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All Posts, Transport

Gresley’s Silver Link by Ronald Hillier and Tim Hillier-Graves

Gresley’s Silver Link by Ronald Hillier and Tim Hillier-Graves

2509 Silver Link in her first few days at King’s Cross shed in September 1935.

The compelling and dramatic story of Gresley’s A4 Pacifics has often been told from an engineering and operational point of view. In reality, the reasons for their development and the way they evolved have many more strands to explore and understand if we are to get a true picture of the time, place and events surrounding their creation and lives. Without these any story is incomplete and remains only partly articulated. In ‘Gresley’s Silver Link’ this wider picture is described and analysed by the authors, one of whom witnessed the launch of ‘Silver Link’, the first of these phenomenal engines, at King’s Cross in 1935. He then spent a lifetime studying the ‘Streaks’, getting to know Bert Spencer, Gresley’s highly talented design assistant along the way. In so doing he gathered together an impressive array of material including the memories of those who designed and those who worked these unique machines. It is this collection that forms the basis for this book.

The A4 are arguably the most famous locomotives ever built, a status cemented by Mallard’s record breaking run on the 3rd July ‘38. And yet only a year later the glamorous ‘streaks’ seemed likely to be cast into obscurity by the coming of another world war. So, for only four exhilarating years they were allowed to flourish as their creator had intended and in that time captured the imagination of railwaymen and public alike.

It is a story with many strands to consider – war, peace and war again, engineering and art, the growing influence of Design Engineering as it spread from the USA, scientific discovery across many fields and new applications that were found for it, politics and business, recession and social change, the growth of the media and consumerism, the struggle for professional reputations and a growing, deeply damaging international rivalry. All these elements, and their influence on development of the A4s are brought to life in this tale, set in the heady days before conflict ended their brief golden age and Gresley’s life came to an end.

Silver Link after one of her early run gathers a crowd of onlookers drawn to this new streamlined locomotive by wide press coverage and her glamourous looks.

During 2023 the second part of the A4’s story will be published by Pen and Sword. This will take the story from 1942, by which time Edward Thompson had become CME, to 1966 when steam finally disappeared from the East Coast Main Line. This was again a time of great strife which drove great social and economic change during which the fortunes of the A4s was revived but then collapsed as steam finally gave way to diesel and electric motive power.

Gresley’s Silver Link is available to order here.

Stay tuned for more details on the release of The A4 Pacifics after Gresley.

Also coming soon… Gresley’s Master Engineer, Bert Spencer