Sir Nigel Gresley

Resource Type: Image | Posted on 25th November 2011 by Liam Physick

This image shows London and North Eastern Railway Class A4 No. 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley, named after the famous engineer of the same name. Class A4 consisted of streamlined Pacific Class locomotives, initially built in 1935 by Gresley to pull the Silver Jubilee train from King’s Cross to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. He was inspired by a visit to Germany in 1933, where he had witnessed the high-speed streamlined Flying Hamburger diesel-electric multiple units: the LNER had considered purchasing similar trains, but in those days diesel units did not have sufficient passenger-carrying capacity and diesel technology was prohibitively expensive. What was more, Gresley was certain that steam locomotives could perform the task just as well as diesels, and in 1935 ran trials of his A3 Pacific No. 2750 Papyrus, which ran at 108 miles per hour, a new record for a steam locomotive: its success persuaded the LNER to commission Gresley to produce a streamlined version of the A3. 35 A4s were built between 1935 and 1938 to haul express passenger services from King’s Cross to Edinburgh via York and Newcastle: they were numbered in four batches: 2509-2512, 4462-4469, 4482-4500 and 4900-4903. The Sir Nigel Gresley, launched on 30th October 1937 and originally allocated to the King’s Cross Top Shed, was the 100th Gresley Pacific to be built, hence its naming after its designer. In 1938, it was repainted at Doncaster, and then displayed in Manchester with larger coal space. The A4s’ streamlining of the steam circuit, higher boiler pressure and the extension of the firebox to create a combustion chamber made them more efficient than the A3, as they consumed less coal and water: later they were also fitted with Kylchap double chimney, which further improved their free-steaming capabilities. Their streamlined design not only made them capable of high speeds but created an updraught of smoke, thus avoiding the obscuring of the driver’s vision that was such a major problem on the Class A3 engines. The Class includes the famous No. 4468 Mallard, the fastest steam locomotive of all time: on 3rd July 1938 it was recorded at 126 miles per hour, pulling six coaches and a dynanometer car (a car that measures speed and other aspects of a locomotive’s performance), though this has been questioned as the maximum speed was reached only on a downhill run and the locomotive subsequently failed due to overheating - by contrast, the German locomotive Deutche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft (German Reich Railway Company, or DRG) Class 05 No. 002, which had set the previous record of 124.5 miles per hour in 1936, travelled on a level grade and did not fail. The distinctive appearance of the A4s made them popular with painters, photographers and film-makers, and earned them the nickname “streaks”. On 29th April 1942, No. 4469 Sir Ralph Wedgwood was damaged beyond repair in a German bombing raid when stabled in York North Shed (now the National Railway Museum): it pulled local trains to York from Gateshead. On 23rd April 1944, the Sir Nigel Gresley was reallocated from King’s Cross to Grantham. In 1946, when the LNER renumbered its locomotives, the surviving A4s were numbered 1-34, but not in order - the Sir Nigel Gresley was numbered 7. On British Railways, they were numbered 60001-60034 - the Sir Nigel Gresley became No. 60007. In 1948, it was used for the opening of the Rugby testing station from 23rd August to 8th October 1948: it was placed onto rollers without its tender and run up to high speeds to check its coal and water usage. After the Second World War, the design of the A4s was further improved to eliminate the overloading of the middle cylinder (the cause of the Mallard’s failure on its world-record run). On 4th June 1950, the Sir Nigel Gresley was sent back to the King’s Cross Top Shed: after that shed closed, the locomotive moved to New England shed on 16th June 1963. While there, it reached 112 miles per hour, a post-War record, on 23rd May 1959, and carries a plaque commemorating the feat: like the Mallard, it achieved the feat going downwards, but unlike its sister locomotive the Sir Nigel Gresley was pulling a full train of passengers returning from an excursion to Doncaster Works, rather than making a special attempt at the record: twice more on the same excursion that day, the locomotive exceeded 100 miles per hour, but the logs are inaccessible due to a paper strike. The A4s were replaced by the Deltic in the early 1960s. The last ones remained in service in Scotland until September 1966, especially the express service from Aberdeen to Glasgow. The Sir Nigel Gresley moved to the St. Margarets shed to pull the Edinburgh to Aberdeen service, and then to the Aberdeen shed on 20th July 1964, where it remained until withdrawal from service on 1st February 1966. Six A4s were preserved. Two of these are no longer in Britain: Nos. 60010 Dominion of Canada and 60008 Dwight D Eisenhower are on static display in the Canadian Railway Museum in Delson/St. Constant, Quebec, and the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, respectively. All four still in Britain have been steamed on the main line since preservation, but of those four, No. 4468 Mallard is on static display at the National Railway Museum and No. 60009 Union of South Africa is being overhauled at Crewe Heritage Centre. Only two Class A4 locomotives are still approved for main-line use in Britain: one of those, No. 60019 Bittern, is currently owned by Jeremy Hosking and based on the Mid-Hants Railway: at times it has sported the identites of No. 4492 Dominion of New Zealand and No. 2509 Silver Link, the first A4 engine. The Sir Nigel Gresley was bought by the A4 Preservation Society, later renamed the A4 Locomotive Society Ltd., now the Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Preservation Trust Ltd., of which the A4 Locomotive Society Ltd. is a subsidiary which operates the locomotive. At Crewe, the Sir Nigel Gresley was restored to its original LNER number and livery: it received three pairs of driving wheels from fellow A4 No. 60026 Miles Beevor, which visited Crewe shortly after its own withdrawal, and whose wheels were in a much better condition than those of its sister locomotive. The Sir Nigel Gresley was for a long time based at Steamtown, and made many main-line excursions. On 3rd July 1988, the 50th anniversary of the Mallard’s record run, the National Railway Museum displayed three of the four British-based A4 locomotives (the Union of South Africa being the exception): all four were displayed in July 2008, the 70th anniversary - the first time they had all appeared together in preservation. In 2013, all six surviving A4 locomotives will be displayed together for the first time in preservation, at the National Railway Museum to mark the 75th anniversary of the Mallard’s record run: after this the Dominion of Canada and the Dwight D Eisenhower will be returned to their North American homes. The Sir Nigel Gresley moved first to the Great Central Railway, then to the East Lancashire Railway. In the late 1990s, it was restored to its BR condition, which it retains. Now it is based at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway: it runs regularly there, on other heritage railways and on the main line, and returned to service following an overhaul in the last week of October 2011.

Sir Nigel Gresley

Tagged under: steam locomotives, tender locomotives, rocket 150, british rail, diesel locomotives, grand cavalcade, heritage railways, diesel multiple units, london and north eastern railway, diesel-electric multiple units

Categorised under: Landmarks, Landscapes & Locomotives

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