Resplendent in a scarlet jacket, and appearing as if he had just stepped out of shot from one of his televised railway excursions, Mr Portillo was warmly welcomed to the event by Francesca Caine, chair of the Hadley Wood Rail User Group.
She said Hadley Wood was privileged to be the destination that Saturday morning (7.10.2017) for so many steam train enthusiasts -- or “puff buffs” as she dubbed them, much to the amusement of residents and visitors crammed into the station yard.
Sir Nigel, the designer of the Pacific class of locomotives, including the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard, lived at Hadley Wood in Cartmel House, from 1923 to 1931, and used to travel to his office at King’s Cross from Hadley Wood station.
Whenever a noisy train rushed through the station, Ms Caine called a halt to speeches by waving a Flying Scotsman flag, but that only seemed to add to the fun.
She explained that Hadley Wood was only created when the London and North Eastern Railway opened the station, and the unveiling of the Gresley plaque was another important milestone in the life of the rail users group, which in May celebrated the opening of a new accessible step-free entrance to the platforms.
Philip Benham, chairman of the Gresley Society, owner of two Gresley-designed locomotives, the Union of South Africa and the Great Marquess, was delighted that Mr Portillo, now a most famous “puff buff”, had agreed to unveil the plaque.
Mr Benham recalled his time as the local railway manager in the 1980s when he was responsible for Hadley Wood station and was assisted by Mr Portillo, then MP for Enfield Southgate and Minister for Transport.
“Sir Nigel was in the top three of this country’s locomotive engineers and this was a very special station for him, as he used to commute from his home in Hadley Wood to King’s Cross. This was the very time that his first Pacific class locomotives came into use.
“We are delighted the Hadley Wood rail users wanted to reflect this historic link with a plaque, and it follows the unveiling of a statue of Sir Nigel at King’s Cross and a plaque at the house in Edinburgh where he was born in 1876.”
Mr Portillo said he was sure Hadley Wood’s station yard had never been so crowded and he was so pleased to have the chance to join local rail users in celebrating Hadley Wood’s link with such a famous locomotive engineer.
I was on the Flying Scotsman that day...
“The Flying Scotsman was the first locomotive to achieve 100 miles an hour and Mallard still holds the record for a steam locomotive of 126 miles an hour. Both locomotives represent engineering elegance.”
He recalled the day in 2016 when the newly-restored Flying Scotsman left King’s Cross bound for York, and passed through a crowded Hadley Wood station.
“I was on the Flying Scotsman that day...there were four helicopters following the train...I was filming for Great British Railway Journeys...in a green jacket that time...and at one point I leant out of the train and a helicopter picked me up... from everyone seeing the Flying Scotsman powering ahead, there was an extraordinary, emotional response.”
Pupils from Monken Hadley Church of England School opened the proceedings by singing a specially-composed song, “Flying Scotsman Send-Off”, set to the music of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountains”, and with the repeated refrain, “We’ll be leaving King’s Cross station very soon.”
The choir was conducted by the school’s headmistress, Caroline Froud, and the words of the ditty were written by her sister Jeanette.
Guests at the event included Sir Nigel’s grandson, Ben Godfrey, the Mayor of Enfield, Councillor Christine Hamilton, and the former Mayor of Barnet, Councillor David Longstaff.
Proceeds from stalls in the station yard and a silent raffle were in aid of Inclusion Barnet, a local deaf and disabled group which works towards providing a more accessible society for all.