steam locomotive, Flying Scotsman, has returned to Steam, at the tune of a £4.2m overhaul, taking 10 years in the process. While I was not able to attend today’s celebrations, as a railway enthusiast and historian, it is a remarkable achievement that the locomotive is finally operational.

The locomotive was built in 1923, as an A1 locomotive, numbered 1472, under the Great Northern Railway (GNR), due to the LNER not yet decided on a system wide numbering scheme.  It soon became the flagship for the LNER, representing it at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembly, in 1924 and 1925. In February, before the event, it was given the number 4472, and named Flying Scotsman.

The modified value gear allowed the locomotive to the haul the famous Flying Scotsman train service, from London to Edinburgh, with it hauling the inaugural train on 1st May 1928. Here…

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An Ol’ Scotsman

Posted: February 29, 2016 in Trains

Stephen G Hipperson


Probably the last time I’ll see this old ‘un on a real track under full steam.


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The Return of The Flying Scotsman

Posted: February 29, 2016 in Trains

Stephen Liddell

The Flying Scotsman is one of the most famous names in locomotion and with a history as grand as its reputation.  The Flying Scotsman is an express passenger train service that has run the 392 miles between London and Edinburgh since 1862 and which continues to this day.   Of course, a number of trains have had the honour of running this great route but there is one train in particular which has long since captured the  LNER Class A3 Pacific steam locomotive No. 4472 Flying Scotsman.

Constructed by Great Northern Railway (GNR), Flying Scotsman was completed in 1923 and exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925.  In 1928, Flying Scotsman made the inaugural run of the non-stop service from London to Edinburgh.

The revolutionary design of the Flying Scotsman meant that for the first time it was possible to travel this great distance without stopping.  For one thing, it…

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In celebration of Flying Scotsman

Posted: February 29, 2016 in Trains

Passing through Doncaster By Linn Rafferty (Linn Rafferty Feb 2016 with permission) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Passing through Doncaster By Linn Rafferty (Linn Rafferty Feb 2016 with permission) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week saw the return to active service of the Flying Scotsman. I didn’t have the opportunity to see this wonderful sight but in celebration will be reblogging today some accounts of those who did.

Flying Scotsman arriving at York

Flying Scotsman arriving at York. Photo by Dave Page (


The foundations of the Lion Tower

The foundations of the Lion Tower

As you prepare to enter the Tower across the moat, you pass the remains of the Royal Menagerie. It was founded by King John (1199-1215). Records show that in 1236 Frederick the second, the Holy Roman Emperor gave 3 leopards to Henry III as part of his wedding gift and in 1240 there is the first record of a lion at the Tower. Interestingly 2 Lion skulls and a leopard’s skull have been found in excavations in the moat, which have been dated to the 13th century. DNA testing has indicated that they were probably Barbary Lions (a species now extinct) from north west Africa.

King Louis Ix of France presented James I with an elephant which was kept at the Tower

King Louis IX of France presented James I with an elephant which was kept at the Tower

The collection continued to grow over the centuries reaching its peak in the 17th century and amongst the animals recorded are camels, an elephant, ostriches, monkeys and a polar bear. During the 18th centuries the collection began to dwindle and although it had a brief renaissance in the early 19th century it became clear that the cramped conditions of the Tower were not beneficial to the health of either the animals or of the humans living there. In 1830 the decision was taken to donate the remaining collection to The Zoological Society of London, who founded their own Zoological gardens on the north side of Regents Park, where it is today.

London Churches: St Mary Abchurch

Posted: February 25, 2016 in London, UK


St Mary Abchurch
Photo by Ben Rimmer (

Despite its location just off of the main thoroughfare of Cannon Street in the City of London, Abchurch yard and its church, St Mary are a quiet oasis of peace.


There has been a church on this site since the 12th century, but the medieval church was burnt down during the great fire of London in 1666. Building of the new church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was commenced in 1681.

Reredos by Grinling Gibbons

Reredos by Grinling Gibbons

Its major feature is the reredos carved by Grinling Gibbons and this is one of a number of ornately carved features in the church.






The central dome features a magnificent painted mural depicting the heavens. It is by William Snow and was added in 1708



Tree Sparrow

Posted: February 24, 2016 in Birds, Natural History



The Tree Sparrow is the smaller and rarer of the two UK species of Sparrows. It is estimated to have declined by over 90% between 970 and 2008, although recent data suggests that the decline has ended and there maybe hints of a recovery in population.






Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

We left our story around the year 1200 BC with the collapse of the Late Bronze Age civilisations. This was a period of immense transition in the Aegean Region, Southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean that historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. Indeed, this was such a traumatic event that some Historians have referred to it as the Ancient Dark Ages. The Historian Robert Drews describes this collapse as “the worst disaster in ancient history, even more calamitous than the collapse of the Western Roman Empire”

As I said last time the causes of this collapse have long puzzled historians. All-around it certainly seems as though it was a time of change and great population movements since at this same time we see the first evidence of the arrival of Iranian speakers east of the Zagros Mountains; these are the people who would later be known as the Persians and the Medes, the rise of the Chaldeans and Arameans in the central desert areas which are enclosed by the Fertile Crescent and the arrival of the Mushki in Anatolia.  It also sees the arrival in surrounding areas of a number of other new peoples. Theories include environmental causes such as climate change, volcanic action or drought. It may be that these are linked since it has been suggested that the migration of people seen at this time may well have been caused by environmental disasters in lands to the north of the area.


The  Gift Horse by Hans Haacke is currently on display on the ‘fourth plinth’ in Trafalger Square, It depicts a skeletal horse, which is a reflection of the riding  statue of William IV originally planned for the plinth, mirroring that on King George IV which stands opposite.

The bow tied to the front leg is meant to represent the ticker tape of the London Stock Exchange, symbolising the inprtance of the financial market to both London and the UK.


The pose of the horse is based on a sketch by the famous UK artist George Stubbs, renowned for his pictures of horses, examples of whose work can be seen in the nearby National Gallery.


Tower of London (2)

Posted: February 19, 2016 in History, London, Medieval History, UK


The moat surrounding the Tower of London was originally built by Henry III as a defensive ditch rather than a moat. It was not until the 13th century that it was connected to the Thames and flooded with water. However over time, the changing level of the river meant that there was little water flow between the river and the moat meaning that the moat water became stagnant. In the 19th century, the Duke of Wellington, concerned at the health risk the stagnant moat posed to the garrison ordered it drained and it has remained dry every since.



It has been used as a site for filming and in recent winters as the site of an ice skating rink, but perhaps most memorably as the site of the ceramic poppies display during the World War 1 commemorations in 2014.