Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Obituary: Sir William McAlpine - 1936-2018

Obituary: Sir William McAlpine - January 12, 1936-March 4, 2018

THE Hon Sir William McAlpine, sixth baronet, who rescued Flying Scotsman from America, has died at the age of 82.

A passionate rail enthusiast, he built a full-sized railway at his Fawley Hill estate, which included the original station from Somersham in Cambridgeshire, which was closed in the Sixties.

He shared his home, which he built in 1960, with his second wife Judith and since 2004 the couple have hosted the annual Hambleden Valley “railway nativity”.

This is a modern take on the story featuring children from the village for which the couple dressed as Father Christmas and “Mrs Christmas” to hand out gifts to visiting youngsters.

Sir William was born at the Dorchester Hotel in London, which his family owned, and was the oldest son ofLord (Edwin) McAlpine.

His great-grandfather was Sir Robert McAlpine, the first of the McAlpine baronets and founder of the construction and civil engineering company.

Sir William was educated at Charterhouse School in Surrey before going straight into the family business.

He started his career at the Hayes depot in Middlesex, a 30-acre site which housed the McAlpine railway locomotive and wagon fleet.

He ended up running the company’s Scottish and northern business from Glasgow.

He returned to the Hayes depot to find the company’s Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST No 31 was due to be scrapped so he bought it for £100.and moved it to his home. This marked the start of the Fawley Hill railway, a private railway which now runs to more than a mile long and features the steepest non-rack gradient in the world.

Along with the Somersham station, Sir William acquired a Midland railway signal box from Burton-on-Trent and a footbridge from the Isle of Wight, where it had spanned the Ryde Pier to Shanklin line.

He was able to further indulge his passion for locomotives when in 1985 he was invited to chair the Railway Heritage Trust at its inception.

He led the enterprise with his own special brand of enthusiasm, skill and dedication for 33 years.

Under his leadership. there has been nationwide acknowledgement of the unique place in society of railway architecture.

Sir William helped bring a sense of purpose to the restoration and re-use of the most significant railway buildings and their interiors as well as the revelation of architectural treasures within the railway estate that otherwise could have been lost.

He championed initiatives, lobbied for support, encouraged diverse and effective participation from influential people and used his personal charm to supplement it all.

In 1974 he helped save the London, Midland and Scottish Railway depot at Carnforth in Lancashire.

A group of enthusiasts had formed the Lakeside Railway Estates Company with the idea of preserving both the Lakeside branch line and Carnforth depot. The Steamtown Railway Museum was formed and included the visitor attraction Steamtown Carnforth. Sir William became a shareholder in the company, allowing Flying Scotsman to make Carnforth its home for many years.

He later acquired a controlling interest in the company in order to fund the purchase of the complete site, including the track, from British Rail.

He will be remembered best as the saviour of Flying Scotsman, buying it in 1973 after it was left stranded in America following a financially disastrous tour.

Flying Scotsman was built in Doncaster in 1923 and ran as a passenger train between London and Edinburgh. It was the first locomotive to break the 100mph barrier.

It went out of service in 1963 and was sold to entrepreneur Alan Pegler, who took it on a tour of America only for this to be cut short when he was declared bankrupt.

Alan Bloom, owner of Bressingham Steam Museum, approached Sir William with a request for him to buy the locomotive.

Sir William paid $72,500 — about £25,000 then — for the locomotive, two tenders (which carried fuel) and spares and arranged for her to be shipped from San Francisco to Liverpool on board a tanker, fastened to the deck.

The locomotive then made her way to Derby, where she was given a complete overhaul.

After being christened with a bottle of champagne by the Minister of Transport Richard Marsh, Flying Scotsman spent time at Dartmouth Steam Railway in Devon and then Carnforth, where she provided day trips and excursions.

Thousands flocked to see and ride the locomotive, including the Queen Mother and the actor Kenneth More.

In 1988, Sir William allowed Flying Scotsman to tour Australia to celebrate the bicentennial of British convict ships arriving in the country.

While there, she was joined by Pendennis Castle, another locomotive which Sir William had owned before selling her in 1977.

He took Flying Scotsman apart for repairs twice while he owned her. It was during the second time in 1996 that she was sold.

At that time, the locomotive was co-owned by a consortium that included music mogul Pete Waterman, which decided to sell after receiving an offer from biotechnology entrepreneur Dr Tony Marchington.

Sir William inherited his father’s baronetcy upon his passing in 1990 and was also chief-elect of the Clan McAlpine, served as High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1999 and was patron of the Henley and District Agricultural Association, which organises the Henley Show.

He remained with Sir Robert McAlpine as a director until 2007.

Sir William’s estate also serves as an animal sanctuary with a range of species including goats, deer, wallabies, rheas, emus, peacocks, alpaca, meerkats and capybaras.

It also has several architectural features, including the original Wembley Stadium flagpoles.

Sir William married his first wife Jill Benton Jones in 1959. She died in 2003. They had two children, Andrew and Lucinda.

He married his second wife, Judith, in 2004 at the restored station on his private railway.

Sir William McAlpine: January 12, 1936-March 4, 2018

Read the full story of how he saved the Flying Scotsman here.

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