Trainspotting – the Panto!

Why aren’t there more steam trains in pantomimes? That’s a question we have often asked.

Cue for an expedition. So ….Gathering plate-featured

…. July saw a deputation from the Pantomime Songs team visiting the National Railway Museum in York on a steaming hot afternoon (geddit?) to attend the “Great Gathering.”  This was a bringing together of the six surviving famous A4 Pacific streamlined steam locomotives that changed the history of 20th century travel. You didn’t have to have been born in the age of steam to be completely knocked out by these towering beauties of engineering excellence. It was a breath-taking afternoon, and not just because of the 30+ temperatures in the NRM’s Great Shed.

Designed by the genius of steam, Sir Nigel Gresley, thirty five of these magnificent “Streaks” as they were known (surely more than a match for Bernstein et al’s  Jets and Sharks in West Side Story) were built at the rate of one a month between 1935 and 1938 in Doncaster.  Two of the remaining six are resident in North America (one each in Canada and the USA) and were shipped over specially for the occasion. 

Opened on 3rd July, the Great Gathering was organised to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mallard (the 28th  A4) breaking the world speed record for steam driven locomotives on 3rd July 1938. A few weeks earlier, a German engine had reached 124 1/2 mph.  Mallard managed 125 (and possibly 126 but that was never verified). So, the record returned to Britain it has never been beaten.

Seeing and touching and simply drinking-in the beauty of these superbly designed, elegant giants leaves you humbled and thrilled.  Standing on the footplate, your spirits are lifted and your soul inspired. To sit on the driver’s perch, well….

Three of the engines are off on travels for the summer but the Great Gathering reconvenes in York between 26th October and 8th November, before the Dominion of Canada and Dwight D Eisenhower travel back across the Atlantic. If you can get there you will not be disappointed – an unforgettable afternoon.   Enough to inspire some script writers? We hope so.  Meanwhile, watch out for steam driven songs!

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A Great Gathering indeed: six of the very best in York. The surviving six of Sir Nigel Gresley's A4 Pacifics - beautiful gentle giants that changed travel in the twentieth century. They were fast, reliable and stylish.