The steam locomotive Mallard is a great example of British design and engineering. Jonathan Makepeace explains why today we are celebrating its place in history…

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.

Flying Scotsman awaiting departure from King's Cross Station, London

Flying Scotsman awaiting departure from King’s Cross Station, London, 1957
Photographer: Edwin Smith
© Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

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.

Railway Locomotive Testing Station, Rugby

Railway Locomotive Testing Station, Rugby: the ‘Sir Nigel Gresey’ Class A4, 60007, on the rolling road ready for the opening of the station, 1948
Photographer: Reginald Hugo de Burgh Galwey
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

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.

Jonathan Makepeace
Imaging Services Manager, British Architectural Library, RIBA

More images of railway locomotives and architecture can be seen on RIBApix.


About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit

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