A couple of days ago, on the 3rd of July, it was the 80th anniversary of Mallard’s epic thrash down Stoke bank. There were the usual plaudits, a half hour talk on the radio and even a whinge about the duckless statue. One word out of any of you and the duck is pate!! Joking aside, what is frequently missing in these celebrations is any understanding of how vital a part the crew played in setting the record.
Despite the magnificence of the machine itself, all the drawbar horse power readings, and flickering needles, pored over by technicians in the dynamometer coach, it was Duddington and Bray who made the record, their skills, knowledge, and efforts, not to mention bravery was what coaxed 126mph out of No.4468 Mallard. The steam locomotive is, by its very nature, dependent on the crew for its power output. No amount of engineering design will overcome the limitations of the crew – optimum performance is only achived if the crew are likewise performing to their best.
During the mid/late 1990s I was a regular visitor to the reading room at the NRM and, at lunchtime, I would sit and eat my sandwiches beside the exhibit of No.35029 Ellerman lines, the sectioned Bulleid, Merchant Navy Class, Pacific, just yards away from Mallard. No.35029 sits on rollers which slowly move the wheels so you can see the valve and piston motions. Alongside the engine display boards told the viewer what the bits were but, nowhere did it explain the role of the crew in making it all happen – a glaring omission and not the only one.
The most glaring omission was that there was not one word about Joe Duddington and Tommy Bray on, in, or around the Mallard display, at the time, circa 1995 – 7, which was more than 20 years after the NRM opened. When I raised the issue I was told the reason was ‘insufficient funds’ – what an insult. Over a period of 20 or more years, they expected me to believe, they didn’t have the money for a few boards and a pot of paint to celebrate the two most important men in the creation of the 126mph record – not only an insult to Duddington and Bray but to anyone with an ounce of nous.
To see how things changed follow this link. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2002/may/01/arts.artsnews
The photo shows visiting A4, No.60019 Bittern, at New Bridge crossing, approaching Pickering, on the NYMR.
If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751