Nigel Gresley CBE

Herbert Nigel Gresley CBE (1876 - 1941)

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Sir Herbert Nigel (Nigel) Gresley CBE
Born in Edinburgh, Scotlandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of [private wife (1870s - 1920s)]
Died in Watton House, Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshiremap
Profile last modified | Created 31 May 2014
This page has been accessed 2,671 times.

Categories: Notables.

The Gresleys of Drakelowe


Herbert Nigel Gresley was born in Edinburgh on 19 June 1876[1] during his mother's, Joanna Beatrice, visit there to see a gynaecologist [2] following problems with the pregnancy.[3][4]

The Gresley family lived in Netherseale, Leicestershire[5] where Nigel's father, also Nigel, was the Rector at St Peter's church in the village[6] and is where he was baptised on 16 August 1876.[7] The family were at home at the Rectory on census night in 1881.[8]

Nigel attended school in Sussex and at Marlborough College,[9] which followed his career in the school magazine.[10] In 1891 he is staying with his Aunt in Clifton, Bristol and his occupation is given as "At Marlborough College"[11]. Gresley served his apprenticeship at the Crewe works of the London and North Western Railway, afterwards becoming a pupil under John Aspinall at Horwich of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR). After several minor appointments with the L&YR he was made Outdoor Assistant in the Carriage and Wagon Department in 1901 (He was a boarder with the Wells family at the time of the 1901 census).[12] In 1902 he was appointed Assistant Works Manager at Newton Heath depot, and Works Manager the following year.[2]

It was during a spell as locomotive foreman at Blackpool in 1899 that Mr Gresley met the lady who was later to become his wife, Miss Ethel Frances Fullagar. She lived a short way along the coast at St Anne's[13] and was an accomplished musician. In 1901 they married [14][15] They had four children; Nigel, Violet, Roger and Marjorie, who Gresley enjoyed taking around locomotive yards.[16]

He then enjoyed a rapid rise in his career: in 1904 he became Assistant Superintendent of the Carriage and Wagon Department of the L&YR. A year later, he moved to the Great Northern Railway (GNR) as Carriage and Wagon Superintendent. On 1 October 1911 he succeeded Henry A. Ivatt as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the GNR and in 1923 he was appointed CME of the newly formed LNER.[2][17] Nigel's education and career is documented in his application to The Institution of Civil Engineers,[18] and easier to read in the typed equivalent record of his aplpication to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.[19]The 1911 Census shows Nigel's domestic situation recording him living at Avenue House in Doncaster with his wife and children.[20]

In 1920, Nigel was awared the CBE for his work during WWI: "On outbreak of World War I he reorganised Doncaster Works for production of armaments. He modified locomotives for military use. Later in the war he served on the Engineering Committee of the Ministry of Food."[21][22][13]

"In 1929, Mrs Gresley had to undergo a serious operation at the family home. Afterwards, the surgeon told her husband that the illness was terminal, there was no hope of his wife's recovery. Mrs Gresley was never told, so for months Gresley had this great ordeal to endure. Ethel Frances Gresley died in August, being buried at Netherseal, her husband's boyhood home. She was only 54. Gresley was devastated and some say that he never really recovered. They enjoyed a very happy married life. His daughter Vi stepped into the role of the hostess and devoted companion and accompanied him on future business and social occasions.
The strain of that summer had aged Nigel Gresley considerably, so to recover from his great loss he went to Canada, accompanied by his daughter,[23] where he hoped the high, bracing air of the Rocky Mountains would give him the tonic he needed. On his return from Canada, Mr Gresley lived with his family in a flat in London for a year, but his love for the country was predominant. Eventually he moved to Salisbury Hall near St Albans, an Elizabethan residence surrounded by a moat. Here he could enjoy one of his favourite hobbies, that of keeping and collecting many species of British wild duck on the moat."[13]

1936 was a good year for Gresley, he was awarded an honorary DSc by Manchester University[2] and a knighthood by King Edward VIII.[24]Also in that year he presided over the IMechE.[25]

A further accolade was bestowed upon him when the Directors of the LNER proclaimed that the 100th Pacific Locomotive which was built to his design, A4 No 4498, was to be named after him. The ceremony was performed by William Whitelaw, Chairman of the LNER, at Marylebone Station on 26th November 1937 with many of Sir Nigel's team to witness the occasion.[13]

"On 3 July 1938, at 4.22 in the afternoon, the superbly streamlined A4 Pacific locomotive Mallard swept through Grantham on the East Coast main line towards Kings Cross ... she had reached a top speed of 126mph - a world record for steam locomotives that still stands"[26]

After the success of Mallard's record breaking run, Gresley's health began to fail. He had decided to leave Salisbury Hall and from 1937 lived with his eldest daughter and her husband at Watton House, Watton-at-Stone in Hertfordshire. His intense keenness and love of his work never slackened, in spite of his heart specialist warning him to ease off a good deal, in 1935. Early in 1941, he was again warned that he would not live for six months unless he cut down his work to only four days a week, but Sir Nigel said it was not possible, he could not be seen to slacken his work during a war, when everyone else was working to their best ability.[13]

He died at home on 5 April 1941[27][28] aged only 64. He was buried on 9 Apil 1941[29] alongside his wife, beneath the Boscobel oak in Netherseale churchyard,[30][31] the last of the Gresley line to be buried there.[32]

"Since 1927 Sir Nigel had cherished hopes of a National Locomotive Testing Plant for the "attainment of increased efficiency." But those were hard economic times and government help was not forthcoming. He persevered however, enlisting the support of Sir William Stanier. Eventually the directors of the LMS and LNER agreed to pool their resources and gave the go-ahead in 1935 for a plant to be built at Rugby. The outbreak of war in 1939 brought construction to a halt, but his long-cherished dream did come true on 19th October 1948 when the plant was officially opened, with two of his family in attendance. The first locomotive to run onto the test rollers was A4 Pacific Sir Nigel Gresley."[13]

Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley CBE is also remembered as the Lieutenant Colonel (from 1925[33], Major from 1920)[34] of the Railway Staff Corps of the Royal Engineers Regiment of the British Army.[35][13][36]


  1. Madan, 1899, p131
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Wikipedia
  3. Hale, 2008, p11
  4. Blue Plaque unveiling speech by Tim Godfrey
  5. Along with neighbouring Overseal, Netherseal village transferred from Leicestershire to Derbyshire in December 1897.
  6. Hale, 2008, p12
  7. St Peter's Netherseal; Baptisms on South Derbyshire BDM
  8. "England and Wales Census, 1881," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2015), Herbert N Gresley in household of Nigel Gresley, Nether And Over Seal, Leicestershire, England; from "1881 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing p. , PRO RG 11/, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey; FHL microfilm.
  9. The Marlburian - Vol 44, issue 673, page 11
  10. The Marlburian - Vol 49, issue 740, page 6
  11. "England and Wales Census, 1891," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2015), Herberd N Gresley, England; from "1891 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO RG 12, Gloucestershire county, registration district, CLIFTON subdistrict, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.
  12. "England and Wales Census, 1901," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2015), Herbert N Gresley, Prestwich, Lancashire, England; from "1901 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing county, registration district, Prestwich subdistrict, PRO RG 13, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 The Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust Ltd; The Blue Plaque.
  14. "England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2015), Herbert Nigel Gresley, 1901; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Marriage, Fylde, Lancashire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
  15. The Marlburian - Vol 36, issue 561, page 4
  16. Hale, 2008, p14
  17. The Marlburian - Vol 58, issue 838, page 19
  18. Civil Engineers records 1820-1930 via Ancestry
  19. Mechanical Engineers records 1847-1930 via Ancestry
  20. "England and Wales Census, 1911," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2015), Herbert Nigel Gresley, Wheatley, Wheatley Doncaster, Yorkshire (West Riding), England; from "1911 England and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO RG 14, county, registration district, subdistrict, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.
  21. The Gresley Society Trust - A Chronology
  22. The Marlburian - Vol 55, issue 808, page 2
  23. has sources showing Nigel and Violet's trip: Departure on the Empress of Scotland on August 31 1929, They cross from Canada to the USA on 7th September, and Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954
  24. The London Gazette 21 July 1936: issue 34307, page4669
  25. Presidents of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  26. Hale, 2008, back cover text
  27. "England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2015), Herbert N Gresley, 1941; from "England & Wales Deaths, 1837-2006," database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Death, Hertford, Hertfordshire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
  29. St Peter's, Netherseal; Burials on South Derbyshire BDM
  30. Hale, 2008, p156
  31. Find A Grave #8450023
  32. Hughes, 2004, p176
  33. Forces War Records #6776659
  34. Forces War Records #6659375
  35. Forces War Records #2544776
  36. Find a Grave # 110812850 Brookwood Memorial
  • Hale, Don. Mallard: How the 'Blue Streak' broke the world speed record. London, 2005 (paperback edition 2008) ISBN 978-1-84513-345-0
  • Hughes, Geoffrey. Sir Nigel Gresley: The Engineer and his Family. Usk, 2001 (reprinted 2004) ISBN 0 85361 579 9
  • Madan, Falconer. The Gresleys of Drakelowe. Oxford, 1899. Accessed via Internet Archive

Membership records of the Institute of Mechanical Engineer (IMechE) via

The Marlburian Magazine

Nigel Gresley on Wikipedia

Gresley Baronets on Wikipedia

Netherseal Village website

The Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust Ltd, The Blue Plaque at The Old Rectory, Netherseal

Netherseal Conservation Area Character Statement, South Derbyshire District Council, 2011

Netherseal Hall

Unveiling of the Nigel Gresley Blue Plaque - speeches - Including memories of "Tim" by Sir Nigel's grandson

The Gresley Society Trust

Drakelow Hall

Save the Duck!

Statue - with or without duck!

Happy 140th Birthday!

Nigel's son: OMs in GllESLEY AND MlSS M. COOKE, A marriage lias been arranged between Nigel gresley, eldest son of Major H. Nigel gresley, 0.15. K., and Mrs. Greslcy, of Avenue House, Doneaster, and grandson of the late Rev. Sir Nigel gresley, Barl., of Netherseale Hall, Leicestershire, and Mabel, eldest daughter of Dr. Frank Cooke, and Mrs. Cooke, uf Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, aiul niece by marriage of Lord Wolverliainpton.


Nigel Gresley CBE is notable.
Join: Notables Project
Discuss: notables

More Genealogy Tools

Sponsored Search

Searching for someone else?
First: Last:

No known carriers of Nigel's Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA have taken yDNA or mtDNA tests and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

Have you taken a DNA test for genealogy? If so, login to add it. If not, see our friends at Ancestry DNA.

Images: 6
Sir Nigel Gresley
Sir Nigel Gresley

60007 (ex LNER 4498) "Sir Nigel Gresley"
60007 (ex LNER 4498)

Blue Plaque, The Old Rectory, Netherseal
Blue Plaque, The Old Rectory, Netherseal

Grave of Sir H Nigel Gresley CBE
Grave of Sir H Nigel Gresley CBE

The Gresley Family plot
The Gresley Family plot

view all


On 6 Nov 2015 at 08:59 GMT John Dixon wrote:

Gresley-82 and Gresley-47 appear to represent the same person because: I have just added Nigel Gresley' wife and children. Can you merge these to join them in properly.

Nigel is 36 degrees from Jelena Eckstädt, 16 degrees from Theodore Roosevelt and 12 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

G  >  Gresley  >  Herbert Nigel Gresley CBE