For enthusiasts, researchers and modellers of the Great Eastern Railway

The GER Grey Locomotove Livery 1913-onwards.
Also the Tram Engine Liveries

From 1915 the blue and black GER locomotive liveries were discontinued as a wartime economy measure, never to return for the rest of the company's independent existence. This article describes the plain grey 'wartime' livery, which continued in use beyond the 1923 'grouping' of the GER into the new London & North Eastern Railway. This leaflet also describes the livery treatment of the GER tram engines which - because of their highly-individual outline - was always slightly different to the livery treatment of the more conventional locomotives.

The Grey 'Wartime' Livery

The wartime economy livery was adopted from the middle of 1915. Thenceforth, the locomotives were left in French grey undercoat, with only those parts of the engine that were normally black (in the blue livery) thus painted. All black bordering and lining was omitted, although the boiler bands were painted plain black. Vermilion continued to be used for buffer beams, numberplate backgrounds and coupling rods. The GER lettering was simplified, being in yellow, shaded vermilion, whilst the buffer beam lettering was yellow (later white), shaded in chocolate. The cast crests on the Claud Hamilton 4-4-0s remained in situ, but the transfer crests on other locomotives ceased to be used.

In 1920-21 twenty new S69 class 4-6-0 locomotives were constructed by Beardmore & Co. They were delivered in grey - albeit a more khaki shade than that used by the GER - but they were fully bordered and lined in black and white. The effect was similar to the 'photographic grey' finish that was used on locomotives that were officially photographed. Why this should be is unknown: perhaps the company was supplied with an official GER photograph of one of the Stratford-built engines with the drawings, whilst the painting instructions were not specific, other than stating that the main colour to be used was grey?


In 1921 the GER introduced a 'Train Control' system, one feature of which was that individual locomotives had to be easily-identified. To facilitate this, the GER initials on tank and tender sides were replaced by large yellow serif numerals. These were applied to all locomotives over a short period of time - probably only a few weeks - and on most locomotives this was done at the running sheds. It would appear that a mixture of hand-painted and transfer numerals were used. Photographs show variations in the shapes of the actual numerals used - some engines having flat-topped '3's, for example. In a few instances, it would appear that the numerals were outlined in a darker colour - black or perhaps vermilion.


By this period, there were a few locomotives still in the blue or black livery, but these also had the large numerals applied. Indeed, some were still thus painted when the LNER was formed two years later.

The Early LNER Period

Following the grouping of the GER into the new London & North Eastern Railway at the beginning of 1923, the new company wasted no time in establishing its livery for locomotives, and this was decided upon as early as March the same year. However, thought also had to be given to renumbering the locomotive stock, and in the interim, in September it was decided that ex-GER locomotives should be given an 'E' suffix to the GER number. The final details of the renumbering system were announced in February 1924, under which ex-GER locomotives would have their numbers increased by the addition of 7000.

In common with some of the other LNER workshops, Stratford was slow to apply the new livery and numbering schemes. Some engines were out-shopped in the new liveries from an early date, whilst others appeared in the grey livery as late as 1927, if not later. The only concession to the new ownership was that the smaller LNER numberplates replaced the GER type, and the new number was shown in the old 'Train Control' figures. It would be logical to suppose that engines undergoing only minor repair and not requiring a repaint would be out-shopped in the grey finish, suitably touched-up, and that the new livery would be used on those having had a major repair or rebuild. However - again with typical Stratford perversity perhaps - the opposite was often the case.

Moreover, whereas the 'E' suffix was diligently applied to locomotives repainted at Stratford in the new LNER livery during the period between September 1923 and February 1924, not a single case has ever come to light of an engine in GE grey with the 'E' suffix. Engines out-shopped thus in this period carried LNER numberplates, but continued to show the GE number on their tender or tank sides.

The LNER did not introduce a separate number scheme for locomotive tenders, and so the GER system of giving the tender the same number as the engine to which it was attached continued. Initially, LNER locomotives displayed their numbers on the tender sides, and the GER number plates remained in place. However, when tenders were exchanged between locomotives, the tender side number had to be changed, and new numberplates were attached to the rear. Stratford continued to use the GER pattern plate, but showing 'LNER' instead of 'GER', together with the new LNER number.

In 1928, to avoid having to renumber tenders when they were moved between engines, the engine numbers were moved to the cab sides, the tenders then displaying only the LNER initials on their sides. Thenceforth, Stratford did not change the tender numberplates. Therefore, if a tender had remained with the same engine in the period 1923-8, it continued to carry a GER plate with GER number. If it had been moved to a new engine during this time, it would carry an LNER plate with the LNER number of the last engine to which it was attached.

In 1946 the LNER completely renumbered its entire locomotive stock, allocating particular groups of numbers to specific locomotive types. No attempt was made to renumber the tenders, and they continued to carry GER or LNER plates until scrapped.

The Tram Engines

A peculiar speciality of the GER were the tram engines, built initially for the Wisbech and Upwell tramway. This was one of only a handful of light railways that were constructed true to the spirit of the 1870 Tramways and Light Railways Act, which intended to facilitate the building of new railways in rural areas. This was to be accomplished by relaxing some of the regulations as regards fencing, signalling and so on that applied to 'main line' railways, enabling them to be built more cheaply. However, the vast majority of the lines built under the Act were street tramways in towns and cities. Strict Board of Trade regulations decreed that the locomotives had to have their working parts enclosed, must not let off steam, have speed governors fitted and so on.

Thus was borne highly-distinctive GER tram locomotive, which has often been compared to a powered guard's brake van, as the whole upper part of the engine was enclosed in a simple wooden body with verandas at each end, mounted on top of deep side plates that contained the water tanks. Beneath, side-skirts covered the wheels, and American-style cow-catchers were fitted.

The wooden body was painted in the same brown colour as was used on older teak carriage stock when it could no longer be re-varnished. The GER numberplates were mounted centrally on the sides.

The side frames were blue, with a thick black border and vermilion lining, and carried the GER initials. The side skirts and cow-catchers were plain blue and black respectively. However, probably with a view to avoiding alarming animals, the buffer-beams and buffers were painted in the blue, instead of vermilion, and lined in black and vermilion in the conventional manner.

As built, the initial engines were steam-braked only. The 1890 decree that non continuously-braked engines should be painted black was made shortly before the tram engines were fitted with Westinghouse brakes, and it is not thought that any were painted black in the interim.


The first tram engines were the G15 class 0-4-0s, and although designed for use on the Wisbech & Upwell line, they were found equally useful at unfenced docks and harbours, such as at Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Hythe Quay (Colchester) and so on. Nevertheless, all were painted the same way, as were also the later C53 class six-wheeled engines of 1903.

When the grey wartime livery of 1915 was introduced, the bodies of the tram engines continued to be painted brown, as before. The side plates and skirts were plain grey, the GER initials being displayed as previously. The buffer-beams and buffer-stocks meanwhile were painted grey, i.e. the equivalent of the blue used previously. When 'Train Control' was introduced, the large yellow numerals replaced the GER initials on the side plates.

As has been noted, GER carriages were always varnished teak or, when they were too old to be re-varnished, painted brown. Following the First World War, timber shortages resulted in the GER resorting to steel sheeting for carriage body panels, and this prompted the company to change to crimson lake for carriages, also in 1921. The wooden bodies of the tram engines were built and maintained by the Carriage & Wagon Department, and from this time, two or three tram engines were repainted with crimson lake bodies.


Under the LNER, brown again became the standard colour for the wooden bodies, the smaller LNER numberplate being mounted centrally, as before. The remainder of the engines was black, with red lining on the side plates. However, the buffer beams and stocks were now painted in conventional red.