3rd July 1938. Mallard and the Heyday of Rail Speed Records.

On Sunday 3rd July 1938 the streamlined A4 Pacific 4468 ‘Mallard’ broke the world’s rail-speed record.

Mallard before departing on its steam run.

Mallard at Barkston Junction before departing on its record steam run.

Designed in 1936 by Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer, of the London and North -Eastern Railway, it achieved 126 mph over 300 yards near Peterborough, when Joe Duddington took the train south through Grantham, before accelerating up to Stoke Bank summit.

However problems developed and it was replaced at Peterborough and Mallard had to limp back to Doncaster.

The forgotten hero in all this however, was the fireman Thomas Bray, frantically shovelling the finest Welsh steam coal, to keep up steam pressure to make the record possible.

Six of Britain's great steam trains.

Six of Britain’s great steam trains at Shildon Museum, County Durham in February 2014.

The record set by Mallard beat the previous British record held by the London Midland Scottish Railway(LMS) No. 6220 named ‘Coronation’, the first of the Coronation/Duchess Class, which had been developed to compete with the LNER. It was to see the zenith of four-cylinder steam-engine development.(1)

It was on the Coronation’s trial run in June 1937, when driver Tom Clarke reached 114 mph between Stafford and Crewe.

However the momentum was so great that the train thundered into Crewe Station through points with a 20mph limit, at 50mph, damaging the track and throwing crew and passengers about. Those were the days!

From 1932 onwards, repeating the ‘races’ of the 1890s, higher speeds and accelerated services were needed to meet mounting competition existing between the two main and rival trains to Scotland: London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and LNER.

Prior to this The Great Western (GWR), saw the fastest recorded journey for the ‘Cheltenham Flyer’ up to 1935, on June 6th 1932 by 5006 Tregenna Castle, when for 70 miles from Shrivenham, its speed never fell below 80 mph.

It reached 90 mph at Didcot, Oxfordshire, with an absolute maximum of 92.3 mph through Goring Station, and running on level track, it was remarkable.(2)

On 30th November 1934 an LNER A1 Flying Scotsman train, reached 100 mph between Little Bytham and Essendine in Lincolnshire, and calculated to be an official record by the dynamometer car.

In 1935 a LNER 2509 Silver Link built to haul the Silver Jubilee luxury express train travelling to Newcastle from London touched 112 ½ mph on its first trial run on 27th September.

Whilst not to undermine the achievement of Mallard’ record, it took place down hill with a track capable of withstanding the run, whilst that of Coronation’s run was on the level. 

(1) The Princess Coronation Class eventually lost the Princess prefix and was to comprise 38 engines being enlarged versions of William Stanier’s Princess Royal Class. They were to constitute the most powerful steam engines built in Britain.

Initially the first five in the Class were streamlined and  painted Caledonian Blue with silver horizontal lines to match the Coronation Scot trains they were built to haul.

(2) The official name for the ‘Flyer’ on Coach Head-Boards and timetables, was the ‘Cheltenham Spa Express.’

Ref: dailymail. 20th Feb.2014, David Wilkes article.

Ref: dailymail.co.uk/North News Picture Ltd. Picture of six engines.

Ref: yorkmix.com/Image of Mallard.

Ref: wikipedia.org. on speed records relating to above.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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