Bittern was built at the LNER works in
Doncaster at the end of 1937. The locomotive was numbered
4464 and painted garter blue. The name comes from the bird
of the same name. Many of the Gresley A4s were named after
birds, including the famous record breaking Mallard.
Bittern became one of a 'flock' of 35
Gresley A4s which in their prime served the famous LNER train services
from London. These included:
- Silver Jubilee, King's Cross to Newcastle
- Coronation, King's Cross to Edinburgh
- West Riding Limited, King's Cross
to Leeds and Bradford
Initially Bittern was based at Heaton
in Newcastle and served the famous Flying Scotsman
train in the section between King's Cross and Newcastle. Normally
Bittern would leave Newcastle on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
at 8:15 and return pulling the Flying Scotsman
train the next day, leaving King's Cross at 10:00.
The success of the Gresley A4s took a blow during the years of
the Second World War. For the LNER the war years were difficult
with the east coast lines and London being badly hit by bombing
raids. Bittern along with the other
A4 locomotives was required to pull longer than normal and therefore
very heavy passenger trains. As the war continued the A4 locomotives
also were to be seen hauling heavy freight and coal trains.
This was not a task that the locomotives had been built for.
The heavy loads and poor maintenance conditions took their toll
and by the end of the war the A4 locomotives were in a poor state.
Soon after the war saw the nationalisation of the railways and
Bittern was renumbered 60019 under the
British Railways scheme. Gradually all of the locomotives
were brought back to proper working order and by the 1950s the Gresley
A4s were enjoying a revival. Bittern
served on the well known Talisman service
(King's Cross to Edinburgh at 16:00) between King's Cross and Newcastle.
The revival was short lived as the new diesel locomotives started
to replace the steam locomotives across the whole country.
By 1963 with the much reduced steam services in England the handful
of the remaining A4 locomotives were moved to Scotland and put in
storage. After a short period Bittern
was moved to Ferryhill at Aberdeen and ran to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
This service only lasted three years. On 3rd September 1966
Bittern pulled its last public service
train as a return trip from Glasgow to Aberdeen. Bittern
was in fact the last A4 in public service, along with Kingfisher
Bittern was withdrawn from British Railways
traffic on 5th September 1966 and was bought by Geoff Dury on 12th
September 1966. Over the next few years Bittern
ran a number of steam special excursions and made appearances on
private lines. In 1988 the locomotive had an identity change.
Bittern was painted silver, renumbered
2509 and renamed as Silver Link.
In 1995 a major restoration of Bittern
was begun at the Great Central Railway
in Loughborough but never completed.
In April 1997 Dr Tony Marchington purchased Bittern
to complement his other steam locomotive Flying Scotsman.
This seemed entirely appropriate since in the late 1930s Bittern
was one of a group of Gresley class A4 steam locomotives which took
over the duties of the Gresley class A3s (including Flying
Scotsman). The Flying Scotsman train is one
of the most famous in the world leaving King's Cross in London
at 10:00 each morning for Edinburgh. The locomotive was in a stripped
down state when bought by Dr Tony Marchington in 1997 and moved
to Southall in London.
During 2000 Bittern was purchased by a London businessman from
Tony Marchington and now resides at the Mid-Hants Railway (AKA the
Watercress Line) for a major restoration.
Bittern was a 'run of the mill' Gresley A4 and as such records of
the engines life are scant. The details given in this history
are as accurate as the limited references will allow. I am
continually seeking new details on Bittern and
if you have something you like to contribute please contact me.