Bittern - LNER Gresley Class A4
Number 4464


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 MallardBittern 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 (No 60024).

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.

Authors Note:
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. 

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