On the first day of the 75th Anniversary of Mallard breaking the world speed record for steam traction, my friends at UK Heritage Hub published some of the first pictures of “The Gathering” here on Locoyard which gave an excellent background (click here to read it) to why all six surviving Gresley A4 Pacific locomotives have come together in York. Such a feat took a lot of hard work – two of the locomotives had to be shipped across from North America and be cosmetically restored. By now you will have read a lot of detail about this incredible story, summed up best in UK Heritage Hub’s e-zine. However, yesterday it was my turn to experience the spectacle first-hand…Mrs Locoyard and I were fortunate enough to purchase a pair of some of the last remaining tickets to get a viewing of the six A4 Pacific’s in a small group of 50 people. Our experience was therefore a lot different to many of you, who had to fight the crowds. The ticket’s gave two hours of viewing from 8-10AM before the doors were opened to the public. Mrs Locoyard summed up the atmosphere at 7:50 outside the doors of the National Railway Museum as being akin to that of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Everyone waiting outside the museum were very excited and clearly all appreciated how significant this event is. The tickets cost a very reasonable £15, so the privilege came to those who were quick to book rather than those who could afford it. A few members of staff came out, checked our ticket’s, then gave us special wristbands and let us through, guarding the doors behind us.
Although I had seen many pictures taken previously of the event, the first sight of all six of these magnificent machines was incredible. I honestly wasn’t expecting to be so wowed. At that moment, the fact that they weren’t in steam did not matter, just being in the same place at the same time was very special and is something I will always remember.
It was special to me partly because I had never seen anything like it, as regular mainline steam had ended long before I was born. But it was special to everyone there for different reasons – there was one chap who used to be a fireman aboard 60008 Dwight D. Eisenhower and I can only imagine how it felt to see his locomotive back from the USA with five of it’s classmates.
Quite like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there were many different characters. During the morning a shunt was being carried out and although we were all asked to keep away, not everyone respected that… There was also one individual who completely ignored the initial request to stand on the turntable to let everyone take their pictures and indeed any other request! On the whole though, it was a group of nice, friendly people, most of whom were very polite and considerate, respecting each others right to enjoy these special two hours.
So all in all, it was a fantastic day and well worth the very tiresome journey to York and back in between working long hours. In fact, it almost cost a missed blog post (apologies for the lateness by the way!) I would like to take this opportunity to thank the National Railway Museum and all the volunteers who helped make this happen. It really did make dreams come true and was very much appreciated!
An incredible 140,000 people visited the Museum during the Great Gathering, some traveling from Australia to see the Great Gathering. Hopefully this story combined with the gallery below will go some way to explaining why so many people made the effort to see these beautiful machines.
To read about other exhibits to be found in the National Railway Museum during this visit in 2013, please click here.