British Railways First Locomotive Liveries


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.

252 - Lens of Sutton - West Country at Waterloo

Bulleid “West Country” pacific at Waterloo still in ex-Southern Railway colours, sporting its new 1949 BR number – but still carrying the 1948 ‘British Railways’ on the tender sides. Photo: Lens of Sutton

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.

LMR Class 5 LiveriesOf 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.

BR Regional colours 1948

The BTC published a series of Temporary Painting Schedules for its inhgerited motive power in late 1948 covering these experimental liveries:

1949 Liveries Table

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.

1949 Loco Liveries

BR’s first standard locomotive liveries, adopted from 1949 onwards. Later regional variations included some interesting changes for the Class8P passenger types in particular.

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.

A4 Sir Charles Newton at York in 1950

Grelsey’s A4s certainly suited that express passenger blue – here 60005 “Sir Charles Newton” is captured at York in 1950.           Photographer unknown.

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.


Jubilee Class 45575 “Bahamas” immaculately turned out in the standard BR lined green livery for express passenger types, sporting the 1949 ‘totem’, and shedplate for Kentish Town.     Photo: (c) G.W.Sharpe

Cab and side panelsLettering 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).


Castle Class 4-6-0 – probably 5079 “Lysander” on “The Cornishman” around 1950, complete with red & cream coaches. 5079 was previously converted to oil-burning in the late 1940s, but here seen back as a coal burner. Sadly not in colour, but it would be in standard lined green livery.             Photo: Lens of Sutton

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.

To be continued …… 


8 thoughts on “British Railways First Locomotive Liveries

  1. W G Servent

    At least one new A1 was painted in a very light blue
    As witnessed at Copley Hill carriage sidings in 1949


    • Thanks for your comment WG, I have seen a number of mentions of 2 different shades of blue used during the 1948-49 experimental period. From a pigment perspective only one was used as far as official records are concerned, but it could be that because both oil based and synthetic paints were used, this would have the effect of modifying the appearance.
      You mention the A1 at Copley Hill in 1949 is interesting, and I was wondering if it was on one of these services in 1948:
      8.40 am Leeds – Glasgow (via Newcastle)
      4.00 pm Glasgow – Leeds (via Newcastle)

      Sopme of the stuff I posted on the Blog was from a manuscript on BR Liveries I was working on for a book, for Ian Allan a year or two back.
      Maybe I should complete it – I was never sure, because colour and painting of locos always seemed challenging.
      Back in pre-grouping days, Stroudley’s “Improved Engine Green”, as on the 0-4-2 at the NRM always seemed yellow to me.
      I am grateful for any comments and suggestions here, and I hope to follow that item up soon.
      Thanks again.


  2. WGServent

    The A4 Falcon was also in a lighter blue in late 1948 When the bridges were down in Scotland the Scotsman was diverted to the Settle Carlisle
    The engine still had the number 25 and LNER on the tender


    • Thanks for that – it’s always interesting to hear about some of those odd combinations in the early years. I can imagine when the first proposed colour scheme were displayed at Addison Road there were quite a few raised eyebrows to anyone at that presentation.


  3. Ben Earnshaw-Mansell

    Blue (as a colour) can vary.
    In daylight, (which locomotives spend most of their time) it often appers lighter: whereas in artificial light (such as at a large station, in the early morning, or evening:)where there are more people to see the colour) blue may appear darker. Also, colours may be percieved differently (even by the same person) as that person becomes older.

    Ben Earnshaw-Mansell


    • Absolutely agree Ben. When I was looking at this topic I had copies of the original BR painting schedules and their list of mixtures and compounds. This made me think about the effect that mixing different compounds – whether oil based or synthetic resins – would have on the final appearance after varnishing.
      I know what you mean too about age and changes in vision have on colour perception – and lighting is both a hazard and advantage I guess.
      Colours in liveries are a fascinating topic, but fraught with many challenges – as you rightly point out. I was always amazed by the idea that Stroudley considered his ochre coloured paintwork as “Improved Engine Green”! Thanks for your comments though, it is probably a topic I’ll delve into again for BR at least. Regards, Rodger


  4. Kevin Coleman, b.1950

    Surely a number of LMR engines retained LMS deep-maroon livery? I saw an engine called “City of Stoke-on-Trent” at Euston in early 1964, remarkably clean as the whole Coronation class was broken-up in April 1964, enamelled in a clearly deep-maroon colour.


    • Hi Kevin – many apologies for not replying sooner. The LMR (ex LMS) engines, and the Duchesses went through a number of repaints in the 1950s, and those that were repainted blue in the first schemes, were repainted green, and eventually repainted maroon again – but to BR colours. The lining applied to the maroon repaints was the post 1956 BR style – but – from the notes I have, 46254 was repainted from lined green to maroon – initially with the BR style lining in November 1958 and repainted again in May 1959, but with LMS style lining.
      I had been starting to explore the livery changes of the 1950s in another post at some point, and there was certainly a great deal of variation amidst the official repaints, and other changes. In September 1959, the Queen travelled by the Royal Train from Euston to Balmoral – with two green painted pacifics – 46253 and 46239 (the standby engine).
      Thank you for your comments, and hope this maybe goes a little way to explaining why “City of Stoke-on-Trent” was so clean. It would certainly have been sporting LMS style lining when you saw it in 64.


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