GWR 1906–1934 loco livery

GWR Bulldog class 'Stanley Baldwin' at Paddington prior to 1912

Coloured postcards are often not a particularly reliable reference for colour schemes, but this delightful F Moore example seems to be an exception, depicting Bulldog 'Stanley Baldwin' with its pre-1912 number (3701) at Paddington.

GWR 175 Viscount Churchill

Another coloured postcard, of one of the prototype Saints, 175 'Viscount Churchill', depicted in 1907 (when it was named), showing the lining of cylinders and wheel bosses. The colourisation is based on a works grey picture, and it is doubtful the wheel bosses were lined when in service. The lighter shade used for the wheel centres is also suspect. The loco was later superheated, given a topfeed and a long cone boiler, and would be numbered 2975.


This 2-4-0 3232 class loco, from a 4mm Martin Finney kit, is depicted in pre-WWI livery. Image courtesy Martin Finney Martin Finney 3232 Class


GWR City of Truro at Didcot

Preserved 3717 City of Truro at Didcot in pre-WWI livery. Polished splasher rims did not generally last much beyond the end of WWI. The route and power indicator is not appropriate to a pre-WWI depiction, and the blue is in anycase incorrect, Cities being 'red engines' when the route indicators began to be applied after c 1920. Image copyright Tony Hisgett, and licenced for use under Wikimedia Creative Commons


Not in works grey, but the plain background indicates this is an official portrait of an 850 class loco after being fitted with pannier tanks in August 1910. 2012 has been buffed up for its portrait, with polished handrails.

Copper-capped chimneys were rare on pannier tanks, but the 1813 class, some members of the 850, 2021 and Buffalo classes, and at least one 2721 class loco (2723) did feature them for a while. These copper caps seem to disappear by the mid-1920s.
GWR pannier tank 2012


Lining a tender and applying insignia, 1913. This is a still from an early movie, now preserved by the BFI. The tender is a Dean 3000g, and the lining and insignia application are taking place outdoors, probably for good lighting conditions for the camera. Chalk lines aid the positioning of the transfer sheets. Painting and lining a GWR tender, 1913


GWR saddle tank 2748

Very difficult to date, but probably either side of WWI or maybe during the war itself, 2748 is at Exeter with a polished dome and safety valve cover. It is probable it is the station pilot kept buffed up by Exeter shed. No insignia.


Devoid of insignia, saddle tank 856, possibly c 1919. The tank fittings are painted over. Image courtesy of Kevin Dare. GWR saddle tank 856


2915 Saint Bartholomew, unlined, probably 1919-22 (Real Photographs)

With a cast-iron tapered chimney, bogie brakes, flush-riveted smokebox rings and splashers stripped of their original brass beading, this newly-outshopped Saint is unlined, c 1917–21. The safety valve cover is either painted over or has been left in a tarnished state. Its 3500g tender has GREAT WESTERN with no garter.


Star 4046 in post-WWI austerity livery, with no lining. The purpose of the shield-shaped embellishment at the top of the smokebox is not known. GWR Star 4046 in post-WWI austerity livery


GWR Duke 3254 'Cornubia' after a repaint, early 1920s

About to re-enter service, Duke 3254 'Cornubia' is spick and span after an overhaul and repaint in the early 1920s, but has picked up a grubby specimen from the 2500g tender pool.


517, Metro and other small sidetank locos usually did not have insignia when first built, but insignia became the norm for such locos from the mid-1920s onward, possibly to indicate their status as passenger locos. Usually, number plates were moved to the cab end of the tank, or even in rare cases to the bunker side, when insignia were applied, but in this instance 544 has kept its plates in the middle of the tank side. GWR 517 class loco 544


GWR 1556, August 1932

Devoid of insignia, saddle tank 1556, of the 1501 class, in August 1932


Venetian red connecting and valve gear on preserved Pannier tank

Venetian red on the insides of frames and the motion plate. Cranks, connecting rods and valve gear are also in venetian red, but the slidebars and crossheads are unpainted. The valve chests, reversing rod and the vacuum pump are black. This is a preserved Pannier, picture courtesy Tim Venton. The vacuum pump on preserved Collett Goods 3205 is in red.


Bodywork and frame colours

The early part of this period represents an overlap from the developments and changes being seen in the pre-1906 era.

From 1906 *, wheels and the outsides of frames were black, and splasher fronts green, although splasher tops remained black. Locos now carried the garter crest on the tender sides. Springs were regarded as part of the footplate, and were black. Express passenger locos continued to be fully lined, including cylinder covers and the outsides of frames. Lining on the tops of fireboxes ceased at some point during the Churchward era, but the exact date is not known. Insides of cabs remained green. Safety valve covers were polished. Buffer beams and buffer stocks (except for their top steps, which were black) continued to be in China Red (vermilion). ( * The County Tanks of August/September 1906 are thought to have been the first production batch of new locos with black wheels and frames.)

The lining situation on non-express passenger locos and goods locos is however far less clear. The early Churchward era was characterised by many Dean loco classes receiving numerous and regular changes to boilers, tanks, fireboxes and bunkers, and it seems that lining ceased to be applied to many such locos, particularly members of goods classes, possibly as early as 1904/5. Saddle tanks were normally unlettered and unlined after 1906, but some newly converted Pannier tanks appearing after 1910 were lined with insignia. Like the pre-1906 era, the painting resources of Swindon were strained owing to the sheer number of locos being newly built or being upgraded or being repaired, and thus partial repaints and partial lining practices for the non-express and good locos would probably have continued.

Photographic evidence suggests that painted domes were common by c 1908, even on express passenger engines. Some pannier tank locos however were still being shopped with polished brass domes and polished steel handrails, smokebox door rims, hinges and darts as late as 1912. The last polished dome to be seen in service was 1926 (on a Duke). Safety valve covers remained polished brass. Splasher rims/beadings were polished on some express passenger locos (Saints, Stars, and most 4-4-0s), but appear to be painted over, probably in black, for goods and tank engines. Insides of frames, and connecting rods and valve gear inside the frame, were Venetian Red.

GREAT (crest) WESTERN started to be added on the sides of larger tank locos from 1906, with the number plate being moved to the bunker side. This style was not consistently present, with many tank locos carrying their number plate centred on the tank sides.

Tank fronts on saddle and pannier tanks, where the tanks ended flush with the front of the smokebox, were black. For tank locos with enclosed cabs, the outer rear face was black.

Tops of side tanks were black, as were tank fillers, tank vents and lifting rings.

Backheads were black, but interiors of cabs, including the underside of the roof, were green. Tool boxes on the top of tanks and tenders were green.

Loco lamps had plain black bodies from c 1903 until 1915, when they became red, although this change was probably a leisurely one. Red lamps appeared earlier than 1915 however, but were probably confined to railmotors and autotrailers.

There were a few experimental liveries during this era. Some 517s used for early autotrains were painted brown (described in the Railway Magazine as 'reddish brown'), lined orange, in 1905. Some 4-4-2 'County' tanks, e.g. 2225, were painted in crimson lake livery (retaining black wheels and frames) in 1909. After WWI, some 517s were painted crimson lake c 1919 to match the livery of autotrailers.

Works plates on locos were gradually removed from 1911. They were however retained on tenders.

During WWI, locos requiring full repaints in the works were unlined, and from 1915–1917 received an austere unlined sandy shade of khaki body livery, with black frames, and possibly black bufferbeams. The amount of painting done during WWI was however minimal, many of the workforce being abroad at the front or employed on war work, and it is thought that the number of locos appearing with the khaki livery was small. Moguls 4381–99 are thought to have been painted in khaki, although other Moguls being built at the time received standard green. The vast majority of locos would have carried their pre-war liveries throughout the war, often under a coat of grime. It seems that green made a reappearance in 1917, but was unvarnished. Immediately following WWI, some, perhaps many, express locos were outshopped without lining, at least until reasonable painting resources were reinstated at the works.

The application of the crest to locos and tenders passing through the works was abandoned from 1916.


Dean Goods 2330, with an extended cab roof, in Railway Operating Division (ROD) WWI livery. It is probably in black (the standard colour for ROD locos) or dark grey. There is an unconfirmed report that some locos sent abroad in 1917 received a khaki livery, the shade of which may or may not have been close to the khaki colour used by the GWR for some of its own locos repainted during WWI. See the Didcot Railway Centre's Going Loco blog for further details. GWR Sean Goods 2330 in ROD livery


Following the grouping in 1922, Collett re-introduced full lining for express passenger locos – the classes involved were the Stars, Saints, Counties, Castles, and later on the Halls and Kings. The lining extended to splashers and cylinder sides. Ordinary passenger and goods locos never regained the lined livery, and were unlined.

Safety valve covers for the express passenger loco classes remained polished brass, post 1922. For ordinary passenger and goods locos however, the situation is less clear. Officially, safety valve covers on such locos were painted green, but there is evidence that safety valve covers on many ordinary passenger locos were left in an unpainted brass state, at least for the first few years after 1922. Panniers 7700–25, 7775–99 and 8700–49 were delivered from their outside contractors with polished brass safety valve covers, although most were soon painted over. The initial Collett Prairies of 1929 had polished safety valve covers. The first lot of 48xxs had painted over safety valves, but many 1934 panniers had unpainted ones. The safety valve situation continued to be variable until the mid- to late-1930s, when a clearer distinction was drawn between 'goods' locos (with painted over safety valve covers) and 'ordinary passenger' locos (with polished or unpainted brass safety valve covers). Many engines with painted safety valve covers were brightened by the removal of the paint at local sheds, on an adhoc basis.

Boiler handrails were black adjacent to the smokebox and green adjacent to the boiler and firebox. On pannier and saddle tanks, the handrail adjacent to the tank was green, but changed to black at the front edge of the tank. Cab handrails and matching tender handrails were unpolished, with only their fixings being painted. The perimeter beading on the top of tender fenders was black, as was the ejector pipe on the right-hand side of locos. The perimeter beading of the cabside cutout however was green. Cab interiors were lined green, but the backhead was black. Chimney tops on express passenger locos were still polished copper, but were painted black on ordinary passenger and goods locos.

Between 1925 and 1930, some locos were painted in unlined black – these included the unmodified ROD 2-8-0s 3050–99 and some time-expired and soon-to-be-withdrawn Armstrong and Dean Goods locos.

For a detailed description of the application areas of colours, see Ian Rathbone's comprehensive guide to loco painting, covering 1923 to 1939.


GWR 3557 at Kidderminister, 1932

In particularly clean condition, 3557 is the last of its class, running with a 2000g tender at Kidderminster in 1932. The livery is possibly all-over black.



Buffer beam lettering

From 1907, the practice of painting the engine numbers on the right-hand side * of loco buffer beams, thought to have started c 1904, became general for express passenger locos. At first, the number was accompanied by NO appearing on the left-hand side of the drawhook. The 6" high sans-serif numerals were initially of a different shape to that used later, and were a dull 'gold', shaded black.

*strictly speaking, the numbers appeared on the side opposite the vacuum pipe position
GWR early style buffer beam numerals

Early style buffer beam numerals, on Badminton 3298 'Grosvenor', at Paddington, c 1906


The colour of the number was soon changed to yellow (also shaded black), although the yellow probably varied slightly from pale to middle yellow. Adjacent is a colour patch used by the GWS at Didcot for the yellow on its bufferbeam numerals.

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For small side tanks and saddle tanks, it seems bufferbeam numerals were rarely applied, at least at first. The application of bufferbeam numerals to such locos became more common towards the end of the 1920s, even to saddle tank locos, regardless of whether insignia was present on the tanks. It seems Pannier tanks always carried bufferbeam numerals. Bufferbeam numerals were never applied to tenders.


Buffer beam numerals on Lode Star, image courtesy Nick Gough GWR later style buffer beam numerals



Lining for boiler bands, cab side sheets and tenders was a 1" black line flanked by ⅛" chrome orange lines, with ½" bodywork green between the black and chrome orange lines. Boiler feed pipes were lined where the feed pipe lay on a boiler cladding joint (e.g. Star, Hall), but were not lined if the pipe did not lay on a boiler cladding joint (Castle, 47xx).

Lining panels were not applied to tenders with a continuous upper fenders, i.e. the Collett 3500g and 4000g tenders, but continued to be applied to the upper fenders of Churchward 3500g tenders running with lined locos, although this seems to have been phased out at some unknown date, possibly c 1930 onwards for some repaints, although there is evidence that where tenders were not repainted but simply had new insignia (the roundel) applied, then any lining on the fender was left alone and remained. Fender-lined tenders could be seen with roundel insignia as late as 1939.
GWR loco lining 1906


GWR 2164

2164 in works grey in 1906, showing the elaborate lining of the upper parts of the cab. The outside face of the frame would probably be black in the service paint, and it is unlikely the lining of the wheel bosses would appear in the service paint. The complexity of lining on tank engines would begin to disappear during and soon after WWI, and would be formally abandoned in 1922. The loco became 4503 in the 1912 renumbering.


Attached behind 4953 Pitchford Hall, probably when new in August 1929, the fender of this Churchward 3500g is lined. Lining of fenders on these tenders was phased out from c 1930, but made a re-appearance post-WWII.

4953 was one of the last Halls shopped with a Churchward 3500g, thereafter the newer Collett 3500g and 4000g units became the default for Halls.
Tender on GWR Hall 4953


GWR 4953 Pitchford Hall

4953 Pitchford Hall again in workaday appearance, early 1930s. The lining is indiscernible.



Throughout most of this period, the application of insignia was complex, and it wasn't until the late 1920s that a consistent presentation became established.

From 1906, the words 'GREAT WESTERN' appeared on tender sides, with the Garter Crest appearing between the two words. The principal colour of the lettering was:

  • gold, up to 1922;
  • yellow, from 1922;
  • gold, from 1923;
  • reverting to yellow again, from what is thought to be 1927–8.

The lettering was 6½" tall overall, being 5" yellow or gold, the shading being 7/8" vermilion and 5/8" black.

For small tank locos, the situation was more complex. Insignia and crests were applied to a few locos newly fitted with pannier tanks and some sidetank passenger locos. Saddle tanks and older sidetank locos with number plates in the middle of the tanks continued not to carry any insignia, but insignia began to make an appearance on some 517 locos from the end of WWI, the numberplates usually being repositioned at the cab end of the tank. By the early- to mid-1920s, application of insignia to 517 and Metro tanks became more common. Pannier tanks however had insignia from their inception, even the 'goods only' specimens.

After WWI, the appearance of the Garter Crest on tenders of ordinary passenger and goods locos became rare, the application of the Garter Crest having been abandoned from 1916. In 1923–4, the Garter Crest made a reappearance between the words GREAT and WESTERN on tender sides for tenders intended to work with express passenger locos. However, with tender changing occuring regularly, some express passenger locos would have run with tenders from ordinary passenger locos, and thus might not display a Garter Crest.

In 1926, the Coat of Arms, as in the Saint illustration below, began to replace the Garter Crest on tenders allocated for express passenger locos. This change was gradual, because tenders were not overhauled and repainted as often as locos. The tender of Castle 4090, outshopped in July 1925, appeared with the Garter Crest, whereas the tender of Castle 4094 appeared c 1926 with the Coat of Arms. In these cases, it is likely a pool of 3500g tenders with Garter Crests existed for the new locos, or supplies of the Garter Crests transfers were being used up. Tenders were still appearing with the garter crest as late as March 1928. The Coat of Arms was never applied to non-tender engines.

Where no Garter Crest of Coat of Arms was applied, the words 'GREAT' and 'WESTERN' were still spaced apart as though they had been applied, but there were some exceptions to this general rule.

Some remaining saddle tanks began to have insignia applied from the mid-1930s.


GWR small prairie 2171

Small prairie 2171, pictured c 1910, with numberplates in the middle of the tank sides and no insignia. The loco is lined. When fitted with topfeed and the plates (by then renumbered 4510) moved to the bunker side a few years later, the loco would receive insignia and the garter crest.


GWR 5010 Restormel Castle, in 1927

Castle 5010, completed in 1927, appeared with a Garter Crest on its tender. The garter crest could be seen on some outshopped Churchward 3500g tenders as late as March 1928.


GWR 0-6-2T 5600 in 1924

5600 works grey portrait, showing the positioning of the insignia on the tanks. Pictured when new in 1924, without cab shutters.


For flush-riveted surfaces, transfers could be applied directly off their backing sheet(s), but some jiggling with the letter spacing was often required to avoid rivet lines on riveted surfaces.

It is possible transfer sets were produced with different kernings.


GWR 1086 Peckett

Whilst the application of insignia to a saddle tank of GWR design was rare, for absorbed engines such as this Peckett 0-6-0ST design built in 1912 for the Swansea Harbour Trust it seems to have been at least common, and perhaps the norm, as a means of indicating ownership of the absorbed locos after the grouping. 1086 would be renumbered 1147 by BR in March 1949.



GWR Pannier 1738

Awaiting its plates, here is Craig Warton's 1738 Pannier, in early to mid-1920s appearance, expertly built by John James from a Martin Finney 1854 kit, using a High Level gearbox and Ultrascale wheels.


Bulldog 3353 built by Greg Shaw

Examples of the post-1922 unlined green livery for ordinary passenger locos. Above is Greg Shaw's 4mm model of 3353 'Pershore Plum', and painted by Ian Rathbone, depicted as running immediately after its named was changed (originally 'Plymouth', on an oval plate) in 1927. It has a 3000g tender, flush-riveted smokebox and still has portholes in the cabfront. Image courtesy of John Brighton. Below is Sandy Harper's 7mm model of 3453 'Seagull', one of the last batch of deep-framed ('Bird' series) of Bulldog, running with a 3500g tender. Both are built from Martin Finney etched brass kits. The Bulldogs were introduced in 1899 as developments of the earlier Duke class.

GWR Bulldog, by Sandy Harper


GWR Saint, by Slaters

The 4-6-0 Saint class seen here is from a Slaters 7mm kit, depicted in post-1927 livery style. The Saints were among the most prominent locos in Churchward's design revolution, and the basis of the later Halls and 10xx Counties. The Saint Class first saw the light of day as four prototype engines built during 1902 and 1903. Image courtesy Slater's Plastikard.


Power and route restriction indications

The route colour disc, with the power classification letter inside it, began to appear from mid-1919, and were indicated by a 2½" black letter centered within a 4½" diameter coloured circle. Examples are given in the adjacent graphic. These were placed above the number plate, or high up on the cab sideplates where no cab sidewindows were present.

The colour of the circle is the general axle weight restriction:

ColourAxle weight
(uncoloured)14 tons or below
yellow14 tons up to 16 tons
blue16 tons up to 17 tons 12cwt
redabove 17 tons 12cwt
double redfor Kings

The black letter in the circle is the power group, according to the maximum tractive effort:

LetterTractive effort, lbs max
('special')above 38000
The 'special' code equated in reality to no letter being present in the King double red discs.
GWR power and route restriction indicators


Further reading:

Ian Rathbone's comprehensive Great Western Railway locomotive liveries 1923 – 1939