As Great Britain is the country that gave steam locomotives to the world, it is perhaps appropriate that the nation is also able to boast the fastest such machine on the planet.
As Great Britain is the country that gave steam locomotives to the world, it is perhaps appropriate that the nation is also able to boast the fastest such machine on the planet. As every schoolboy once knew, the record was set by the LNER streamlined Pacific Mallard streaking down Stoke bank, south of Grantham, at 126mph on July 3, 1938. That amazing event wrote the Gtesley A4 Pacific into the history books for all time and also guaranteed it a place in the pages of railway legend.
Mallard emerged from Doncaster Works in March 1938 as the first of its class to be fitted with a Kylchap double chimney and, four months later, by which rime it was nicely ‘run-in’, Gresley selected it to take part in a brake-test run from London to Peterborough and back on July 3. Brake-testing wasn’t the only thing on the great man’s mind that day, however, for he had arranged for the engine, dynamometer car and three ‘Coronation’ coaches to continue beyond Peterborough to Barkston Junction, north of Grantham, where the dynamometer car staff were informed that an extremely high speed record attempt was about to be made on the descent of Stoke bank. Any of weak disposition were told that if they wanted to get off the train, a taxi would be called to rake them to Peterbotough, bur all elected to remain on board.
What happened next was phenomenal. Under the skilful hands of driver Joe Duddingron, a hand-picked man with a reputation for fearless fast running, Mallard passed the summit at 74mph and was then ‘given her head’ with full regulator and 40 per cent cut-off. Speed rapidly increased and was already around 110mph when driver Duddington lengthened the cut-off to 45 per cent for “an extra burst of power” – raking his steed up to 1 20mph, then 125mph and finally, for one fleering moment, 126mph!
That magical speed had been recorded on the dynamometer car chart and meant that the world steam record of 124,5 had been wrested from the Germans. (Almost forgotten in the excitement was the fact that the rival LMS’s UK record of 114mph had not simply been broken, but shattered).
Understandably, Mallard is today one of the most valuable assets in the NRM and although it was restored to main line running for its golden jubilee in the 1980s, it is likely that this national treasure will now remain ‘wrapped in cotton woof’. If Mallard had not been the holder of the world speed record, the A4 chosen for this book would have been No. 2509 Silver Link, the beautiful silver-liveried doyen of the class, which made its debut in 1935, but was tragically scrapped in 1963.