Monday, May 2, 2011
For steam men
On 1 January 1948, British Railways came into being: Britain’s railways were nationalized and the four regional railway companies (themselves amalgamations of a yet larger group of companies that had existed before) were drawn under the umbrella of the new national giant. A few months into the year the Architectural Review ran this cover by Osbert Lancaster, celebrating the old railway companies and their varied colour schemes. Inside the magazine an article pointed out that the new national colour scheme was about to be revealed, and put in a plea for a rethink, reviving colours that represented the different regions.
The cover beautifully illustrates some of the old liveries. I’m no railway expert and I expect others will put me right and fill in the gaps, but I think I recognise the polished teak carriages of the GNR, the blue locomotive of the Caledonian Railway, southern Railway green, and Midland Railway red.
Since the magazine was aimed at architects, the cover's background is filled with interesting bits of architecture and engineering – a stone wall (millstone grit?) behind the top GNR train, the Caledonian’s viaduct, the lovely trackside house admired by the pipe-smoking guard of the GNR goods (Gothic windows, bargeboards, ornate roof ridge, tall Tudorish chimneys), the row of suburban houses lining the Southern Railway, a green signal box (on a lower storey built of bricks in Flemish bond), the jagged valence above the Midland platform, and so on. Enamel advertising signs abound, too, for Barley Water, shoe polish, soap, and Nestlé’s milk. It’s heartening to think that in the post-war period of austerity, Britain could still look as colourful and varied as this.