Mallard - The fastest duck in the world

The steam locomotive Mallard is a great example of British design and engineering. Why are we celebrating its place in history?

Flying Scotsman awaiting departure from King's Cross Station, London. © Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Railway Locomotive Testing Station, Rugby. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

In an age where high-speed travel is commonplace and speed records are frequently broken, it is hard to believe that one record set 75 years ago on 3 July 1938 remains unbroken to this day. Driven by Joseph Duddington and fired by Thomas Bray, the London and North Eastern Railway’s (LNER) Class A4 steam locomotive 4468 Mallard reached 126 mph running down Stoke Bank south of Grantham, breaking the world record for a steam locomotive set by the Germans in 1936.

Nicknamed ‘Streaks’, this photograph taken by the renowned architectural photographer Edwin Smith in 1957 shows one of Mallard’s sisters, 60018  Sparrow Hawk , being admired at King’s Cross by one of the once ubiquitous army of schoolboy trainspotters. On the adjacent platform is Class A1 60136  Alcazar  awaiting departure of the Flying Scotsman train to Edinburgh.

The elegant, streamlined A4 Pacifics were designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER, and the locomotive depicted in this image, 60007, was named after him. As far back as 1927 Gresley had mooted the idea of a locomotive testing station where a locomotive could be run on rollers rather than on rails to test performance or coal consumption for example. When British Railways finally opened Rugby Locomotive Testing Station in October 1948 Gresley’s namesake A4 was fittingly used as the demonstration locomotive. Sir Nigel Gresley can still be seen running in 2013 and is one of six preserved A4s, including two based in North America, all of which have been reunited by the National Railway Museum  in York to celebrate Mallard's record-breaking run in 1938.

Article by Jonathan Makepeace, Imaging Services Manager, British Architectural Library, RIBA