The BR steam era is within the memory of many of us, either as observers of the railway in service or of the many preserved locomotives and coaches still in service, yet surprisingly, there are many areas of ignorance of livery matters. I hope to shed some light on the matter and perhaps throw out some questions where I do not know the answer.

 BR liveries have not had the attention they deserve in print. Many of the publications covering the early days pay little attention to livery matters - and contain errors. The only publication to specialise on the subject, Brian Haresnape’s book ‘Railway Liveries - BR Steam 1948-1968’, only gives outline coverage of the topic and contains the odd error.

 During BR’s fifty years of existence there were five livery periods that I would define as follows-

 Period 0     1948           Initial experimentation

           1      1949-56      Standard liveries, first emblem, crimson and cream coaches

           2      1956-65      Second emblem (crest), crimson lake coaches, regional variations

           3      1965-87      Corporate image - blue and grey

           4      1987-97      Sectorisation    


This section covers only Periods 0 – 2.


Although specific dates are given for each period there was a great deal of overlap between them. Coaching stock was repainted every 5-7 years and locomotives between 3-10 years depending on type and usage. Pre-nationalisation liveries lived side by side with period 2 in a few cases. Also, rebellious depots used to sneak in the odd livery variant, even during period 3, which was the most rigorously imposed era. It seems that since the Grouping the railways never succeeded in managing to present a completely uniform livery. The LMS never got to grips with uniformity and the GWR changed some aspect of its livery every couple of years. Only the LNER came near to achieving it before the war sent everything into decline.

 Note, a word of warning, as with all liveries ‘always’ means ‘mostly’ and ‘never’ means ‘except sometimes’! However categorical some fact may seem someone will turn up with a photo showing otherwise.


The 1947 Transport Act which brought about the nationalisation of the railways included, as well as the Big Four, some minor railways that had not been ‘grouped’ in 1923, and London Transport. Other transport undertakings including Docks and Inland Waterways, selected road transport companies eg ‘Pickfords’, and the railway hotels all came within the Act. All these bodies were vested in the British Transport Commission. As I write this only Network Rail and a reduced London Transport, now known as Transport for London, remain in public ownership.

 Each of the four divisions of the Transport Commission was run by an Executive that had overall control and was responsible for policy making. The day to day running of the railways was controlled by six Regions, whose boundaries generally corresponded with those of the previous four companies except that the ex LNER territory in England was split into the Eastern Region and North Eastern Region. The ex LMS and LNER in Scotland were joined to form the Scottish Region. There were some adjustments to the boundaries, especially in the administration of the former Joint Lines, which were allocated wholly to one region. 


                                                                                                            PERIOD 0


                                                                                     Emblems and markings - Locomotives

 The BR Emblem

During the first few months of 1948 the railway works continued to turn out freshly painted locomotives in the livery of their parent company, but the first indication of the change of ownership was that during January company markings ceased to appear on locomotives, and they were leaving the works with blank tender and tank sides. 

From mid January ‘BRITISH RAILWAYS’ was painted on the engines, usually with a large space between the two words, probably to allow for the future introduction of a suitable emblem. This meant that the lettering sat very awkwardly on some engines, especially the smaller ones and those with oddly shaped side tanks (eg LMS 2-6-4Ts). It was also applied to motored coaches of some EMUs.

 The lettering was hand painted so that there were variations in the style and size. The WR and SR initially used lettering in their company style but later used a plain sans serif letter form approximating to Gill Sans. As the official cream colour was not defined/available until 1949 the SR used Southern lining yellow for lettering. The WR may have used coach cream for the lettering; the LMR and ScR (ex LMS) used the LMS 1946 letter shape in LMS straw (in 6, 8 and 10” size) and the ER, NER and ScR (ex LNER) used the final LNER style lettering in yellow for all classes (except A4 which were ‘silver white’). The LNER ‘Gill Sans’ lettering style was virtually that adopted by BR. (History of this?)

 It can be seen in some photographs of SR engines, which had BRITISH RAILWAYS in the Southern style, that the letters H, R, S and T were transfers from the word SOUTHERN and the rest hand painted to match.

 There were experiments with an emblem before the final adoption of the Lion straddling a wheel (cycling ferret) in December 1948. Two earlier types of Lion and Wheel emblems (‘Kitten and ball of wool’) were exhibited on the tenders of ER B1s Nos 61001 and 61009 on 19th April 1948 at Liverpool Street station (shown in British Railways Illustrated) and the familiar BR “sausage” symbol, as used on road vehicles and publicity material, was tried out on the tender of a SR ‘Schools’ class engine. It was tried in at least two styles – firstly with the lettering and sausage outline in a light colour (cream?) on the background colour of the tender (malachite green) and then with the colours transposed but with a much darker border picking out the edge of the ‘sausage’. The emblem was over 14 ft. long by about 3ft 6in high – totally out of scale with the tender. The tender was coupled to No. 926 for photographs but it is probable that it never ran in service, although the latter version was photographed coupled to No. 926 in steam.


The final version of the Lion and Wheel was in fact the emblem of the British Transport Commission and appeared in two versions, with a railway wheel for the Railway Executive and a road wheel for the Road Transport Executive. The emblem was designed for the BTC and adopted by the railway very shortly after. The railway’s own symbol was the sausage, or hot dog, which subsequently never appeared on rail vehicles, except for First & Second Class coach window stickers, but was used most extensively on station signs, road vehicles and publicity. It was designed by A J White.


The Lion and Wheel, very much an ‘Art Deco’ design and typical of its time never received general approval. To quote Brian Haresnape in ‘British Rail 1948-83, A Journey by Design’ “It was not a true heraldic device, and worse still, it was not very attractive to the eye. The poverty stricken lion soon earned itself the nickname of ‘starving’, whilst some thought it was riding a bicycle…” Emaciated it may have been, but it was certainly emasculated. Strangely, the BRITISH RAILWAYS in the horizontal bar was not in the official Gill Sans style. (Haresnape attributes the design to Abram Games in 1949, wrong date, wrong designer.) The design was in fact the work of Cecil Thomas, as a low relief sculpture, which was possibly reinterpreted on commission by Games, but the Abram Games Archive has no record of the design. (Abram Games was a graphic artist, originally from Hungary, who designed the logo for the 1951 Festival of Britain.) 


It had appeared by June 1948 and was applied to a number of WR engines at Swindon, Nos. 5023, 5954, 6009 and 6910 being examples. This early version had a lighter coloured background (blue? grey?) to the central bar. During July 1948 No. 5023 was running with a tender lettered British Railways, without the emblem, possibly due to a tender change.


Once the decision was taken to adopt the emblem the BR lettering on engines ceased. The transfers for the new emblem were not available immediately so once again a number of engines were returned to traffic, this time in BR livery, without ownership markings, even as late as mid 1949.


In late January 1948 an interim renumbering system appeared whereby a letter prefix was applied to the existing company number; the letters being, logically, E, M, S, or W.


The regional letter prefix to the engine number was applied in a variety of styles, generally smaller than the number. The ER, NER and SR generally applied a very small letter (in relation to the number size) in front of the number. The WR generally put a small white W below the cab side number plate. The LMR usually put a same size letter under the number but occasionally it went above or in front. Because it was only an interim style it was never standardised and this is a case where a photograph of the actual engine needs to be studied for accuracy, if painting a model. The smoke box number plates of a few ex LMS engines were modified by fitting a metal plate bearing the letter M to the left of the number plate.


Ex LMS Royal Scot No. 6169 ran for a time as M46169 in LMS 1946 livery with BR on the tender.

By April the standard numbering system had been decided so it was only from late January to mid March that the interim Regional Letter system was used although, of course, its results lasted until the mid 50s on some engines.   


Surprisingly the WR was allowed to keep the GWR number plates on its engines despite it being economically more sound for the largest company (ie LMS) to keep its numbering (as it already had smoke box number plates) and, secondly, the cab side number plates were nowhere near as legible from a distance as the larger painted numbers. The plates could have been melted down to produce valuable brass for other fittings and cast iron for smoke box number plates.


The chosen system was, for steam engines, as follows-



Numbers would stay the same (except for some older pre-grouping engines that were already in the process of being renumbered).


The ex Ystalyfera Tinplate Works 0-4-0ST was purchased by BR from the liquidators and given the number 1. This engine had never belonged to the GWR


New engines built by BR to GWR designs were numbered within the GWR system.


The GWR had devised a reasonably logical system of numbering its engines, which was tied in to the engine class. For example the ‘King’ class was officially the 6000 Class and the numbers ran from 6000 to 6029. A problem occurred when there were more than 100 engines in the class. This was solved by keeping the second digit constant so that, for example, the ‘Hall’ class, which was the 4900 Class, started with 4900-4999 but then continued with 5900-5999 and then 6900-6958. The ‘Modified Hall’ class, officially the 6959 Class continued the series from 6959-6999 and 7900-7929.


This system served for every class except the 5700 Class pannier tanks, which were too numerous to be accommodated in the system. These started in 1929 with 5700-5799, 7700-7799 and 8700-8749. In 1930 a sub-class with minor differences was introduced at 6700-6749. In 1933 further sub classes were introduced, firstly 9700-9710, and then 8750-8799 and 9711-9799. At this point the system broke down, as only 37xx was available because 27xx and 47xx already existed as classes. The 4700 Class only consisted of ten engines and could have been renumbered into one of the many gaps in the numbering system but it was decided to continue the 5700 class at 3600-3799, 4600-4699, 9600-9682. The series was concluded with a further sub class in 1949 with 6750-6779.          


Engines that had been absorbed at the Grouping were allocated to vacant numbers in the GWR system between 1 and 2197. The allocation was on the basis of wheel arrangement/originating railway/tractive effort. These absorbed engines carried the letters GWR on their number plates, above the number, and also, stamped on the rim, their original company and number.


A number of absorbed engines were renumbered again from 1946 to tidy up the numbering of the more modern classes and to free up more blocks of numbers. The renumbered engines did not have GWR on the plates, in order to distinguish renumbered from un-renumbered engines.


Also, in 1948, engines, which had been converted to oil burning, and had been renumbered as a consequence (eg 28xx to 48xx), were converted back to coal burning and were being given their old numbers back.  



Numbers would have 30,000 added except on Bulleid engines, which had alphanumeric numbers. These were renumbered into the 33xxx (Q1), 34xxx (West Country/Battle of Britain) and 35xxx (Merchant Navy) series. The ‘Leader’ class, built after 1948, was numbered 36001-3 but only 36001 was completed. Isle of Wight engines, which were in a series of their own, were not renumbered at all although on paper they carried a W prefix. Engines on the Southern duplicate list (3xxx series) would have clashed with the Q1s so were renumbered from 30564 to 30589. These included classes 0395 0-6-0, 0415 4-4-2T (Adams Radial), 0298 2-4-0T (Beattie Well Tank) and C14 0-4-0T. 


The two independent railways, Kent & East Sussex and East Kent were nationalised and came under the Southern Region on 2nd February 1948. Two engines entered BR stock, the remainder being scrapped. KESR No 3, an ex LBSCR Terrier, received the number it would have carried had it remained on the Southern - 32670 and EKR No 4 was numbered 30948 adjacent to the ex EKR 0-8-0T taken into Southern Railway stock some time earlier (30)949.  


The Southern Railway had perpetuated the numbering systems of its constituents save for the addition of 1000 to ex-SECR engines and 2000 to ex-LBSCR.


LSWR locomotives had been allocated to available blocks of numbers that were vacant at the time of construction. There was no attempt to number different batches of a class consecutively.


The SECR was even more random in that any space in the system vacated by a scrapped engine could be occupied by a new engine. It was anathema for the powers who invented the system for there to be any gaps in the numbering, scrapped engines immediately having their numbers taken by new. When the locomotive stock of the LCDR and SER were combined to form the SECR the SER numbers stayed the same but the LCDR numbers were changed by having 459 (!) adding to each one because that was the number of engines on the SER. Any right minded person would have settled on 500 as the number to be added – it would certainly have made the arithmetic easier when altering the engine record cards!


The LBSC initially used a similar system but in later years new classes were allocated to specific blocks of numbers.


Engines built by the Southern Railway during the Maunsell period were given numbers within the existing systems. The N, N1, U, U1 and W family, which were all derivatives of the ‘River’ Class 2-6-4Ts, were numbered in the 1xxx range as developments of an SECR design. Likewise the L1 class, which was entirely new construction, not a development of the L class, but bore strong similarities to the D1 and E1 classes was numbered in the SECR series. The new designs – Lord Nelson, Q, V and Z were given blocks of numbers in the LSWR series.    


Mr Bulleid, as ever radical, started a new system, which was based on wheel arrangement. More specifically it was based on the Continental method, which counted axles rather than wheels and used letters for the driving axles. Thus a 4-6-2 was a 2C1. Bulleid rearranged this to give 21C and numbered his Pacifics 21C1 – 21C170. Zeroes were ignored so that the Q1s were simply C1 – C30. It is logical to assume that the Leader class would have been numbered from CC1 had they been finished before 1948. Or would they? The electric locomotives already carried the designation CC


On nationalisation the opportunity was missed to renumber the entire SR stock into a logical system, as had been done with LNER engines two years earlier.


Numbers would have 40,000 added, except for those engines that had been renumbered into the 2xxxx range in 1934 to allow for increasing numbers of standard engines and, because of continuing construction of new engines beyond 1948, further classes of older ex MR and LNWR engines.


The Mersey Electric Railway, which had been an independent concern, had one steam locomotive, No. 3, (an ex LNER J66), which was sent to Stratford for recovery of spare parts, and scrapped without renumbering.


The LMS had embarked on a comprehensive renumbering of all its engines soon after the grouping. The locomotives were allocated to the four Operating Divisions, which roughly corresponded to the boundaries of the constituent companies. They were Midland (MR, LTSR and NSR), Nos. 1-4999; Western (LNWR), Nos. 5000-9999; Central (L&Y, FR, M&CR and C&WR), Nos.10000-12999; and Northern (CR, G&SWR and HR), Nos. 14000-17997. Within each the locomotives were numbered in the following order – Passenger Tender engines, Passenger Tank, Freight Tank, Freight Tender. Within each type the engines were numbered in order of age within ascending order of power.


Initially there were enough gaps in the numbers for new engines to be numbered in blocks but eventually, in 1934, a more radical renumbering was required to make room for the modern Stanier engines coming on stream. It had been decided that all new engines should carry four figure numbers so, to make way for this, some older MR and LNWR engines were renumbered into the 2xxxx series by adding 20000 to their numbers.


In 1948 further space were required so that all the unrenumbered ex MR 2F 0-6-0s and ex LNWR 0-6-2T Coal Tanks, together with the ex MR 0-4-4Ts were moved into the BR 58xxx range along with the LMS 2xxxx locomotives. The renumbering was in the order of Passenger Tender, Passenger Tank, Freight Tender, Freight Tank, in descending order of power (generally) - a subtle change of order from the 1923 system.


Numbers would have 60,000 added, the exceptions being the W1 No. 10000, which was renumbered 60700 and the L1 2-6-4Ts, which were renumbered from the 9xxx series to 67700 onwards. B7s and some B16s were subsequently renumbered again to make room for the increasing number of newly built B1s.


Ex War Department engines, at that time on loan to BR, were to be numbered in the 7xxxx series except for the LMS design 8F 2-8-0s, which were renumbered in the 48xxx series after the ex-LMS engines. The MoS 0-6-0STs had already been acquired by the LNER in 1946 and classified J94 in the number series 8006-8080.


On the introduction of the BR Standard engines from 1951 the WD engines were then renumbered into the 90xxx series.


In 1946 the LNER had renumbered its entire stock of locomotives by age within class, with certain exceptions.  The scheme divided the stock into six coupled passenger, 1-999: six coupled mixed traffic, 1000-1999; four coupled tender, 2000-2999; eight coupled tender, 3000-3999; six coupled freight tender, 4000-5999; electric, 6000-6999; passenger tank, 7000-7999; shunting tank, including diesels, 8000-8999; freight and mixed traffic tank, 9000-9999; and W1, 10000. 


Not the most logical order one must admit. Even then there were anomalies as the V2s were numbered 800 onwards rather than in the 1000-1999 series and the L1s were originally put in at 9000 rather than the passenger tank series. Even the W1 could have been put in at 700.


There remains a mystery as to how the classes were ordered in the new numbering system. The locomotives had been classified in a reasonably logical order in 1923 so it would be reasonable for the classes to be numbered consecutively within the divisions above ie J1, J2, …J40 or D1, D2…D49. However, this was not to be and the classes within some wheel arrangements were put in a seemingly random order for renumbering. What is apparent is that some classes introduced by Gresley were numbered at the end of the class sequence, (eg, B17, D49, J38) while those introduced by Thompson appeared at the beginning, (eg, B1, K1).

Diesel, gas turbine and electric locomotives 


All diesel engines were grouped together into the 1xxxx series regardless of origin, in descending order of power. Thus the two LMS diesels retained their LMS numbers. Gaps were left for planned but not yet delivered locomotives.


The two gas turbine locomotives ordered by the Western Region were numbered 18000 and 18100.


Electric locomotives (a grand total of 17) were put in the 2xxxx series. In fact only a handful of these saw regular use – the three ex SR third rail Co-Cos and the two ex NER Tyneside ES1 Bo-Bo shunters. The NER Class EB1 saw little use due to the decline in traffic for which they were intended and the 2-Co-2 Class EE1 had never worked since 1923, as the line from York to Newcastle was never electrified. It spent all its time in a shed but, nevertheless, duly received its BR number, while still in NER livery, before it was regrettably scrapped.  



Self-propelled passenger cars - the WR diesel railcars, the Grimsby & Immingham trams and all EMUs were treated as coaching stock and simply received the relevant regional prefix. (See Coaching Stock section)


The last remaining L&Y and LNWR steam rail motors were withdrawn very early on and were not renumbered; what a pity neither was preserved.