For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

GER Blue Locomotive Livery 1882-1915

The purpose of this article is to describe the blue livery carried by Great Eastern Railway locomotives between 1882 and 1915. In 1882, when Thomas Worsdell took charge as Locomotive Superintendent, the GER locomotive livery was black, with vermilion lining. No company initials were carried on the locomotives, apart from the on the numberplates, the current pattern having been introduced under Worsdell's predecessor M. Bromley. These were of cast iron, elliptical in shape, and measured 24" x 15". The locomotive number was shown in 6" high numerals in the centre, with "G E R" on a horizontal line at the top. Generally, the lettering "STRATFORD", or the manufacturer's initials were similarly placed beneath the numerals, followed by the date, although there were variations. The raised edge around the plate was of semi-circular section, and the rim and lettering was polished. Locomotive tenders carried a similar numberplate on the rear panel.

On May 6th, 1882, Queen Victoria travelled by train from Windsor to Chingford for the ceremony dedicating Epping Forest to the public. Her train was hauled from Victoria Park by ‘No. 134 Class’ 0-4-4 tank engine No. 189, which was specially painted blue for the occasion. This livery was subsequently adopted as standard for GER locomotives, although whether this was with immediate effect is not known. However, at the end of the year the first new locomotive to be produced under the direction of Worsdell was constructed at Stratford Works. This was G14 2-4-0 No. 562, which was also finished in blue livery.

It would appear that from this time onwards the GER employed two versions of the livery: the more elaborate style applied to No. 562, and that which appears to have been used on No. 189.

The ‘Original’ Blue Livery

From the end of 1882 - if not before - existing (i.e. pre-Worsdell) locomotives were finished in a blue version of the current black livery. Thus, boilers were blue, with black bands edged in vermilion. Elsewhere, the blue was applied inside the panels created by the vermilion lining on tank, cab and tender sides and ends. Cab weatherboards - front and back - were plain unlined black. Valancing and outside frames of locomotives and tenders were blue, edged in black and vermilion lining. Wheel centres were blue, with tyres and axle ends in black, with vermilion lining between.

Buffer beams were vermilion, lined in white and edged in black, as were the ends of the buffer stocks. The locomotive number was applied to the leading buff beam of tender engines, and to both ends of tank locomotives in yellow serif characters, shaded in chocolate. "No" was positioned to the left of the coupling, and the actual number to the right. The size of the lettering varied, depending upon the number of digits, and the available room, due to the presence of brake hoses, guard irons and so on.

The Bromley-pattern cast iron numberplates were retained, in the centre of the cab sides on tender engines, or in the centre of the tank sides on tank engines. No company initials were carried other than those on the numberplates, as before.

The blue colour is often referred to as "Royal Blue", which is something of a misnomer, as the actual colour used was a deep, pure ultramarine blue, whereas the colour usually recognised as "Royal Blue" is a lighter tint. The term applied to the GER livery almost certainly is due to the circumstances of its debut on the railway scene.

The ‘Standard’ Blue Livery

The livery pattern carried by the new No. 562 became standard for all new locomotives. It was similar to the ‘Original’ livery, but the numberplates were redesigned. These were of the same size as the Bromley pattern, but now of brass, with a rectangular-section raised rim. The locomotive number was placed in the centre, using the same style and size of numerals as before. The legend "GREAT EASTERN RAILWAY COY" was curved around the upper edge, and "STRATFORD WORKS 1882" around the lower edge. On the G14 2-4-0 and the later G16 class 4-4-0s the numberplate was positioned centrally on the continuous driving wheel splashers. On later tender engines with separate splashers it was on the cab side, and on the bunker sides of tank engines.

A new, more discrete numberplate was used on the rear of the tender. It was of cast iron and rectangular in shape, some 9" wide by 63/8" deep, with a raised rectangular-section edge and lettering. GER tenders carried the same number as the engine that they were attached to, and this was displayed in the centre of the plate in 2¾" numerals. The initials "G E R" were shown at the top, and "STRATFORD 1882" at the bottom. The plates were painted black, with polished rim and lettering.

The company initials "G E R" were applied to the sides of tenders and tanks, in gold block lettering elaborately shaded in vermilion, chocolate, orange, yellow and white, and counter-shaded in black.


Development of the Blue Liveries

When James Holden succeeded to the title of Locomotive Superintendent in 1885 he continued the blue livery with a couple of minor alterations. Firstly, he enlarged the GER initials from 4½" deep to 6". Secondly, coupling and connecting rods were painted vermilion between the bushed ends.

The ‘Original’ version of the livery continued to be applied to pre-Worsdell locomotives. However, when these were later rebuilt under Holden and otherwise modernised, the ‘standard’ livery scheme was applied. Examples include all of the existing 0-4-4T types, and the ‘Little Sharpie’ 2-4-0s of the ‘No. 1 Class’. However, some of the 0-4-4Ts acquired hybrid liveries in the mid-1890s, such as the use of the GER initials on the side tanks, but retaining the Bromley-type numberplate, removed to the bunker.

The rebuilt ‘No. 1 Class’ 2-4-0s differed in that they did not have the GER initials applied to the tenders. This was probably because the tender side sheets were in two panels, although the simple solution of applying only the ‘G’ and ‘E’ does not seem to have been tried.

The Bromley-pattern numberplates were retained on pre-Worsdell locomotives that were not modernised, even to the extent of casting new plates of the same pattern when the engines were renumbered in the duplicate list. The last locomotives in the `original' livery pattern were scrapped in the early 1900s.

The only major change to the ‘original’ and ‘standard’ liveries was the decision, in 1890, that goods engines (i.e. those without continuous Westinghouse brakes) should be painted black, probably as an economy measure. This was usually without lining, although - perhaps with typical GER perversity - some shunting tank engines were lined out in vermilion. However, with or without lining, the numberplates, buffer beams, side rods and GER lettering were treated the same as before.

The principal variations to the livery were mainly in connection with engine splashers. Holden rebuilt a number of the ‘No. 245 Class’ 4-2-2 Bromley ‘Singles’ with new cylinders and front end frames. These rebuilds also acquired plain splashers in place of the original slotted type, and these were embellished with a GER monogram, in the same shaded and counter-shaded style as the tender initials. The prototype D27 class 2-2-2 No. 789 had a thick inner black line on its splasher, edged in vermilion.

In the early 1890s the GER carriage garter transfer crest was applied to the driving wheel splasher of the principal express passenger engines of the T19 2-4-0 and D27 2-2-2 classes. By the middle of the decade, it was decided to extend this to all Westinghouse-fitted tender engines. This included the 5-ft 8-ins. T26 class 2-4-0s, but the crest appeared somewhat cramped on their smaller splashers. A year or two later the first Westinghouse-braked N31 class 0-6-0s were built, and a smaller crest had to be produced to fit on their even-smaller splashers. This pattern was then used on the 2-4-0s - including the rebuilt ‘No. 1 Class’ - with more satisfactory results. However, the crest was not applied to the S69 class 4-6-0s of 1911.

The S46 class Claud Hamilton 4-4-0s of 1900, and the D56 and H88 classes that followed, were generally fitted with painted cast crests, although many also had the transfer variety instead. At any one time, there were usually two of these engines that were selected for Royal train duties, and these engines often carried additional lining, usually a white line alongside the vermilion.

Other changes affected the numberplates. On the GER, when an engine was fitted with a new boiler it was regarded as having been rebuilt. This fact was recorded on the numberplates, the legend "REBUILT" being shown on a line above "STRATFORD WORKS" and the date of rebuilding. However, when pre-Worsdell engines that had not originally been constructed at Stratford were rebuilt and fitted with 'standard' plates, these showed "Rebuilt" above the initials of the original builders - "S S & Co", for Sharp, Stewart and Company, for example - but no date.


The first five S69 class 4-6-0s Nos. 1500-1504 were provided with standard numberplates. However, when the then Locomotive Superintendent Stephen Holden inspected them, he asked why there was no curved brass splasher beading on the cab side, as there was on the stylistically-similar Claud Hamilton 4-4-0s. The reason was because the driving wheels were six inches smaller in diameter, the inclusion of the beading would leave insufficient space for the plate. The younger Holden insisted that the beading be applied on future engines, with the result that a slightly-shallower numberplate had to be designed for numbers 1505 onwards.

The numberplates were outlined on the cab or bunker sides with a black border and vermilion lining. However, for some unknown reason, there was no border or lining on the T26 class 2-4-0s.

It should be borne in mind that there appears to have been no rigid specification for the finer details of the GER blue livery, and there were variations in the way that it was applied. This was particularly apparent in the treatment of cab sides, for example. On some, the black border and lining followed the shape of the cab cut-out, with reverse curves where it met the roof line. On others, the borders were continued vertically to meet it. There were also variations in the treatment of footsteps. This may have been due to the fact that some engines continued to be painted at Norwich, or it may even have depended upon which particular gang of men painted the engines.

From early in 1915 the blue and black liveries were discontinued as a wartime economy measure, never to return for the rest of the GER's independent existence. The livery for all engines then became plain grey. Details of this period are described here. Also included in this article is full details of the liveries carried by the distinctive GER tram engines of classes G15 and C53 between 1883 and 1923.