Yorkshire, England – York, The National Railway Museum and Speed Records

The Mallard National Railway Museum York

I dedicate this post to the memory of Kate of roughseasinthemed, a woman of spirit who loved everything Yorkshire (and Gibraltar).

In the morning the sky remained stubbornly steely grey and there was a steady pitter-patter of rain against the window and I instantly remembered another reason why I don’t really like going away in England – the weather is just so unreliable!

This presented us with a dilemma.  Our original plan was to drive north to Thirsk and visit nearby Rieveaux Abbey and then drive home on a scenic route through the East Riding but the weather was just so gloomy that this didn’t seem sensible so we debated our options and decided to go to York and the National Railway Museum and after an excellent ‘full English’ breakfast we paid up, said our goodbyes and moved on.

It isn’t very far from Harrogate to York and Kim must have been working on her timing because as we approached the outskirts of the city she proposed that perhaps I would prefer to go and see the National Railway Museum by myself while she went shopping instead.  I was quite unable to understand why anyone would prefer shopping to steam engines but I agreed of course and we set about finding a convenient car park.

And here is another reason I don’t like visiting English tourist cities – £7 to park the car for three hours, which is absolutely scandalously excessive and would probably even have had the York highwayman Dick Turpin blushing with embarrassment. So, car parked, wallet emptied, Kim made for the shops and I went in the opposite direction towards the Railway Station.

There was a long queue at the museum entrance which struck me as strange as there is free admission (it is aligned to the Science Museum in London)* but the reason was simple – there was a registration desk where visitors expecting a freebie were being shamed into making a contribution.  Apparently the Museum is at risk because of under-funding so, here’s an idea, just abandon the stupid free admission to museums policy and charge people to go inside and the funding crisis is solved.  (I should be a politician or a policy-maker, I’d get things sorted out)!

I had wanted to go the National Railway Museum for a long time and I was not disappointed.  I started in the smaller of the two halls where there was a collection of Royal trains and carriages before going outside to the open air part of the museum where there was the chance to take a short steam engine ride.  There was a price to pay so I naturally declined!

After that I went to the grand hall where there is a collection of some of the UK’s iconic steam engines including my personal favourite, the garter blue LNER Mallard (Class A4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive built at Doncaster, England in 1938) gleaming to almost impossible perfection along the entire length of  its fashion-model, streamlined body – it must take several hours every evening to get the fingerprints of the admiring visitors removed!

The Mallard Record Breaking Speed York

The Mallard is the current record holder of the world speed record for a steam locomotive which it achieved in 1938 by reaching a speed of 125 mph (203 kmh) in Lincolnshire between Grantham and Peterborough.  It is difficult to imagine what this must have felt like as the massive one hundred and seventy tonne engine and tender dragged its coaches at top speed over railway lines that were designed for much lower speeds, the noise and the shaking must have been unimaginable.  To see what it might have been like I paid £4 to take a ride in a simulator which tried to recreate the record breaking attempt.

In the 1930s some people were obsessed with speed and breaking records.  In the same year that Mallard broke the steam powered record a man called Rudolf Caracciola drove a Mercedes-Benz W125 Rekordwagen at a speed of 268 mph (433 kmh) on a German Autobahn which is a record that still stands as the fastest ever officially timed speed on a public road.

In February 1938 Squadron Leader J.W. Gillan flew an RAF Hawker Hurricane fighter plane from Edinburgh to London in forty-eight minutes and achieved a record land plane speed of 409 mph (660 kmh).  I expect that he was in a bit of a rush to get back to the officer’s mess before closing time!

Also in 1938 Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the water speed record in Bluebird K3 when he achieved a speed of 141 mph (227 kmh) on Lake Maggoire in Switzerland.  In the following year he broke the record again in K4 on Lake Coniston in the Lake District in England.

Time was passing by now and it looked as though I might have to attempt a speed record of my own if I was to see all of the exhibits in the Museum before returning to the car park for the agreed rendezvous time with Kim.  I failed in this task because there was just too much to see in the memorabilia section of the Museum so I left thinking that one day soon I may have to return.

The journey home was simply awful.  It rained continuously and there were hold ups, road works and diversions for what seemed like the entire drive and I found myself sympathising with motorists trying to get in and out of Gibraltar when the Spanish border police start playing up.


* Other Free Admission Museums in the UK:

  • Imperial War Museum, London
  • Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
  • National Coal Mining Museum for England, Wakefield
  • National Football Museum, Preston
  • National Maritime Museum, London
  • National Museums Liverpool
  • Science Museum, London
  • Natural History Museum, London
  • National History Museum, Tring, Hertfordshire
  • People’s History Museum, Manchester
  • Royal Armouries, Leeds
  • Victoria & Albert, London

25 responses to “Yorkshire, England – York, The National Railway Museum and Speed Records

  1. Perhaps you would be a great UK policy advisor however I don’t think the UK Tourism board will be offering you a position anytime soon Andrew. 🙂


  2. Sheee. I went to York, and missed so much!


  3. Moaning about the weather – again! When we holidayed in the UK it was invariably good weather. Just as well because we were usually camping.

    I never did get to the railway museum which is a shame. Everyone I know who’s been says it’s great. Much better than shopping I would have thought.

    I used to park just outside the centre and walk in. It was about ten minutes or so.


    • Now that I am 60 I am entitled to grumble!

      Raining again here today – and cold! We are going to Ireland next week, I expect it will rain there as well!

      On a more positive note I am happy to declare the National Railway Museum one of the best I have ever visited!


      • What was your excuse before you got to 60?

        We had a planned two or three week holiday in Ireland. We actually finished it in around ten days.

        It rained in the bottom left hand corner. I was going to buy a waxed cotton hat but was feeling miserly. But then it chucked it down, so I went back and bought it. We did get some nice sunny days though in Sligo, and a few other places. Where are you going?


      • Flying to Shannon, staying in Galway, Train to Dublin for the day (brilliant VFM, only £20 return) Ennistymon (Father Ted country) and finish in Dingle!

        I have been to Belfast and Giants Causeway but never to the south. I thought I might just pack my golfing wet weather gear!


  4. Andrew there is no need to travel with you doing it for us. Lol. Thanks so much for you great posts.


  5. The gleaming shine is blinding. I wonder how anyone polishes so much surface after all those inquisitive fingers. My favorite color too.


  6. The railway museum is a great place if you’re looking for free things to do in York! I always use the park and ride when I visit, it’s cheap and you can stay as long as you want 😊


  7. Pingback: Yorkshire, England – York, The National Railway Museum | Have Bag, Will Travel

  8. Kind of sad to see roughsea’s comments here. She is missed.


  9. Might be of interest:


  10. I wonder whether all those museums are still free


  11. Free museums & pioneering trains – British things to be proud of.


  12. We enjoyed our visit to the Railway Museum in York as well. I’m afraid parking would cost a lot more in Canada. We are spoiled here in Spain as many places parking is free or inexpensive.


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