Back in September last year I blogged about the fact that this year would see the 75th anniversary of Mallard setting the world record speed, for a steam engine, of 126mph back in 1938. That post focused on Mallard being returned to steam for the 50th anniversary, illustrated with some excellent photos my Dad took of the restoration, and I mentioned that this year she would only be a static exhibit. Of course The National Railway Museum couldn't let the anniversary pass without some form of celebration and what they ended up with was The Great Gathering.
What you can see here is all the six remaining A4 class locomotives lined up around the turntable in the main hall of the museum. From left to right we have Sir Nigel Gresley, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Union of South Africa, Bittern, Mallard, and Dominion of Canada. What is very special about this line up is that two of the locomotives haven't been seen in the UK since 1966 as Dwight D. Eisenhower was donated to the National Railroad Museum in Wisconsin and Dominion of Canada was given to the Canadian Railroad Historical Association and has been kept (in a rather sorry state) at the Canadian Railway Museum near Montreal. There have been previous unsuccessful attempts to bring the two locomotives back to the UK and it is unlikely that once returned to their owners they will ever visit again.
Many people, like me, probably visited The Great Gathering for the chance to see these two locomotives rather than Mallard, certainly if the number of people photographing each locomotive was used as an indicator of popularity. Having said that the museum really isn't the best place to photograph locomotives. The problem is that you can't really stand far enough back to get a good photo, it's certainly impossible to take a full side view of any of the locomotives around the turntable. Fortunately I can show you what an A4 looks like in all it's glory as Mallard was also on show at Barrow Hill when I visited back in September. I'd actually expected that she would be taking pride of place on the turntable in the roundhouse, where again she would be difficult to photograph, but she had in fact been parked outside in the perfect position for photography.
What I hadn't realised, until I visited The Great Gathering, was that Mallard isn't the only A4 to hold a speed record. In fact three of the six locomotives on show have set a record and two of them even have commemorative plaques fitted.
On the left we have the plaque from Mallard, while on the right is the plaque fitted to Sir Nigel Gresley. The third record is held by Bittern who now holds the record for the fastest preserved steam locomotive to run on the UK mainline having hit 92.8mph on the 29th of June 2013. This run was part of the anniversary celebrations and Bittern was given specific permission to break the 75mph speed limit for steam on the mainline. Maybe she will also be fitted with a plaque at some point.
I'll finish this post as I started with a shot of all six A4 locomotives. From this angle it is easy to spot which are static exhibits and which are in working condition as only the working locomotives have coal in their tenders.