Looking at all those old photographs of railways in the days of steam may have made you think that it was all drab grey or black and white. This was not the case as each Railway Company had its own liveries, not only for its engines, but for stations, signal boxes, goods sheds, offices, right down to its platform trolleys and notice boards.
The only childhood memories of colour changes on the railway that I can remember was passing through different regions and noticing the station totem signs. Maroon for LMR, Orange for NER etc. I thought it may be interesting to look back at what each company in our region had chosen for its stations.
LONDON MIDLAND & SCOTTISH RAILWAY.
The LMS clearly did not see imposing a new corporate image in its stations as a priority, as until 1936 it continued to use the pre group colour schemes, gaining a reputation for shabby & run down looking stations in the process. However, the paint schemes now followed the Civil Engineers areas, so the Western division would have seen any ex FR, NSR stations etc that were repainted appearing in LNWR colours. The former MR area and Scotland continued as though the grouping had never happened.
When it did get around to introducing a company livery, it used either ‘Deep Cream’ or ‘Portland Stone’ as the base with one of three colours for the doors, metalwork, etc. One was a mid brown, one a red very similar to the shade used on loco’s & coaches, and one was a mid green which was confined to very rural stations & was little used.
Poster boards were always black with the beading and lettering picked out in white. Station signs were also black with white lettering. The ‘target’ nameboards were yellow with black lettering.
An official paint scheme for signal boxes of light stone & brown was introduced in 1931, though until 1933 signal boxes could be painted to match the station buildings. In that year the Signal & Telegraph Dept. took over the responsibility for painting signal boxes, and thereafter thay were all painted stone & brown. The interior was brown to dado level, stone above, with the inside of the roof & the window frames in white. Despite the above, some boxes on the Central Wales were painted green & cream in 1937!
On Electrified lines a ‘Golden Brown’ was used alone or with the cream as it stood up better to ‘electric dust’.
LONDON & NORTH WESTERN RAILWAY.
The LNWR used a cream or light stone with either dark or light brown as the paint scheme for all its buildings. Window frames were painted white, with the cream or stone used on planking & canopies & the brown on metalwork, timber framing & doors.
Poster boards were painted black with a blue enamel plate fixed in the top panel, lettered with the company name in full on two lines. Station signs were black with white lettering as were cast iron notices.
LANCASHIRE & YORKSHIRE RAILWAY.
The L&Y official paint scheme for buildings has not been recorded. However, it is known that a mid brown shade was used for doors, framing, metalwork, etc, with a lighter shade referred to as a ‘tan’ or a light buff for planking etc. Window frames were painted white.
It has been suggested that canopy valencing may have been painted alternately in buff & white, but this seems most unlikely in an area so prone to be affected by smoke from locomotives. If valencing was striped the buff & brown would seem a liklier combination. After World war one the whole of the valencing was painted in the buff.
Poster boards and station signs were black with white lettering & beading.
It is thought that the Furness used a pale cream and a red called Madder Lake. The Madder Lake was quite translucent, and as the company used a red oxide based undercoat this tended to show through as the Madder Laker aged giving a brownish tint to the red.
The cream was used for the underside of canopies, areas of planking and for signal box window frames, but the red was used for much else, including possibly station window frames.
Poster boards were presumably painted in the Madder Lake, with either cream or white lettering, or possibly in black with white lettering.
A 1962 article on Lakeside station by W. Hardin Osborne refers to light buff & dark red paintwork on the wooden parts, but this probably refers to LMS or even BR colours.
The Midland used an attractive colour scheme of a very pale cream colour for planking, awnings etc, with a dark brown for framing, metalwork & such like. This was enhanced by the use of a deep red for all doors, no doubt the same colour as they used on loco’s & coaches.
Poster boards were black with white lettering spelling’ MIDLAND’. Station signs & cast iron notices were deep blue with white lettering.
Midland signal boxes were painted a bright chrome yellow when new to make them easy for drivers to see, but this faded to a buff colour; the framing on the box was painted brown and the nameboard was white on blue.
The well known diagonal station fencing was always creosoted, never painted cream as you see on some model layouts.
BRITISH RAILWAYS LONDON MIDLAND REGION.
The LMR was given an appropriate dark red to go with the BR cream, pretty much like many LMS stations were already wearing, though the BR cream was a brighter shade than the LMS colour. The official 1960 BR painting specifcation gave the colours as BS381 ‘Gulf Red’ and BS381C ‘Light Biscuit’.
The paint looked very matt in finish, and the red soon became dirty and faded.
Poster boards were painted red, with white lettering, as were station signs & notices.
In the pre group period, when a building was painted the painter had a bucket, some white lead mixed with linseed oil & turpentine & some pigment, which he added to the white on site before he began work. Naturally, he didn’t always get the mix exactly the same, so colours varied; shades of buff were common, as were creams which used less pigment with the white. These were often set off by shades of brown; these were the cheapest and longest lasting colours so the railway companies, always watching the pennies, used them widely. Darker colours used red lead as a base, which was just as toxic to the poor painter. The colours dried matt, and altered hue in the rain as well as fading with age and becoming dirty.
It is important to remember that in Victorian days the number of pigments available was quite limited, and those available at a reasonable price were even more limited, so it is not surprising that some early station colour schemes look rather drab to modern eyes. Reds in particular were translucent and the colour of the undercoat had an important influence on the top colour.
In fact, the Victorian paint served its purpose very well; it was hard wearing, colour fast and unlike modern oil based paints did not tend to crack & peel away from the surface underneath. Unfortunately, because of the lead, it was also very poisonous.
In the 1920’s, coinciding with the grouping period, ready mixed paints in brighter shades were becoming more readily available at an affordable price, allowing the Southern, for instance, to use a bright chrome green on stations, though these paints were still lead based.
In 1924, a cwt. of red lead cost £2.16.9, Light Stone £2.18.0, Light Brown Oxide undercoat £2.5.0 , Dark Brown Oxide undercoat £2.5.0, White £3.0.0 , Light Brown paint £2.8.0, Dark Brown £2.8.0, Black £2.10.0, and Royal Red was £6.0.0. These were the colours used by the LNER; the Royal Red was for signal arms & the targets on level crossing gates. Whether these prices are for ready mixed paints or for pigments to be mixed with red or white lead is not recorded, but being sold by weight it sounds like pigment in powder form.