Great Britain 2023, Part 2 (Mar 2023)

On 9 March, Great Britain released eight stamps and a miniature sheet containing four additional stamps as part of the celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the Flying Scotsman. Royal Mail calls this “the world’s most celebrated steam locomotive” and “a national treasure of engineering and design.” Please note that the issue refers to the train itself (LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman) rather than the express passenger train service that operates between Edinburgh and London via the East Coast Main Line. It began in 1862 as the Special Scotch Express until it was officially renamed the Flying Scotsman in 1924. The service is currently operated by the London North Eastern Railway.

Promotional photograph of the Class A1 “Pacific” locomotive which became the Flying Scotsman at end of its build in Doncaster Works on 1 December 1922.

I can recall seeing this very locomotive as a young child during a trip to visit relatives in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1970s. At first, I wasn’t sure my memory was correct and I couldn’t find any family photographs taken during the trip. However, I uncovered a few online showing the Flying Scotsman near Fisherman’s Wharf in March 1972 during a U.S. tour; it subsequently racked up some 28,000 miles during service in Australia. This is one well-travelled train!

LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman is a 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive built in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) at Doncaster Works to a design of Nigel Gresley. It was employed on long-distance express East Coast Main Line trains by the LNER and its successors, British Railways Eastern and North-Eastern Regions, notably on the London to Edinburgh Flying Scotsman train service after which it was named.

Flying Scotsman travelling along Jefferson Street at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California, in March 1972. Photo taken by Drew Jacksich.

The locomotive set two world records for steam traction, becoming the first steam locomotive to be officially authenticated as reaching 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) on 30 November 1934, and then setting a record for the longest non-stop run by a steam locomotive when it ran 422 miles (679 km) on 8 August 1989 while in Australia.

Retired from revenue service in early 1963 after covering 2.08 million miles, the Flying Scotsman went under considerable fame in preservation under the ownership of, successively, Alan Pegler, William McAlpine, Tony Marchington, and finally the National Railway Museum (NRM).

As well as hauling enthusiast specials in the United Kingdom, the locomotive toured extensively in the United States and Canada from 1969 until 1973 and Australia in 1988 and 1989. Flying Scotsman has been described as the world’s most famous steam locomotive.

Flying Scotsman was completed in February 1923 at Doncaster Works as the third of 51 Class A1 locomotives built to a design by Nigel Gresley. The A1s were designed for main line and later express passenger services, initially on the Great Northern Railway (GNR), a constituent company of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) after the amalgamation of 1923, for which they became a standard design. Flying Scotsman cost £7,944 to build, and initially carried the number 1472 as the GNR had not yet decided on a system-wide numbering scheme. Following amalgamation, in February 1924 the locomotive acquired its name after The Flying Scotsman express service between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley, and assigned a new number, 4472.

Flying Scotsman became a flagship locomotive for the LNER, representing the company at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Park in 1924 and 1925. In 1928, the LNER decided to make The Flying Scotsman a non-stop service for the first time. 4472 became one of five A1s selected for the service, and hauled the inaugural service on 1 May where it completed the journey in 8 hours and 3 minutes. For this, the locomotives ran with an upgraded tender which held nine long tons of coal and fitted with a corridor connection, so a change of driver and fireman could take place while the train is moving. By replenishing water from the water trough system several times en route, these modifications allowed the A1s to travel the 392 miles (631 km) without stopping. Flying Scotsman ran with its corridor tender until October 1936, after which it reverted to the original type. In 1938, it was paired with a streamlined non-corridor tender, and ran with this type until its withdrawal in 1963.

On 30 November 1934, Flying Scotsman became the first steam locomotive to reach the officially authenticated speed of 100 mph (161 km/h) while hauling a light test train. It earned a place in the land speed record for railed vehicles, and the publicity-conscious LNER made much of the fact. Although the Great Western Railway’s 3700 Class 3440 City of Truro was reported to have reached the same speed in 1904, the record was not official.

In 1928, Gresley began to modify the A1s into an improved version, the Class A3. Flying Scotsman emerged as an A3 on 4 January 1947. Its old 180 psi boiler was replaced with a 225 psi version with the long “banjo” dome of the type it carries today, and was fitted with more efficient valves and cylinders. In December 1958, it was fitted with a double Kylchap chimney to improve performance and economy, but it caused soft exhaust and smoke drift that tended to obscure the driver’s forward vision; the remedy was found in the German-type smoke deflectors fitted at the end of 1961.

Following the success of Gresley’s streamlined Class A4s, Flying Scotsman was no longer the LNER’s flagship engine and was relegated to lesser duties, but still worked on the main line and hauling passenger services. In 1946, the locomotive was renumbered twice by Gresley’s successor Edward Thompson, who devised a comprehensive renumbering scheme for the LNER. 4472 was initially assigned number 502 in January, but an amendment to the system led to its renumbering of 103 four months later. Following the nationalization of Britain’s railways on 1 January 1948, almost all of the LNER locomotive numbers were increased by 60000, and 103 became 60103 that December. On 4 June 1950, now under British Railways ownership, Flying Scotsman was allocated to its new base at Leicester Central on the Great Central Railway, running passenger services to and from London Marylebone, Leicester, Sheffield, and Manchester. It returned to the East Coast Main Line in 1953, initially based in Grantham for several months before returning to London King’s Cross in April 1954, where it remained until its withdrawal in 1963.

In 1962, British Railways announced that it would scrap Flying Scotsman. No. 60103 ended service with its last scheduled run on 14 January 1963, with Jack Peckston of Copley Hill running the 13:15 from London King’s Cross to Leeds, with the locomotive coming off at Doncaster.

After a previous failed attempt by the Gresley A3 Preservation Society to raise the required £3,000 to buy Flying Scotsman, businessman and railway enthusiast Alan Pegler stepped in. He first saw the locomotive at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, and received £70,000 in 1961 for his shareholding in the Northern Rubber Company when it was sold to Pegler’s Valves, a company started by his grandfather. In 1963, after 18 months of negotiations with British Railways, Pegler bought the locomotive for £3,500 with the political support of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He spent large amounts of money restoring the locomotive at Doncaster Works as closely as possible to its LNER condition: it was repainted in its LNER livery; the smoke deflectors were removed; the double chimney replaced by a single; and its standard tender was replaced with a corridor type that the locomotive had run with between 1928 and 1936.

A merged view of the Flying Scotsman, photographed at the Rail200 Railfest at the National Railway Museum in York, 2 June 2004

Pegler’s contract with British Railways allowed him to run Flying Scotsman on enthusiasts’ specials until 31 December 1971; for a time it was the only steam locomotive running on the British mainline. Its first public run was from London Paddington to Ruabon, Wales and back on 10 April 1963, where over 8,000 people came out to see the locomotive at Birmingham. In the following year, Pegler had the engine stand on the Forth Bridge for several days while it was sketched for a portrait by Terence Cuneo. On 13 November 1965, Flying Scotsman claimed the fastest steam hauled run between London Paddington and Cardiff, working the Panda Pullman. It also set the fastest run on the return journey.

By the end of 1965, Flying Scotsman had recouped the £3,000 it cost Pegler to buy it. As watering facilities for steam locomotives were disappearing, in September 1966 Pegler spent £1,000 on a second corridor tender which was adapted as an auxiliary water tank for a further £6,000 and coupled behind the first tender. This allowed the engine to operate with a total water capacity of around 11,000 gallons. Boiler and cylinder parts from Flying Scotsman’s scrapped sister engine, 60041 Salmon Trout were also purchased. In May 1968, the locomotive completed a non-stop London to Edinburgh run, marking the 40th anniversary of the inaugural non-stop Flying Scotsman service and the year steam traction officially ended on British Railways. A non-stop return journey was made three days later.

Flying Scotsman at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire in October 2005, shortly before its 10-year restoration. Photo by Michael J. Irlam.

Following an overhaul on the locomotive in the winter of 1968–69, Wilson’s government agreed to sponsor Pegler running Flying Scotsman in the United States and Canada to support British exports. To comply with local railway regulations it was fitted with a cowcatcher, bell, buckeye couplers, an American-style whistle, air brakes, and high-intensity headlamp. The tour began on 8 October 1969 with a run from Boston, Massachusetts to Atlanta, Georgia via New York City and Washington, D.C., and continued to Slaton, Texas during the winter. Despite the successful start, the tour ran into problems as strict anti-steam laws in some states deemed the engine a fire hazard or required the engine to be towed by a diesel or electric locomotive. None of the trips on the tour carried paying passengers as it was declared illegal to do so. Nonetheless Flying Scotsman completed its journey from Texas to Wisconsin before finishing in Montreal in 1970; and from Toronto to San Francisco in 1971, a total of 15,400 miles (24,800 km).

While in San Francisco, Flying Scotsman ran a series of passenger trips on the San Francisco Belt Railroad which ran along the Embarcadero and was put on show at Fisherman’s Wharf. Although a commercial success at first, Pegler was £132,000 in debt by the end of 1971 and declared himself bankrupt in the following year, leaving Flying Scotsman stranded in the U.S. He arranged for the engine to be kept in storage at the U.S. Army Sharpe Depot in Lathrop, California, to keep it from unpaid creditors. Pegler worked his passage home from San Francisco to England on a P&O cruise ship, and began a new career giving lectures about trains and travel in addition to being chairman of the Ffestiniog Railway.

Amid fears of the engine’s future, horticulturist and steam enthusiast Alan Bloom phoned businessman William McAlpine in January 1973 in an attempt to save it. McAlpine agreed and dealt with the attorneys, paid the creditors, and bought the locomotive. Flying Scotsman was shipped back to England via the Panama Canal in the following month. Upon arrival at Liverpool, the engine travelled to Derby under its own steam with the route lined with crowds. McAlpine paid for its restoration at Derby Works and two subsequent overhauls in the 23 years that he owned and ran it.

Trial runs took place on the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway, of which McAlpine was chairman, in summer 1973, after which it was transferred to Steamtown in Carnforth, from where it steamed on regular tours. In December 1977, Flying Scotsman entered the Vickers Engineering Works in Barrow-in-Furness for heavy repairs, including an unused replacement boiler. In 1986, McAlpine leased a former diesel locomotive maintenance shop at Southall Railway Centre, which became the new base for Flying Scotsman until 2004.

Flying Scotsman steaming through Wales.

In October 1988, at the invitation of the Australian Government, Flying Scotsman arrived in Australia to take part in the country’s bicentenary celebrations as a central attraction in the Aus Steam ’88 festival. The event organisers had been interested in having LNER A4 No 4468 Mallard visit, but it was unavailable due to the 50th anniversary of its world record high-speed run, and 4472 was recommended as its replacement. During the course of the next year Flying Scotsman travelled more than 45,000 kilometres (28,000 miles) over Australian rails, concluding with a return transcontinental run from Sydney to Perth via Alice Springs in which it became the first steam locomotive to travel on the recently built standard gauge line to Alice Springs. Whilst in Australia, it was operated by 3801 Limited (now East Coast Heritage Rail), and was often seen working with Locomotive 3801.

Flying Scotsman at Pier 39, San Francisco, California, on 3 July 1972.

Flying Scotsman returned to Britain in December 1989, where it resumed working on heritage railways and the mainline from the following May. It returned to its former British Railways condition with the refitting of the German-style smoke deflectors and double chimney, and repainted in BR Brunswick Green. In 1993, McAlpine sold Flying Scotsman to help pay off a mortgage on the locomotive. This resulted in music producer and railway enthusiast Pete Waterman to merge his railway interests with McAlpine’s, and the two formed Flying Scotsman Railways with Waterman running the business side of the partnership.

In April 1995, while working on the Llangollen Railway in Wales, Flying Scotsman derailed during an empty stock movement, with all wheels coming off the track before coming to a halt. When placed back on the rails and put back into steam, smoke emerged from a crack separating the boiler and the front cab. It was deemed a total failure, and immediately withdrawn from service. In June the locomotive returned to Southall, awaiting its next major overhaul.

By 1996, McAlpine and Waterman had run into financial issues and to help pay off an overdraft, McAlpine decided to put Flying Scotsman on sale. On 23 February, entrepreneur Tony Marchington, already well known in the steam preservation movement, bought the locomotive and a set of coaches for £1.5 million. He spent a further £1 million on the locomotive’s subsequent overhaul to mainline condition, which lasted three years and at that point, the most extensive in its history. Its first run following the works took place on 4 July 1999, hauling The Inaugural Scotsman from London King’s Cross to York. It also hauled several Venice-Simplon Orient Express Pullman trains. Marchington’s time with the Flying Scotsman was the subject of the Channel 4 documentary A Steamy Affair: The Story of Flying Scotsman.

In 2002, Marchington proposed a business plan which included the construction of a Flying Scotsman Village in Edinburgh, to create revenue from associated branding. After floating on OFEX as Flying Scotsman plc in the same year, in 2003 Edinburgh City Council turned down the village plans, and in September 2003 Marchington was declared bankrupt. Flying Scotsman plc CEO Peter Butler announced losses of £474,619, and with a £1.5 million overdraft at Barclays Bank, stated that the company only had enough cash to trade until April 2004. Later the company’s shares were suspended after it had failed to declare interim results.

In February 2004, a debt agency acting on behalf of Flying Scotsman plc announced it would hold a sealed bid auction for the locomotive, to be held on 2 April. Amid fears it could be sold into foreign hands, the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York announced it would bid and appealed for funds. It secured a winning bid of £2.3 million, 15% higher than the second highest bidder. The bulk of the money came from a £1.8 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, with the remainder coming from £350,000 raised from public donations which was matched by businessman Richard Branson, and £70,000 raised by The Yorkshire Post newspaper. Included in the sale was a spare boiler from 1944 that Flying Scotsman carried from 1965 to 1978, spare cylinders, and a Mark 1 support coach. The locomotive arrived in York in time to be exhibited as part of the museum’s Railfest in June 2004 to celebrate 200 years of rail travel.

In 2004 and 2005, Flying Scotsman intermittently hauled special trains across Great Britain, although problems with its condition soon became apparent. It failed on the delivery trip to Railfest and several times more in the following months, but the museum’s engineering staff failed to spot critical faults. From September 2004 until May 2005, it sat at the NRM’s workshop for a heavy intermediate repair, the intention being to improve reliability and allow operation until its general overhaul and restoration. However, by the end of 2005 the intermediate repairs failed to improve the situation and the NRM decided to proceed with the general overhaul.

The frames of Flying Scotsman in the foreground and tender of 60163 Tornado in the rear, at the National Railway Museum workshops, York, England, during restoration on 24 January 2009.

The locomotive entered the NRM’s workshops in January 2006, with the original intention to return it to Gresley’s original specification and renew its boiler certificate. It was estimated that this would take one year to complete, and cost around £750,000. The works were on view for visitors at the NRM, but the engine was rapidly dismantled to such an extent that the running plate was the only component recognizable to the casual observer.

In July 2007, the museum pushed back the expected completion date by 18 months, due in part to issues with the boiler restoration. By 2009, with further problems encountered including misaligned frames and a cracked cylinder, plus rising metal prices, the museum launched the SOS (“Save Our Scotsman”) appeal, seeking to raise a further £250,000 with the aim of completing the work by the end of the year. In May 2011, Flying Scotsman was unveiled on the museum’s turntable, finished in wartime black LNER livery; after final tests, it was to be painted LNER apple green and have it running excursions by the summer. However, cracks were discovered in the horn blocks and further testing revealed more cracks throughout the frame assembly, leading to the replacement of the main stretcher bar, horn ties and middle cylinder motion bracket, all of which were deemed beyond repair.

On 8 January 2016, Flying Scotsman moved under its own steam for the first time since 2005. The final cost of the restoration amounted to £4.5 million. Following tests on the East Lancashire Railway, its inaugural mainline run was cancelled due to faulty brakes. It was rescheduled for 6 February, hauling The Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express from Carnforth to Carlisle, still wearing its 2011 wartime black livery with the number 60103 on the smokebox and its LNER wartime numbers, 103 and 502, on the cab sides. After it was repainted in BR Brunswick Green, Flying Scotsman returned to London King’s Cross on 25 February with a run to York. Thousands of people lined the route, and the train was forced to stop due to members of the public trespassing on the line near St Neots.

Flying Scotsman has run on British heritage and mainline railways since its return in 2016. In October 2018, six years after Pegler’s death, it hauled the Farewell Alan Pegler special from King’s Cross to York, organized at the request of his daughter. In his will, Pegler requested for half of his ashes to be placed in the firebox of the locomotive as it ascended Stoke Bank. The climb was accompanied by a long blast of the whistle as passengers onboard gave a moment of silence. In January 2019, Flying Scotsman hauled the non-stop Scotsman’s Salute from King’s Cross to York, this time as a tribute to McAlpine following his death in March 2018.

In April 2022, the engine was withdrawn for an overhaul in preparation for its centenary year in 2023. It appeared at London King’s Cross as a static display for two days to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the station’s opening on 14 and 15 October 2022, followed by a return to steam for a visit to the Swanage Railway.

For International Women’s Day on 8 March 2023 Flying Scotsman carried an all-female crew. Left to right is Station Master Chandra Law, Route Conductor Linda Henderson, Fireman Steph Elwood, Loco Cleaner Charlotte Istance, Driver Beth Furness and Guard Lesley Hampson.

In celebration of turning 100 in February, Flying Scotsman will take part in various events between March and December including static displays, runs on the mainline, and visits to heritage railways. In addition to the set of stamps, a collectable £2 coin was produced by the Royal Mint, some of which are in color inspired by the locomotive’s Apple Green livery which marked the first color coin produced in over 20 years. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage released a new poem entitled The Making of Flying Scotsman. On International Women’s Day on the day before the stamps were released, Flying Scotsman was, for the first time in its history, crewed by an all-female crew. The event was organized by the National Railway Museum and East Lancashire Railway.

Technical Information

Date of Issue:9 March 2023
Number of Stamps:Eight (8) gummed stamps
Denominations:4 x First Class, 4 x £1.85
Designer:Steers McGillan Eves
Printer and Process:Cartor Security Printers, Wolverhampton, England by offset lithography
Stamp Size:50mm x 30mm
Perforation:14 x 14
Sheet Layout:60 stamps

First Class: At Pickering Station, 2016

First Class: The Christmas Dalesman, 2019

First Class: Cathedrals Express, 2017

First Class: At Blyth, Northumberland, 2016

£1.85: At Heap Bridge in a blizzard, 2016

£1.85: Cathedrals Express, 2016

£1.85: Victoria Station, London, 2002

£1.85: At Shildon, County Durham, 2019

Full Sheets

30 Pickering Station and 30 Christmas Dalesman First Class Stamps

30 Ribblehead Viaduct and 30 Blyth First Class Stamps

30 Heap Bridge and 30 Berwick-upon-Tweed £1.85 Stamps

30 Victoria Station and 30 Shildon £1.85 Stamps

Miniature Sheet

Technical Information

Date of Issue:9 March 2023
Number of Stamps:One (1) gummed miniature sheet with four (4) stamps
Denominations:2 x First Class, 2 x £1.85
Designer:Steers McGillan Eves
Printer and Process:Cartor Security Printers, Wolverhampton, England by lithography
Stamp Size:41mm x 30mm
Perforation:14.5 x 14

First Class: ‘Scotland by the Night Scotsman’ poster, artwork by Robert Bartlett, 1932

First Class: ‘LNER train service to and from Scotland’ advertisement, designed by HL Oakley, 1923

£1.85: ‘Edinburgh: Mons Meg’ poster, artwork by Frank Newbould, 1935

£1.85: ‘Refuelling the Flying Scotsman’ poster, artwork by Frank Newbould, 1932

Uncut Press Sheet of 15 Miniature Sheets

Presentation Pack

This fascinating pack features all eight Flying Scotsman Special Stamps, alongside the Miniature Sheet’s four stamps. Folds out to reveal facts, photographs and stories to mark 100 years since Flying Scotsman emerged from the London and North Eastern Railway’s Doncaster Works in February 1923. This keepsake is written by National Railway Museum Associate Curator Robert Gwynne. A stylishly designed celebration of British steam engineering, perfect for collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Prestige Booklet

A stunning 24-page publication packed with insights and images celebrating Flying Scotsman’s centenary. Contains all eight stamps and the Miniature Sheet, plus an extra pane of definitive stamps unique to this issue.

First Day Covers

Brilliant Uncirculated Coin Cover

A limited-edition Brilliant Uncirculated £2 commemorative coin, issued by The Royal Mint. The eight mint stamps are cancelled with a unique postmark showing a ‘head on’ view of the famous locomotive showing Flying Scotman’s with the location of Doncaster where it was built. The coin’s reverse design is a side-on view of the locomotive and the edge inscription reads ‘LIVE FOR THE JOURNEY’. A limited edition of 10,000 Coin Covers were issued to commemorate 100 years of this celebrated feat of British engineering and design.

PHQ Cards

A set of 13 postcards featuring enlarged reproductions of Flying Scotsman stamps and Miniature Sheet stamps, plus a Miniature Sheet montage.

On 23 March, Royal Mail will release a set of ten First Class stamps depicting flowers as “a celebration of our garden flora.” Notably, these will be the first British stamps to bear the profile silhouette of King Charles III. The designs feature striking photographs of the flowers against a white background, alongside their common names and are presented as two horizontal se-tenant strips.

Technical Information

Date of Issue:23 March 2023
Number of Stamps:Ten (10) gummed stamps
Denominations:10 x First Class
Designer:Charlie Smith Design
Printer and Process:Cartor Security Printers, Wolverhampton, England by offset lithography
Stamp Size:35mm x 35mm
Perforation:14.5 x 14.5
Sheet Layout:50 stamps

First Class: Sweet Pea

The sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, is a flowering plant in the genus Lathyrus in the family Fabaceae (legumes), native to Sicily, southern Italy and the Aegean Islands. It is an annual climbing plant, growing to a height of 1–2 meters (3 feet 3 inches – 6 feet 7 inches), where suitable support is available. The leaves are pinnate with two leaflets and a terminal tendril, which twines around supporting plants and structures, helping the sweet pea to climb. In the wild plant the flowers are purple, 2–3.5 centimeters (3⁄4–1+1⁄2 inches) broad; they are larger and highly variable in color in the many cultivars. Flowers are usually strongly scented.

First Class: Iris

Iris is a flowering plant genus of 310 accepted species with showy flowers. As well as being the scientific name, iris is also widely used as a common name for all Iris species, as well as some belonging to other closely related genera. A common name for some species is flags, while the plants of the subgenus Scorpiris are widely known as junos, particularly in horticulture. It is a popular garden flower.

Irises are perennial plants, growing from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous irises) or, in drier climates, from bulbs (bulbous irises). They have long, erect flowering stems which may be simple or branched, solid or hollow, and flattened or have a circular cross-section. The rhizomatous species usually have 3–10 basal sword-shaped leaves growing in dense clumps. The bulbous species also have 2–10 narrow leaves growing from the bulb.

First Class: Lily

Lilium is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants growing from bulbs, all with large prominent flowers. They are the true lilies. Lilies are a group of flowering plants which are important in culture and literature in much of the world. Most species are native to the northern hemisphere and their range is temperate climates and extends into the subtropics. Many other plants have “lily” in their common names, but do not belong to the same genus and are therefore not true lilies.

Lilies are tall perennials ranging in height from 2–6 feet (60–180 centimeters). They form naked or tunicless scaly underground bulbs which are their organs of perennation. In some North American species the base of the bulb develops into rhizomes, on which numerous small bulbs are found. Some species develop stolons. Most bulbs are buried deep in the ground, but a few species form bulbs near the soil surface. Many species form stem-roots. With these, the bulb grows naturally at some depth in the soil, and each year the new stem puts out adventitious roots above the bulb as it emerges from the soil. These roots are in addition to the basal roots that develop at the base of the bulb, a number of species also produce contractile roots that move the bulbs deeper into the soil.

The flowers are large, often fragrant, and come in a wide range of colors including whites, yellows, oranges, pinks, reds and purples. Markings include spots and brush strokes. The plants are late spring- or summer-flowering. Flowers are borne in racemes or umbels at the tip of the stem, with six tepals spreading or reflexed, to give flowers varying from funnel shape to a “Turk’s cap”. The tepals are free from each other, and bear a nectary at the base of each flower. The ovary is ‘superior’, borne above the point of attachment of the anthers. The fruit is a three-celled capsule.

First Class: Sunflower

The common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is a large annual forb of the genus Helianthus. It is commonly grown as a crop for its edible oily seeds. Apart from cooking oil production, it is also used as livestock forage (as a meal or a silage plant), as bird food, in some industrial applications, and as an ornamental in domestic gardens. Wild H. annuus is a widely branched annual plant with many flower heads. The domestic sunflower, however, often possesses only a single large inflorescence (flower head) atop an unbranched stem.

The plant was first domesticated in the Americas. Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient. With time, the bulk of industrial-scale production has shifted to Eastern Europe, and (as of 2020) Russia and Ukraine together produce over half of worldwide seed production.

The plant has an erect rough-hairy stem, reaching typical heights of 3 meters (10 feet). The tallest sunflower on record achieved 9.17 meters (30 feet 1 inch). Sunflower leaves are broad, coarsely toothed, rough and mostly alternate; those near the bottom are largest and commonly heart-shaped. The plant flowers in summer. What is often called the “flower” of the sunflower is actually a “flower head” (pseudanthium), 7.5–12.5 centimeters (3–5 inches) wide, of numerous small individual five-petaled flowers (“florets”). The outer flowers, which resemble petals, are called ray flowers. Each “petal” consists of a ligule composed of fused petals of an asymmetrical ray flower. They are sexually sterile and may be yellow, red, orange, or other colors. The spirally arranged flowers in the center of the head are called disk flowers. These mature into fruit (sunflower “seeds”).

First Class: Fuchsia

Fuchsia is a genus of flowering plants that consists mostly of shrubs or small trees. The first to be scientifically described, Fuchsia triphylla, was discovered on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) about 1696–1697 by the French Minim monk and botanist, Charles Plumier, during his third expedition to the Greater Antilles. He named the new genus after German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501–1566).

Almost 110 species of Fuchsia are recognized; the vast majority are native to South America, but a few occur north through Central America to Mexico, and also several from New Zealand to Tahiti. One species, F. magellanica, extends as far as the southern tip of South America, occurring on Tierra del Fuego in the cool temperate zone, but the majority are tropical or subtropical. Most fuchsias are shrubs from 0.2 to 4 meters (8 in to 13 feet 1 inch) tall, but one New Zealand species, the kōtukutuku (F. excorticata), is unusual in the genus in being a tree, growing up to 12–15 meters (39–49 feet) tall.

Fuchsia leaves are opposite or in whorls of three to five, simple lanceolate, and usually have serrated margins (entire in some species), 1–25 centimeters long, and can be either deciduous or evergreen, depending on the species. The flowers are very decorative; they have a pendulous teardrop shape and are displayed in profusion throughout the summer and autumn, and all year in tropical species. They have four long, slender sepals and four shorter, broader petals; in many species, the sepals are bright red and the petals purple (colors that attract the hummingbirds that pollinate them), but the colors can vary from white to dark red, purple-blue, and orange. A few have yellowish tones. The ovary is inferior and the fruit is a small (5–25 millimeters) dark reddish green, deep red, or deep purple berry, containing numerous very small seeds.

The fruit of the berry of F. splendens is reportedly among the best-tasting. Its flavor is reminiscent of citrus and black pepper, and it can be made into jam. The fruits of some other fuchsias are flavorless or leave a bad aftertaste.

First Class: Tulip

Tulips (Tulipa) are a genus of spring-blooming perennial herbaceous bulbiferous geophytes (having bulbs as storage organs). The flowers are usually large, showy and brightly colored, generally red, pink, yellow, or white (usually in warm colors). They often have a different colored blotch at the base of the tepals (petals and sepals, collectively), internally. The tulip is a member of the lily family, Liliaceae, along with 14 other genera, where it is most closely related to Amana, Erythronium and Gagea in the tribe Lilieae. There are about 75 species, and these are divided among four subgenera. Depending on the species, tulip plants can be between 10 and 70 centimeters (4 and 28 inches) high.

The tulip’s flowers are usually large and are actinomorphic (radially symmetric) and hermaphrodite (contain both male (androecium) and female (gynoecium) characteristics), generally erect, or more rarely pendulous, and are arranged more usually as a single terminal flower, or when pluriflor as two to three (e.g. Tulipa turkestanica), but up to four, flowers on the end of a floriferous stem (scape), which is single arising from amongst the basal leaf rosette. In structure, the flower is generally cup or star shaped. As with other members of Liliaceae the perianth is undifferentiated (perigonium) and biseriate (two whorled), formed from six free (i.e. apotepalous) caducous tepals arranged into two separate whorls of three parts (trimerous) each. The two whorls represent three petals and three sepals, but are termed tepals because they are nearly identical. The tepals are usually petaloid (petal like), being brightly colored, but each whorl may be different, or have different colored blotches at their bases, forming darker coloration on the interior surface. The inner petals have a small, delicate cleft at the top, while the sturdier outer ones form uninterrupted ovals.

First Class: Peony

The peony is a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae. Peonies are native to Asia, Europe and Western North America. Scientists differ on the number of species that can be distinguished, ranging from 25 to 40, although the current consensus is 33 known species. Most are herbaceous perennial plants 0.25–1 meter (1–3 feet) tall, but some are woody shrubs 0.25–3.5 meters (1–11 feet) tall. They have compound, deeply lobed leaves and large, often fragrant flowers, in colors ranging from purple and pink to red, white or yellow, in late spring and early summer. The flowers have a short blooming season, usually only 7–10 days.

Peonies are popular garden plants in temperate regions. Herbaceous peonies are also sold as cut flowers on a large scale, although generally only available in late spring and early summer.

First Class: Nasturtium

Tropaeolum majus, the garden nasturtium, is a species of flowering plant in the family Tropaeolaceae, originating in the Andes from Bolivia north to Colombia. An easily-grown annual or short-lived perennial with disc-shaped leaves and brilliant yellow, orange or red flowers, it is of cultivated, probably hybrid origin. It is not closely related to the genus Nasturtium (which includes watercress).

It is a fast-growing plant, with trailing stems growing to 0.9–1.8 meters (3–6 feet). The leaves are large, nearly circular, 3 to 15 centimeters (1 to 6 inches) in diameter, green to glaucous green above, paler below; they are peltate, with the 5–30 centimeter long petiole near the middle of the leaf, with several veins radiating to the smoothly rounded or slightly lobed margin. Nasturtium leaves, like some other species, demonstrate the lotus effect, whereby rainwater falling on the surface gathers into globular droplets which roll off the leaf, leaving it dry and clean.

The flowers are 2.5–6 centimeters in diameter, mildly scented, with five petals, eight stamens, and a 2.5–3 centimeter long nectar spur at the rear; they vary from yellow to orange to red, frilled and often darker at the base of the petals. The fruit is 2 cm broad, three-segmented, each segment with a single large seed 1–1.5 centimeters long.

First Class: Rose

A rose is either a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa in the family Rosaceae or the flower it bears. There are over three hundred species and tens of thousands of cultivars. They form a group of plants that can be erect shrubs, climbing, or trailing, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Their flowers vary in size and shape and are usually large and showy, in colors ranging from white through yellows and reds. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwestern Africa. Species, cultivars and hybrids are all widely grown for their beauty and often are fragrant. Roses have acquired cultural significance in many societies. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach seven meters in height. Different species hybridize easily, and this has been used in the development of the wide range of garden roses.

The flowers of most species have five petals, with the exception of Rosa sericea, which usually has only four. Each petal is divided into two distinct lobes and is usually white or pink, though in a few species yellow or red. Beneath the petals are five sepals (or in the case of some Rosa sericea, four). These may be long enough to be visible when viewed from above and appear as green points alternating with the rounded petals. There are multiple superior ovaries that develop into achenes. Roses are insect-pollinated in nature.

First Class: Dahlia

Dahlia is a genus of bushy, tuberous, herbaceous perennial plants native to Mexico and Central America. A member of the Asteraceae family of dicotyledonous plants, its relatives thus include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia. There are 49 species of this genus, with hybrids commonly grown as garden plants. Flower forms are variable, with one head per stem; these can be as small as 5 centimeters (2 inches) in diameter or up to 30 centimeters (1 foot) (“dinner plate”). This great variety results from dahlias being octoploids — that is, they have eight sets of homologous chromosomes, whereas most plants have only two. In addition, dahlias also contain many transposons — genetic pieces that move from place to place upon an allele — which contributes to their manifesting such great diversity.

The stems are leafy, ranging in height from as low as 30 centimeters (12 inches) to more than 1.8–2.4 meters (6–8 feet). The majority of species do not produce scented flowers. Like most plants that do not attract pollinating insects through scent, they are brightly colored, displaying most hues, with the exception of blue.

The dahlia was declared the national flower of Mexico in 1963. The tubers were grown as a food crop by the Aztecs, but this use largely died out after the Spanish Conquest. Attempts to introduce the tubers as a food crop in Europe were unsuccessful.

Full Sheets

Presentation Pack

This fold-out souvenir pack contains the new set of mint stamps, featuring colourful images of 10 of the most popular types of flowers found in gardens all over the UK. Significantly, they are the first Special Stamps to carry the new effigy of His Majesty King Charles III. The pack contains a powerful contribution from gardening writer Naomi Slade about the significance of flowers to the nation and their enduring and evocative presence in our British rituals and traditions. A stylishly designed celebration of flowers and all that they mean in our lives.

First Day Covers

PHQ Cards

A set of 10 postcards featuring enlarged reproductions of each of the Flowers stamps in the set.


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