Steam & Railway Image Library - The Alan Ledger Collection

Icons of Steam: The Legendary British Steam Trains of the 20th Century
Icons of Steam: The Legendary British Steam Trains of the 20th Century

The 20th century bore witness to the majesty of steam trains that crisscrossed the British landscape, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s history. These locomotives, feats of engineering prowess, embarked on famous journeys and became symbols of a bygone era. Let’s delve into the stories of five of the most famous steam trains that captivated hearts and minds throughout the 20th century.

1. The Flying Scotsman

Engineering Marvel and Famous Journeys: The Flying Scotsman, built in 1923, is an icon of British steam travel. Renowned for its sleek design and technological innovation, it became the first locomotive to achieve 100 miles per hour in 1934. Its flagship journey was the non-stop service from London to Edinburgh, known as “The Flying Scotsman.”

Operator and Fate: Operated by the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), The Flying Scotsman changed hands over the years. After service with British Railways, it underwent several private ownerships. Today, The Flying Scotsman has been beautifully restored, making occasional mainline and heritage railway appearances.

The Scotsman is currently featuring in a cententary programme run by the Railway Museum, which you can find details about here.

2. Mallard

Speed Record and Technical Brilliance: Mallard, a member of the A4 class, set the world speed record for steam locomotives in 1938, reaching an astonishing 126 miles per hour. This locomotive’s streamlined design and innovative engineering contributed to its exceptional speed.

Operator and Legacy: Also operated by the LNER, Mallard represents the zenith of steam locomotive design. It is now a star exhibit at the National Railway Museum in York, commemorating its historic speed record.

3. The Duchess of Hamilton

Art Deco Elegance and Streamlining: The Duchess of Hamilton, part of the Princess Coronation Class, is celebrated for its Art Deco-inspired streamlining. Designed to epitomize speed and modernity, it carried passengers in elegance and style.

Operator and Transformation: Operated by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), The Duchess of Hamilton underwent restoration in the 1980s. Today, it stands as a static exhibit at the National Railway Museum, showcasing its exquisite design.

4. The Evening Star

Last of the Great Western: The Evening Star holds the distinction of being the last steam locomotive built for British Railways in 1960. As part of the Great Western Railway’s 9F class, it represented the epitome of British steam design.

Operator and Legacy: Operated by British Railways, The Evening Star served until the end of the steam era in 1968. Preserved at the National Railway Museum, it symbolizes the final chapter of steam on the mainline.

5. The City of Truro

Pioneer of Speed: The City of Truro, built in 1903, earned fame for being the first locomotive to reach 100 miles per hour in 1904. Its achievements paved the way for future speedsters like Mallard.

Operator and Preservation: Operated by the Great Western Railway, The City of Truro has been preserved and is occasionally featured in heritage railway events, allowing enthusiasts to witness the steam pioneer in action.

These five steam locomotives are immortalized not just for their technical brilliance but also for the stories they carried across the British countryside. As symbols of an era when steam ruled the tracks, they continue to evoke nostalgia and wonder. Preserved in museums or occasionally gracing heritage railways, these icons of steam ensure that the spirit of British rail heritage endures for generations to come.

More articles