Mallard returns to National Railway Museum in York for the Autumn Gathering of A4s

By Richard Moss | 10 October 2013

The record-breaking steam locomotive Mallard has returned to the National Railway Museum’s Great Hall after a successful East Coast mainline tour.

a photo of the Mallard being shunted past a railway platform
Mallard is shunted back to York.© Courtesy NRM
Following appearances in Grantham where 15,000 people came out to see it and popular events in Doncaster and Barrow Hill in Chesterfield, the famous loco has had its connecting rods – the massive metal rods used to connect the wheels – refitted in readiness for the Autumn Gathering, which will see it reunited once again with all the surviving A4 locomotives. 

Taking place between October 26 and November 8 2013, the event is a repeat of the rail spectacular that drew 140,000 visitors to the museum in July. And once again people will be able to get cabin access, listen to free curator’s talks, take part in special photographer’s mornings and grab the chance to experience a Mallard simulator that recreates its record breaking 125.88 mph run in 1938.

The A4 class of steam locomotives, designed by Nigel Gresley for the London and North Eastern Railway in 1935, continue to fire people’s imaginations, and as Bob Gwynne, Associate Curator of Railway Vehicles at the museum explains, it's not simply down to their iconic design.

“It’s the shape that seduces people, but when you see six of them together you get a hint of what it would have been like in the 1930s to be suddenly presented with an idea of the future. That’s what they were doing with their streamlining, and looking at them now you get a real sense of that excitement and how it would have been then," he says.

“The A4s were designed for a network of high speed trains and that was what they promoted as the time. The shape of them helped enormously with the marketing. They do look like they are going to go fast and they delivered on that promise.”

Gwynne sees an important lineage between streamlined record-breaking idealism of the 1930s and the high speed trains of the later diesel era. 

“One of Sir Nigel Gresley’s apprentices, Terry Miller, had been at Doncaster in 1929 and he later became the chief mechanical engineer for British Rail,” he says. “Miller gave us the high speed diesel train and without that we may well have lost some of our intercity routes.

“Although there is a big gap between the two I think that the idea that you have a businessman’s high speed train on a scheduled timetable, and you delivered day in and day out, was a useful lesson.”

So the autumn gathering will once again deliver six of these important and iconic locos in one place and, as Gwynne adds, they all have tales to tell.

“The Union of South Africa was the last A4 to come out of Doncaster Works, Sir Nigel Gresley was the fastest post war steam locomotive, achieving 112 in 1959, and the Bittern is the fastest loco of recent times when it did over 90 miles an hour this year, which is not bad for a pensioner.

“But it’s best to see them as the zenith of the steam age; it’s all downhill after 1938 for steam engines because the technology changes.”

That may be so, but come October 28 the biggest and best railway museum in the world will be welcoming thousands of visitors eager to the golden age of stream once again.

More pictures:

a photo of Mallard by a railway platform
© Courtesy NRM
a photo of Mallard in the engine workshops at the National Railway Museum
© National Railway Museum
a close up of Mallard's number 4468 emblazoned on its front
© Courtesy National Railway Museum
a photo of Mallard in the workshops of the National Railway Museum
© Courtesy NRM
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