Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Great Gathering; York

The Great Gathering in The Great Hall; five of the six 'streaks'

Steve Davies used to be director of the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry when I joined as volunteer locomotive footplate crew. Steve was a superb director and the MoSI railway blossomed under his leadership. Unfortunately for us he went on to greater things, being appointed director of the National Railway Museum in York. He inherited the poisoned chalice of the money-pit 'Flying Scotsman' restoration disaster. However, he will be remembered not for that, but for his initiative in making 'The Great Gathering' happen this summer.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of A4 Pacific steam locomotive 'Mallard' setting the world speed record for steam in 1938 at126mph (which still stands today) he arranged to have all six extant A4 Pacifics (nicknamed 'Streaks') gather at the York museum. Four were in UK; 'Mallard' herself, 'Union of South Africa', 'Bittern', and 'Sir Nigel Gresley' (named after the locomotive's designer). The other two had to be imported; 'Dwight D. Eisenhower' from the USA, and 'Dominion of Canada' from that country.

Of the four UK locomotives, all but the most famous, 'Mallard', are operational. That the most famous of all steam locomotives, the fastest in the world, is merely a static exhibit does not speak well (in my opinion) for the NRM pre-Steve management in deciding to throw limitless funds at populist 'Scotsman' instead of funding the return to steam of more deserving locomotives in the national collection.

The two locomotives from across the Atlantic were given a cosmetic restoration (and very well done, too) for the 'Gathering' as part of the deal with their home museums.

I'm no fan of Gresley's locomotives as I think they are technically inferior in design compared to the lineage that came from Churchwood and Collett at Swindon on the Great Western Railway, culminating in the superb 'Castles' and 'Kings'. These ideas were further developed by William Stanier, who was headhunted from the Great Western and took Swindon ideas with him to Crewe when he was appointed Cheif Mechanical Engineer of the LMS (London, Midland, and Scottish railway). Stanier went on to produce what is arguably the ultimate passenger express steam locomotive, the 'Coronation' class Pacific.

It's no co-incidence that when Robert Riddles was charged with designing the very last classes of steam locomotives for British Railways in the early 1950s he took the best features of what each company had hitherto produced, they were either developments of Stanier's designs or completely new designs largely incorporating Stanier's design participles.

Nonetheless, the 'Mallard' record stands and 'The Great Gathering' is an event we just had to attend. So this morning  Malcolm, Mike, and me travelled (by train of course!) to the NRM at York.

It's not particularly easy to get all six A4s in one picture. The Great Hall turntable was open to public access for the event.

Its good to see that the sectioned Merchant Navy pacific 'Ellerman Lines' is still on display

Here's another National Collection locomotive that should arguably be in the restoration queue ahead of 'Scotsman'; the last steam locomotive built for British Railways, class 9F 2-10-0 'Evening Star'

'Dominion of Canada' carries a steam-operated bell and US-style whistle

'Mallard' carries a plaque commemorating the speed record, but here's the lesser-known one carried by 'Sir Nigel Gresley'

The exposed wheels and motion of 60009. I think Streaks look better with the side valences fitted....

....As here on 'Mallard and 'Dominion of Canada'

The ultimate in Great Western power, Collett's magnificent 'King' class. The GWR achieved this level of steam locomotive design advance by 1927; why did they stop there? 

A visitor from North Wales. a double Fairlie from the Ffestiniog Railway

Skulking in the back of the workshop, trying to hide, is the 'money pit'. If locos could wear a dunce's cap, this one would be.

More 'Streak Action' in the Great Hall; blue ones with valences....

.....And green ones without

There were long queues to gain access to the footplates of the Streaks

Outside in the yard Mike and Malc admire another example of Sir William Stanier's work - the highly successful 8F freight locomotive which I remember as plentiful in the North West of England at the end of steam on BR

I've driven this! The replica 'Rocket' owned by the NRM

To round off a great day, once we'd returned to Wilmslow Chris joined us at 'The Bollin Fee' where we took advantage of their book of vouchers delivered to Wilmslow households promoting food and drink. Very good it was too! Mike being silly, Malc tucking into his steak, Chris wondering what Mike's up to!

The sun shone in this July 2013 heatwave, the trains were on time, and the exhibits at NRM well presented (though it would have been nice to have seen a 'Duchess' there to show up the 'Streaks'!).

And so ended another excellent day out. Where to next?


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