GWR standard goods stock livery

From c 1898, an overall dark grey livery was adopted for general service goods wagons and vans, and was used up to nationalisation. For a discussion on the exact changeover from red to grey livery, see the preceding page. Unlike most other companies, the dark grey extended to the underframes also.

Black and white mixed in the ratio of 7:1
(rgb 32,32,32;   hex: #202020)

The exact shade of the dark grey is somewhat unknown, but is likely to have varied. It is thought the GWR used a mix of black to white in a 7:1 ratio. Didcot Railway Centre uses a mix in a 14:1 ratio, but this is intentionally overdark to allow for the effects of ageing and fading. Precision Paints P19 is generally regarded as a good 'ex-works' colour. Goods vehicles were rarely, if ever, cleaned, and in service the grey would fade considerably and get a lot grubbier.

Van roofs were painted all-over white until 1939, but as they were never washed they quickly turned a dirty grey. From 1939, the GWR finally gave in and painted roofs on newly-built stock all-over grey.

The insides of open wagons, and interiors of vans and cattle wagons, were unpainted.

The earliest lettering on grey-liveried GWR wagons took the form of 5" white G. W. R lettering painted directly on the wagon, along with tare numbers etc.

From c 1894, lettering and numbers on some newly built wagons were carried on cast plates. The cast plates continued until c 1904, but contemporary photographic evidence indicates that the use of the cast plates never became widespread. Running numbers were also carried on the ends, a practice thought to have started c 1893.

Wagon lettering and numbering was done by hand, so some variation in the precise shape of the characters could be seen, although much use was made of stencils, also known as 'pouncing'. A pounce is made from a piece of oiled card perforated with a needle to give a dotted outline, the card then being patted with a muslin bag filled with French Chalk which goes through the holes.


Iron Mink diagram V6 with pre-1904 5" G. W. R lettering. The running number is also carried on the ends. Click on the image for a bigger version. Image courtesy of Gareth Price.


GWR brakevan AA16 in pre-1904 livery

Pre-1904 livery with 5" G. W. R lettering
This early-condition AA16 brake van was built from a 7mm WEP kit by Dave Stone. It should probably show its depot name, in script lettering. Brake van handrails were originally body colour (grey), but were thought to have been first painted white during WWI.


In 1904, large 25" G W lettering was introduced. Where there was not enough room to use this size of lettering because of outside wooden framing, 16" was used. For 2- and 3-plank wagons, 14" lettering was initially used, although most 3-plank wagons seem to have adopted the 16" size later. 4-plank opens had 16" lettering. On some wagons, e.g. the diagram W2 cattle wagon, the sides had 16" lettering and the ends had 25" lettering. The weight, e.g. '10 Tons' and the tare, e.g. 'Tare 5.7' were in 2.5" italic script.

The '25" era' lasted until c 1921 when 16" lettering became standard. Running numbers continued to be 5" size. (The changeover from 25" to 16" G W lettering was specified in the CME's Circular 3627 of 17 August 1921.)

Numbers on the ends were placed in the centre, unless there was insufficient visible space on the centre panel, either because of a vertical vacuum pipe or where a sheet supporter is mounted low on the wagon end, in which case the number appeared on the left panel. Numbers on the ends of new build general purpose vehicles ceased c 1929.


1904–1921 25" G W lettering Adrian Marks' GWR diagram O3 open


1921–1936 16" G W lettering
Image courtesy Slater's Plastikard
Slater's Cattle Wagon, GWR diagrams W1/W5


Some goods brake vans had a white star or a white 'S' below the depot allocation to indicate they had been weighted to 25T. Further details.

The general service vehicles never saw use of the GWR Roundel when this was introduced in 1934, and 5" white letters were re-introduced in 1936/7 for the 'G W' and the running number on all grey stock. The word 'Tare' was no longer applied and the weight was simply written in the form of e.g. '5.7'. The size of the load and the tare numbers was reduced to 2". In 1942, the height of the 'G W' and the running number was reduced further to 3". These post-1937 sizes applied only to new build stock or where an existing wagon required repainting. The lack of resources in the run up to and during WWII meant comparatively few wagons were repainted after 1937, and many wagons carried their pre-1937 16" G W lettering into the post-nationalisation era.

Style of 5" wagon lettering introduced in 1936/7, seen here on a diagram O13 china clay open. Click on the image for a bigger version. Image courtesy of Gareth Price. GWR 5 inch wagon lettering


Some special vehicles had variations in livery design. Cattle wagons were among the few types to have the 'G W' on the ends also, as seen above. Meat Vans were of a different colour scheme altogether, being white with red lettering. Some water tanks of the DD1 diagram were painted white. DD diagram gas and oil tanks were black. The experts are still arguing when, and even if, all-black became the livery for permanent way, loco coal, and engineering wagons, but the prevailing view is that such vehicles probably carried normal grey livery.

Black and grey GWR engineering wagons at Didcot, 2013

The Great Western Society seems undecided whether engineering wagons should be black or grey, so the choice is yours. Didcot, 2013, picture courtesy of Mikkel Kjartan.


In the latter part of WWII, new goods vehicles are reported to have been painted in a reddish-brown colour, probably the same colour as that being applied for coach repaints from 1942–5, with open wagons being mostly bare wood with reddish-brown patches for markings. It is likely this livery applied only to new vehicles – repainting of older stock was most improbable. The normal grey livery was resumed after the war.


Two V6 Iron Minks made a minor contribution to the WWII war effort. They were repainted in 1940 with a bright blue body colour (similar to the 'Electric Blue' that British Railways would use twenty years later for their new generation of overhead electric locos). 47528 had white roundels, and 47305 had yellow roundels. 'Salvage' and the slogan 'Save for Victory' lettering was prominent on the sides, the idea being to encourage passengers to bring their salvage to a station and deposit it patriotically in the special van for re-use and recycling. GWR diagram V6 Iron Minks in special WWII livery