Following nationalisation, new and repainted locomotives continued to appear in traffic bearing the initials of their former owners, though replaced very quickly by a complete absence of any titling. This early period saw also a number of new engines built to the designs of their former owners, outshopped with their original works/builders’ plates fitted, but with the tell tale signs of having had the initials LNER, LMS, &c., removed before the locomotive went into traffic. The appearance of evidence of former ownership was very long lasting in some cases, with ‘sightings’ of a faded ‘GWR’, or ‘LMS’ being noted in the contemporary railway press of the late 1950s.
The full title BRITISH RAILWAYS was carried by many locomotives and numerous classes, lasting, at least officially, until the arrival in 1949 of the lion and wheel emblem, or totem as it was known. The style of lettering adopted officially in 1949 was Gill-Sans, and had been widely used on the London Midland, Eastern, North Eastern, Scottish, and Southern Regions of BR, from 1948, although the Western Region perpetuated for a time the style of the old GWR, and some examples of former SR style on the newly formed Southern Region could also be found.
An exhibition of experimental colour schemes was held at Addison Road station in January 1948 involving a number of newly built LMR Class 5MT 4-6-0s (See Table). The first locomotive turned out with any indication of its new ownership was the WR 4-6-0 No.4946 Moseley Hall repainted in full GWR livery, but with the tender lettered BRITISH RAILWAYS using the old GWR style letters.
Of course, it was not just locomotives that were exhibited at Addison Road, rolling stock too was displayed, with a selection of new colours, covering express passenger, suburban, and the few multiple unit types around at that time. During the first six months of 1948, the Railway Executive was concentrating equally as hard on the new image of British Railways, as with homogenising the administrative and operating procedures of the former owners.
Officially, the six regions of British Railways were colour coded from 1st May 1948, and the colours applied across most of the range of railway activity, from posters and timetables to station nameboards.
But, locomotives and rolling stock were excluded from this level of uniformity.
The BTC published a series of Temporary Painting Schedules for its inhgerited motive power in late 1948 covering these experimental liveries:
Some of the first applications of the experimental locomotive colours were combined with similarly repainted rolling stock, and no less than 14 trains were dispatched over various routes around the country, and the public invited to comment on the new schemes. To what extent the public responded to the request is not known, and sadly, no official records of the ‘experimental’ colours now exist, other than the temporary painting schedules.The shades displayed by the locomotives came in for much retrospective comment, often incorrectly.
The 1948 trials brought LMS Class 5s, and GWR Kings and Castles in lined light green and lined blue, with incorrect suggestions that two different blues were used. The appearance of the experimental colours was directly affected by the materials used. With both oleo resinous and synthetic paints applied, the latter as an alternative for the green and lined black styles, there would be perhaps appear to be differences in the colours themselves.
Painting of locomotives could be divided into two principal stages: Preparatory Work and Finishing Processes.
Preparatory work on complete repaints comprised a number of operations: first, a coat of primer was applied, followed by whatever stopping and filling was necessary, whilst the intermediate operations were a combination of rubbing down and undercoating. Lastly, a single coat of grey undercoat was applied, prior to the finishing processes.
The Finishing Processes took no less than three days, on the first day a single coat of sealer/undercoat was applied in the livery colour, followed by a coat of enamel/finishing paint was laid down. The second day was occupied with lining and lettering, and finally, on the third day, a coat of protective varnish was applied.
The fact that two shades of blue have been reported as ‘sightings’ in the contemporary enthusiast press could be attributed to the difference between oil based and synthetic resin paints, with the addition of extra pale varnish, or equally to the effects of cleaning. However, there was only one shade of blue, in both the experimental and early standard liveries.
Lettering and numbering was also subject to variation and initially, this was affected by the regional management, and resulted for a time in the use of serif and non-serif characters, depending on whether Swindon, Brighton, or Crewe were completing the repaints. Plain white letters was the official order of the day for London Midland, whilst Swindon, independent to the last – and some would say beyond – offered its own elaborate style. But, in September 1948, the Railway Executive announced its standard instructions, whereby all letters and figures were to be in Gill Sans Medium normally be applied in gold or golden yellow, and where the outline was other than black, these letters and numbers were to be outlined in black. The statement went on to advocate not a standard size of engine cabside number, but the use of the largest possible figures that would fit in the available space.
And these were just the first steps in achieving what today would be described as the “brand image”, with the final decisions taking into account – to some degree – regional practices. The lion and wheel emblem (icon, logo or totem) was the brand that featured strongly in the years up to 1956, when it was replaced with a genuine heraldic ‘device’. Sadly, there are too few colour images of the locos carrying the early experimental liveries, and aside from the decision not to use blue for express passenger types, the 1949 standard colours were retained until the end of steam. (Yes, I well remember seeing an ex LMSR “Coronation” class pacific running through Preston in the late 1950s, but it was an exception).
Then from the late 1950s onwards, as diesel traction began to make its progress felt and heard, green became a favourite colour choice, and there were not a few variations there too. The totem or logo changed in the mid 1950s too, and although often described as a crest, it was only the 1956 lion holding wheel crest was a proper heraldic device. See “British Railways Locomotive Crests” for more details.
The liveries and styles carried by British Railways motive power in the steam era were very much suited to the motive power of the day, and provided that essential unification – and ‘brand image’ – that the nationalised railway network demanded.