Featurette #1 BR Goods Vehicle Markings

To allow Ross at least a weekend to think about our next vehicle profile I am going to write about markings applied to BR Goods vehicles between 1948 – 1964 there meaning and the rules that I follow when applying them to our fleet. The period defined in this particular feature is pre-tops so applicable to the steam and early diesel eras, which is how we present the majority of our fleet.

To begin we have to go back to 1936 when the LMS made an economic decision to reduce the amount of paint used to letter Goods vehicles. Up until this point the big four and the preceding pre grouping railway companies painted large initials and numerals on their vehicles, anything from 6” to 24”.

In 1936 the LMS reduced the size of their lettering so that someone could reach all the markings on the vehicles without the use of a step ladder. The markings were concentrated in 2 areas, the extreme bottom right and left of each side of the vehicle. From 1937 this was adopted by the Railway Clearing House (RCH) as the standard for all goods vehicles and adhered to by the big four companies.

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London Midland & Scotish Railway Railway Clearing house livery

Located on the left side was the vehicles running number typically 5” tall, above this the vehicles gross weight when loaded typically 4” tall and then the company initials at 5”.

On the right hand side was the vehicles tare, the weight of the vehicle unloaded. Some vehicles also had the wheelbase added mainly those that were vacuum fitted or through piped but not suitable for operating within an express goods train. Those vehicles that could run in an express goods, trains running at an average speed of 35mph or over, were identified with the XP marking which was agreed by the big four companies replacing any older markings. All of these markings ranged from 3” to 6” and varied between the companies.

The following image details the precise layout as detailed by the Railway Executive (RE)  from 1948. This layout remained the same until 1964 with the introduction of a new standard which I will detail in a future feature.

RE standard
Railway Executive Livery 1948

The typeface used during those early years was a sans serif, a simple letterform which is void of the little flicks, curls and fancy bits typical of older lettering styles. It is impossible to state an accurate font as the lettering was all hand applied and was down to the individual sign writer. I have developed my own style of this typeface which is based on that applied by the  LNER sign writers. I have scanned in many images of LNER vehicles and picking my favourite style of each individual letter or numeral from the many available. Below is the style I have drawn and is essentially my own Grouping Typeface, which would have been in use until a new typeface detailed by the Railway Executive was issued to all the BR works in August 1948. M500954 carries this earlier style.

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Pre Nationalisation typeface

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For the new typeface we must again go back but this time to 1929, Eric Gill had in 1926 developed a new letter style that was adopted by the LNER in 1929 for publicity material. The LNER produced a guide for its sign writers on how to apply this typeface. This was of cause Gill Sans and at this time it was not applied to rolling stock. BR adopted the letter style for all purposes and in 1948 produced its own guide.

This is when the waters start to muddy, and causes issues with trying to recreate accurately what had gone before. BR stated that Gill Sans was to be applied to Rolling stock as per the Railway Excecutive standard, although it omitted the requirement for company initials. As the lettering was still hand applied and the BR Gill Sans differed slightly from the LNER Gill Sans a lot of variation creept in especially when you look at the numeral styles.

LNER Gill sans
LNER Gill Sans MT
BR Gill sans
BR Gill Sans MT

So what do I do?  I vary the styles I apply.  My preference being the LNER style. To begin my first port of call is to find the exact livery applied to the vehicle.  This is done in two ways. First sanding down the vehicle to see what clues are underneath the layers of paint.  This was successfully done with B780282.  The lettering applied matches that found under the MODs layers of green applied, essentially preserving the BR layers for me to find.

The second option is to find a picture of the vehicle or one from the same batch. This was done with B850498 which was done using a reference image of B850333.  As you can imagine I have a lot of railway goods vehicle reference material.

Image: FREIGHT WAGONS AND LOADS IN SERVICE ON THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY AND BRITISH RAIL, WESTERN REGION
Author: J.H. Russell
ISBN: 0860931552

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If all else fails we essentially make it up using the RE specification and discussion with the whole team, specifically Nick, as to what we feel will look best. Keeping the additional markings of Wheelbase and XP relevant to the vehicle the marking is being applied to, using B850498 again as an example, as built this was vacuum fitted and suitable for express goods, this, however being a rewheeled vehicle with an unfitted chassis, that we through piped, the XP marking would not be appropriate and is therefore not applied. Although the wheelbase and Western style non common user plates were applied to add interest.

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Western Style Non Common user plates

I stated above that the RE standard omitted the requirement for company initials although true what was added was a regional allocation, this was initially to be applied to all vehicles under the running number with a 2″ height, although this became very complicated as vehicles moved from region to region because they were all owned by the same nationalised company.  The regional requirement was altered and was applied to vehicles with regional specific branding or traffic, although this again changed from the full region name under the running number to regional initials as part of the branding.

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Regional Allocation

Branding was applied to vehicles assigned to set traffic or those hired by companies, were known this has been reapplied accurately to our vehicles, however we do occasionally indulge ourselves. B786348 is branded Empty to Tinsley E.R. this was done as Nick was proud of this rewheeled former grounded body.


As the 50s rolled in to the 60s, In the same vane as branding, Circuit Markers began to be applied to special vehicles on set traffic, this was a yellow circle 10″ wide with an arrow pointing at the wagon label clip, directing shunting staff as to the vehicles set route. Examples being Vanwides with wider doors for palletised loads or the Shockhood B built specifically for South Wales tin traffic.

Also applied to vehicles were its telegraph code.  This was used to communicate the description of vehicles between stations and goods yards when running as part of a train or when a specific vehicle type was required.  Using the code was quicker than asking for a vehicle which had a capacity of “X”, dimensions of “X”, fitted, covered etc etc. The RCH were involved again, having the codes standardised in 1922 excluding the GWR who were then brought in to line in 1943.

Telegraph
Telegraph Codes

There were two technical markings applied to vehicles, both relating to a vehicles braking system. First is the vacuum release cord star.  This identifies to shunters and wagon works staff how to release brakes for shunting or maintenance.  Then we have the brake change overtear drop this identifies the location of the change over leaver or Empty / Loaded lever this allows an additional brake cylinder to be in use when the vehicle is loaded to increase brake force.  The brake star measures 3″ and the tear drop 8″ although this does vary depending on the works applying.

Other instructions may also be added to the vehicle and these are 2″ tall, there were many possibilities.

Shock stripes, these were applied to shock absorbing vehicles. These are vehicles who’s body is designed to move separate of the chassis and is sprung to dampen the movement of the vehicle during shunting. These stripes would be the entire height of a open wagon and half the height of a van, with a width of 4″.

Finally, looking at the images of vehicles we have posted in the past and in this feature, you may have noticed a little symbol under or around the tare.  This was an LMS system adopted by BR, it identified when the vehicle was last painted.  Vehicles would be repainted usually every 6 years and the symbols was a quick reference for mainternance staff to work out when the next paint was due.  The symbols were a repeating sequence of 12 1.25″ high shapes, letters or images.  I have continued the sequence and those applied to our vehicles represent that specific year.  Paint symbols

In the next feature we shall look at how the markings changed from 1964 until the introduction of TOPS for goods vehicles in August 1973

4 thoughts on “Featurette #1 BR Goods Vehicle Markings”

  1. Hiya Matt, interesting and enlightening reading. Look forward to your weekly updates.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to prepare this and share your knowledge.

    It was particularly interesting to read of the “Circuit” symbol and the meaning of the arrow in it, as well as the painting date symbol although I wasn’t conscious of seeing that before, either on your restored wagons or on historical photographs. Must look harder!

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  3. Very informative thanks. Its nice to see that another heritage railway takes the same care with authenticity in refurbishment of wagons ( and has the same stack of reference books! ) as we have, here in the NYMR Permanent Way Department.
    Strangely, information becomes mores scarce as you enter the ‘olive drab’ 1970s air braked Sealion/Seacow ballast wagon era . That’s as far as we are going, as we draw the line at TOPS and metrication.

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