Monday, 15 July 2013

Mallard 75: The Great Gathering

Bittern, my favourite engine.
When all six remaining A4 steam engines are in one place, it is indeed a Great Gathering! Mr Robot and I recently went to York for a party on a boat. However, imagine my glee when I discovered that The National Railway Museum in York would be celebrating the 75th anniversary of Mallard taking the world steam speed record by gathering together the six remaining A4 engines, Mallard and its siblings.

My dad’s a model railway enthusiast (recently switched from N-gauge to finescale, tiny toy fans!) and grew up in Swindon, home of the Great Western Railway works, so as far back as I can remember I’ve seen toy trains and visited the real thing. However, I only recently got interested in engines myself, and that was when Bittern, one of the A4s, puffed past my office. It was painted up to look like the Dominion of New Zealand, but still had its own number. I had never seen such a beautiful train! To see that art deco shape steam by was wonderful. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see it close up. 
Mallard and Dominion of Canada, before it got REALLY crowded.
Unfortunately, thousands of other people also couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the A4s close up. We went to the museum on the Saturday, took one look at the monstrous queue and went away again, resolving to be there early on the Sunday. Someone at the museum the next day told us there had been around 12,500 people through the doors on the Saturday. Although we got in the queue early, and were among the first hundred or so people into the museum, the room with the A4s filled up rapidly. Many people were taking photos, and while most of them understood that snapping in such a crowd would never result in people-free shots, some people were, shall we say, a bit rude. (Specialist photo sessions had been organised, but they booked up well in advance of our visit.) Even if you weren’t taking photos and simply wanted to look at the trains, the crowds were a bit much, and I believe the museum has since started a one-in, one-out policy to limit crowding.
The fastest steam engine wheels on Earth!

Away from the A4s there were lots of other fantastic things to see, including a model of Stephenson’s Rocket, the Flying Scotsman, and some Royal train carriages. George VII insisted on a smoking carriage in his train, all comfy leather seats and shiny wood. (Seeing that reminded me of Fleur de Guerre’s King’s Ginger adventures.) There was also a display of posters selling the notion of speed and the railway - there were some gorgeous art deco posters in that section. And the National Railway Museum café sells the finest sausage rolls I’ve eaten in my life. Seriously, if you’re a meat eater, go and have a pork and apple one, you won’t regret it.

The inside of one of the carriages on Edward VII's Royal Train.
One of the carriages in the Royal Train.
Would I recommend this exhibition? If you’re in York for a limited time, do it. Go. If you can plan your visit, I’d go at a date nearer the end of the exhibition, as a lot of people will have visited it by then and hopefully you’ll be able to examine the trains at a more leisurely pace, without any crush. The Great Gathering – all six engines together – is on until the 17th of July, then from the 26th October to the 4th November (although Union of South Africa will be away for works for a few days during that time). All six trains will be together for one final gathering from the 15th to the 23rd of February 2014 at the National Railway Museum's Shildon site (NOT York!).

If you do go and are able to make a donation to this free-to-all museum, remember to Gift Aid it if you’re a UK taxpayer so the Government will give the museum extra cash. And don’t go without having a sausage roll!

1 comment :

  1. Isn't Bittern beautiful! I have a photo of her in her green livery but I must say the blue is striking. I was talking to Andy about this and commented that the experience would be, well, marred by the huge amounts of people, but I can't blame them as I would have wanted to be there too were it not so far away.

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