With one blast on Mallard’s whistle, York confirmed its position as the centre of the railway world today. It was the moment that marked the start of the Great Gathering – all six surviving A4 locomotives together to mark a very special anniversary.
Seventy-five years ago to the day, Mallard reached 126mph at Stoke Bank near Grantham in Lincolnshire, making it the fastest steam locomotive in history.
To mark the occasion her five sister A4s, all designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, were brought to the National Railway Museum as part of the Mallard 75 celebrations. Sir Nigel Gresley, Union of South Africa, Bittern, Dwight D Eisenhower, and Dominion of Canada – the latter two travelling 2,500 from North America – were lined up in the Great Hall. Then Mallard glided alongside them and the gathering was complete.
Dignitaries, rail buffs, former drivers and firemen from the great engines and press from Britain and beyond were there to witness locomotive history, the day after the NRM had officially been saved from a potential threat of closure.
The Great Gathering continues at the museum until July 17. And you can read about the NRM’s new art exhibition, It’s Quicker By Rail, here.
In honour of this historic event, here is a train-themed Mix Six: six facts about each of the six A4s.
- Mallard was the first A4 to be fitted with a special Kylchap exhaust and double blastpipe and chimney, making steam production more efficient.
- On the 3rd of July 1938 Mallard broke the world speed record for steam traction by reaching a speed of 126mph. But Sir Nigel Gresley himself never accepted this as the record-breaking maximum. He claimed this speed could only have been attained over a few yards, though he was comfortable that the German speed record of 124.5 mph had been surpassed.
- Selected to crew the locomotive on its record attempt were driver Joseph Duddington (a man renowned within the LNER for taking calculated risks) and fireman Thomas Bray.
- Mallard is the only surviving A4 in LNER livery.
- It is 70 ft long and weighs 165 tons, including the tender.
- At the NRM today you can climb aboard the Mallard Experience, a five-minute simulator ride “recreating the excitement and exhilaration of Mallard’s record breaking run”. But according to the warning signs, you shouldn’t go in if you are presumed pregnant or have skeletal defects.
4498 Sir Nigel Gresley
- Sir Nigel Gresley was built for the LNER in 1937, and was the 100th Gresley Pacific built.
- Locomotive 4498 was actually due to receive the name Bittern, originally suggested for 4492 (later Dominion of New Zealand). So the story goes, an LNER enthusiast who worked in the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society, realised in time that 4498 was the 100th Gresley Pacific locomotive and the suggestion was made that the locomotive be named after her designer.
- Sir Nigel Gresley holds the post-war steam record speed of 112mph gained on the 23 May 1959 and carries a plaque to that effect.
- On that record-breaking run, renowned driver Bill Hoole was on the footplate. He had a reputation for pushing locomotives to their limits.
- Bill believed that, given more freedom from those pesky safety regulations “Mallard’s record would have gone by the board”.
- Sir Nigel Gresley was saved from the scrap heap in 1966 and is based at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. It carried the Olympic Flame in 2012.
- Initially Bittern was based at Heaton in Newcastle and served the famous Flying Scotsman route in the section between King’s Cross and Newcastle.
- Early in her career, Bittern suffered some collision damage, necessitating a general overhaul at Doncaster from 3rd – 4th January 1938.
- Bittern lost her garter blue paint for wartime black and was required to pull longer than normal passenger trains and later heavy freight and coal trains.
- The final day in service for Bittern was September 3rd 1966.
- Only now have the important repairs been undertaken to bring her up to mainline standard.
- Bittern is the only one with its original tender. By contrast it has had 14 different boilers, more than any other A4
60009 Union of South Africa
- Union of South Africa had previously been allocated the name “Osprey”. “Osprey” name plates were fitted to the locomotive during the 1980s and early 1990s due to the politics of the time.
- Union of South Africa has accumulated the highest mileage of any locomotive in the class.
- The springbok plaque on the side of the locomotive was donated on 12 April 1954 by a Bloemfontein newspaper proprietor. Only one plaque was fitted on the left hand side of the locomotive.
- Union of South Africa was allocated to the Haymarket shed in Edinburgh from new and on 20 May 1962 she had her only shed transfer to Aberdeen.
- It was one of five 1937 locomotives built in 1937 to pull the new Coronation express service, which took passengers between London and Edinburgh in just six hours.
- In 1964 it was the last A4 to pull a service train from King’s Cross station. Arriving back on the return journey its final farewell whistle echoed across the platforms.
60010 Dominion of Canada
- Built in the Doncaster works in 1937, she was originally named Buzzard but was renamed Dominion of Canada in June 1937.
- Dominion of Canada was withdrawn at Darlington shed on May 29, 1965. That July the locomotive was marked in the records as “for sale to be scrapped”.
- It was left derelict and forgotten for many months until finally being moved to Crewe Works for cosmetic restoration and shipping to Canada.
- The loco was donated to the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA) by British Rail which has looked after it since May 1966.
- It returned to Britain last year where it has been restored to its pre-war state with Garter Blue livery.
- Dominion of Canada was fitted with a Canadian whistle and a bell which on one memorable occasion was rung all the way from London to York.
60008 Dwight D Eisenhower
- Built for the London and North Eastern Railway in 1937, the locomotive was originally numbered 4496 and named Golden Shuttle to reflect Yorkshire’s woollen industry.
- It was renamed Dwight D Eisenhower after the Second World War and renumbered 8 on 23 November 1946. It was intended that Eisenhower would attend an official unveiling, but this could not be arranged.
- The locomotive was cosmetically restored at the Doncaster Works in 1963 and was shipped to the USA the following Spring, arriving in New York harbour on 11 May 1964.
- Since then it has been housed at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay Wisconsin, USA.
- It has travelled more than 1.4 million miles in main line service.
- This is its first return to Britain.