Former King’s Cross shed master and legend among railway staff, Peter Townend, thought he would never see A4s 60008 Dwight D Eisenhower and 60010 dominion of Canada again after they left the UK for America and Canada when they were withdrawn.
When he heard that both locomotives were returning to Britain as part of the Great Gathering at the National Railway Museum he just had to be reunited with them. Peter Townend looked after 19 A4s at Top Shed, the widely-used name for King’s Cross depot.
Peter, now a sprightly 87-year-old, started his railway career at Doncaster works in 1941 as a premium apprentice. He took up the post at King’s Cross in 1956, describing the five years he spent at the depot as, ‘Probably the hardest I have experienced but I am glad I had the opportunity to be associated with the depot in all its vicissitudes whilst steam traction was still at its peak on the Great Northern main line.’
Despite his fondness for steam Peter is a realist. ‘The end was inevitable, people generally were not prepared to accept the dirt, grime and smoke associated with steam traction and there were many menial unpleasant tasks that had to be carried out in primitive conditions at depots which few men really wanted to do,’ he said.
Now living in Devon, Peter still travels around the UK to visit LNER themed events. Ironically, many supporters of A4 designer Sir Nigel Gresley claim that GWR, the initials of the Great Western Railway that served Devon until nationalisation in 1948, stand for Gresley was right!