Depending on your age, your very first train set might have consisted of a wind-up tinplate O-gauge Hornby 0-4-0 complete with a couple of wagons or coaches and a simple circle of track, or perhaps – if your parents’ income ran to it – a three-rail Hornby-Dublo electric train set.
One Christmas morning when I was about six, I woke up to find at the end of my bed a big red box with a picture of a powerful express passenger locomotive on the lid, but the contents couldn’t have been more different — a little green engine, two very short and stubby four-wheel tinplate coaches and just enough track sections to form a circle (or perhaps there were two straight pieces as well).
The only place Dad could join it all together and set it running was on the carpet of the ‘parlour’ in my grandparents’ house, but apart from the excitement of that particular day, I don’t remember much at all about that clockwork train set, so it can’t have lasted long!
The next time I set eyes on a model railway was when my friend John Bryant received an electric train set and invited me over to play with it with him. It was a Tri-ang set, not Hornby-Dublo, and what struck me most about it was that the tracks sat on proper sleepers, just like the real thing.
I must have been about 10 at the time, and clearly remember the locomotive model being of ‘Princess Royal’ Pacific No 46201 with red-backed Princess Elizabeth nameplates, but its black livery seemed curious to me, as the only ‘Prinnies’ I ever saw on the nearby West Coast Main Line were painted in Brunswick green.
It didn’t click into place until many years later, when I was sent a copy of O S Nock’s Pocket Encyclopaedia of British Steam Railways and Locomotives (Blandford Press, 1983) to review. I still refer frequently to this brilliant compact title, which contains no fewer than 386 colour illustrations by Clifford and Wendy Meadway and a first-class description of every one of them by the late Ossie Nock of The Railway Magazine’s ‘Railway Practice & Performance’ fame.
Among a section illustrating the experimental express passenger locomotive liveries considered by British Railways upon its formation in 1948 is a picture clearly showing the lined-black ‘Princess’. The other pictures are of the blue air-smoothed ‘Merchant Navy’ Pacific No 35026 Lamport & Holt Line (which looked superb), Gresley A3 Pacific No 60093 Coronach in an experimental darker blue, and ‘Castle’ 4-6-0 No 5023 Brecon Castle in an experimental light green with red lining and red-backed nameplates.
To me, the most handsome liveries of the four were those applied to the ‘Merchant Navy’ and ‘Princess Royal’, but in his description of the Stanier locomotive, Ossie enthused: “There is no doubt that a black locomotive, like a well-groomed black motor-car, can look superb, and on that day Princess Elizabeth created a deep impression. It was felt however that to paint all British Railways locomotives black would create a bad public impression, so the use of ‘blackberry black’, as the LNWR used to call it, was confined to second-line express passenger and mixed-traffic engines, and blue was elected for the largest express passenger classes.”
In the event, the blue paint didn’t prove as durable as had been hoped, and was replaced by the green that remained familiar right until the end of steam operation in 1968.
But what with the famous Locomotive Exchanges of 1948 (alluded to elsewhere in this issue) and the appearance of bright new liveries – I’m old enough to remember seeing, from a Rhyl-bound carriage, a blue ‘Princess Coronation’ Pacific standing at Chester station – those early days of British Railways must have been pretty exciting times, and I still love to see them replicated in model form.