75 years ago today, Mallard set a new record. The A4 Class steam locomotives broke the world speed record for steam on July 3rd 1938 by travelling at 126mph (203km/h) at Stoke Bank near Grantham in Lincolnshire. To mark the occasion a special “Gathering” of the six surviving engines in the class has been organised by the National Railway Museum in York which I visited last month. It’s the first time the six surviving engines, Dwight D Eisenhower, Mallard, Bittern, Union of South Africa, Dominion of Canada and Sir Nigel Gresley have been seen together.
It was a huge undertaking for the organisers. with Dwight D Eisenhower and Dominion of Canada having to be shipped from North America for the event. Bittern travelled from London King’s Cross under its own steam on Saturday in a 90mph (145km/h) run up the East Coast Mainline to York. Mallard ran on the East Coast Mainline from the 1930s to the 1960s and on the historic day in 1938 was driven by the late Joe Duddington from Doncaster.
The A4 Class was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, who also created the Flying Scotsman. Mallard was thought to have been chosen for the record-breaking run because it was one of the newest locomotives and Sir Nigel wanted to test its new performance exhaust. The locomotive broke down soon after it reached the top speed and was brought back to the workshop to have a bearing replaced.
A golden plaque on the side of Mallard reads: “On July 3rd 1938 this locomotive attained a world speed record for steam traction of 126 miles per hour.”
British Rail’s modernisation plan began sweeping steam away in 1955 and Mallard was withdrawn from service in 1963. The engine was restored by the National Railway Museum in the mid-1980s.