Page header

An A4 by Any Other Name

Part Four

In Part Three we had just been introduced to the "Bird" series of names and then unfortunately found we had reached a low point with regard to the unsightly livery that was then applied to engines Nº4483, 4484, 4485, 4486 and 4487. The "Bird" names looked set to continue when engine Nº 4488 was dispatched to the paint shop on 17/4/1937 with Osprey nameplates, and the assumption was that the awful Black & Green livery would also continue. However Nº4488 seemed to disappear and Nº4489 left the Works on 4/5/1937 in a livery of all-over Shop Grey with White lining to the cladding bands, this somewhat drab finish gained some colour as the wheels had been painted Apple Green. Nº4489 ran in this guise until recalled to the Works on 17/5/1937. By this date it had been announced that a new streamlined service was to be operated between London and Edinburgh, to be called the Coronation in celebration of the Coronation of King George VI, and it had been decided that the next five engines would receive a special livery to match up with the new coaching stock that had been built for this service. Nº 4488 was still in the paint shop, the story being that it was being used to test various paint schemes in order to arrive at a suitable "Royal" livery. In keeping with the Imperial tone set by the title of the train it was decided that the engines were to carry the names of the major constituents of the British Empire, so on 15/6/1937 Nº4489 re-emerged from the Works resplendent in Garter Blue with Coronation Red wheels. The streamlined front was finished in Black and taken round the sides of the smokebox and finished in a narrow parabolic curve (similar to the one first seen on No 4482), with narrow Red and White lines, following the curve, between the Blue and the Black. ( See Figure 4.)

Figure 4

The engine had been re-named Dominion of Canada borne on chromium plated nameplates fixed to each side of the smokebox, the engine number and company initials were displayed in 12 inch high stainless steel cut-out numerals and letters on the cabside and tender respectively. A 2 inch wide stainless steel strip was fixed along the bottom edge of the aerofoil casing and also along the bottom edge of the tender. Rectangular metal plates bearing the Canadian coat of arms were fixed to the cab sides below the running number, this left no room to fix the Works building plates, so these were fixed inside the cab roof. All the handrails were allegedly chromium plated, but could have been stainless steel, I have not been able to confirm which was the one used. Still no signs of Nº 4488, next out of Works was Nº4491 carrying the name Commonwealth of Australia, followed by Nº4490 Empire of India, then Nº4492 Dominion of New Zealand, and finally 63 days after disappearing into the paint shop Nº4488 re-emerged as Union of South Africa. All bearing the coats of arms of their respective countries on their cabsides. I cannot imagine that it took so long just to sort out a paint scheme, was there some mechanical problem, or was it just that it got trapped at the back of the paint shop, and it was easier to paint the other engines and get them out and into traffic, rather than waste time doing a complicated shunt to free the one engine?? There must be an explanation but I have not found any documentary evidence so far, that even hints at what happened. The dates previously shown in the Locomotive Building Table in Part Two of this series (and above) for engines Nº4488, 4489, 4490, 4491, and 4492, are now known to be when the engines entered revenue earning traffic after their official naming ceremonies, certainly Nos. 4489, 4491,and latterly 4488 were doing running in turns, with the nameplates covered, for periods varying from one to two and a half weeks before the dates shown.

One month after the naming ceremony for Nº4488 the next engine Nº4493 entered traffic, the livery had reverted to Apple Green, but thankfully had also reverted to the narrow Black parabolic curve to the smokebox sides. The discarded nameplates from Nº4489 Woodcock were reused, signifying a return to the "Bird" series of names. Next came Nº4494 displaying the Osprey nameplates removed from Nº4488. Next came Nº4495 named Great Snipe, again in Apple Green livery.

Just prior to Nº4495 leaving the Works, it had been decided that the wool barons of Leeds and Bradford would benefit from a streamlined service that would enable them to travel out and home, and do their business on the London Wool Exchange all in one day, this new train was to be named the West Riding Limited. Two A4s were to be allocated to this service, but it was realised that the next engine Nº4496 would probably be ready in time but the following engine Nº 4497 certainly would not. In consequence Nº4495 was recalled to the works on 11/9/1937 to be given the Garter Blue livery and cut-out stainless steel letters and numbers, and the stainless steel strip to the bottom edge of the aerofoil casing and the tender. To further emphasize the Wool connection the engine was re-named Golden Fleece (Was it also just co-incidence that the Golden Fleece is also part of the City of Leeds coat of arms?) There was no elaborate naming ceremony, but the by now obligatory Press run from Leeds to Barkeston took place on 23/9/1937, with the nameplates showing, although the official record gives 25/9/1937 as the date on which the engine was renamed. Just to show that even with all the planning and careful stage managing that went into these affairs, things did not always work out as had been hoped. On the evening before the inaugural run No 4495 was being worked to Leeds, when it ran "hot", so Nº4492 had to be sent to Leeds in the early hours of 27/9/1937 as substitute. To keep the "wool" connection Nº4496 received the name Golden Shuttle. (For those who associate the word Shuttle with NASA and the Space Programme, the word was also used to describe a "torpedo" style implement that was used to thread the weft through the warp on a weaving loom.) The Oxford dictionary defines "shuttle" as "to pass back and forth", entirely appropriate in this case.

The next engine Nº4497 reverted once again to the "Bird" theme, carrying the name Golden Plover, but a major policy decision had had to be made in respect of the livery worn by the A4s. To summarise the position at this date there were:- 4 Silver Grey engines, 3 Apple Green engines (with narrow parabolic curve), 5 Apple Green engines (with the all black smokebox), and 7 Garter Blue engines. With such a tapestry of colours, managing to match the colour of the engine to the various differing colours of the coaching stock was becoming something of a problem. So to solve the dilemma it was decided that all future A4s would have the Garter Blue livery and that existing engines, not so liveried, would receive the Garter Blue livery on their next visit to Works. So Nº4497 received what could be called the Garter Blue Economy Livery, as the standard Gold shaded Red transfers were used for the letters and numbers, instead of the stainless steel cut-outs.

The L.N.E.R. hierarchy were completely unaware of the significance of the next engine Nº4498, that was about to emerge from Doncaster Works. A prominent member of the R.C.T.S. pointed out that this would be the 100th Gresley Pacific to be built, and had the Directors thought of naming the engine after its designer, the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the L.N.E.R?


The Directors agreed, the engine received the Garter Blue Super Economy livery, with Silver shaded Blue transfers for the letters and numbers, and the stainless steel strip along the bottom edge of the aerofoil casing and the tender. The nameplate was unveiled by Mr. William Whitelaw the Chairman of the L.N.E.R. on 26/11/1937, at a ceremony at Marylebone Station. The engine had in fact been officially recorded as into traffic on 30/10/1937.

There were still two numbers available beyond 4498, but an earlier gap in the number sequence was taken up, starting at Nº4462. A slight hiccup occurred and engine Nº4463 Sparrow Hawk was the next to appear. From here on all the engines were ex-works in the Garter Blue livery, with Gold shaded Red transfers. I have not as yet established if the stainless steel strip was applied to the bottom edge of the aerofoil casing on all the remaining engines. With the swapping of tenders it is also unclear as to whether tenders had the strip affixed when new, I am working on it but it is a bit of a maze.

Next out of Works was Nº4462 fitted with the "spare" Great Snipe nameplates, closely followed by Nº4464 Bittern. It has been suggested that Nº4498 might have taken this name, if the directors had not been persuaded otherwise.

The remaining eleven A4s left the Works between 8/1/1938 and 1/7/1938 but not without some strange juggling with the Engine Numbers. The sequence starting with Nº4462 ran out at Nº4469, so then the two spare numbers, Nos. 4499 and 4500 were taken up, and by then jumping to the next gap, and starting at Nº 4900 the numbering was finally completed by Nº4903. The names allocated to this final batch of engines were all in the "Bird" series as follows:-

Nº4465 Guillimot Nº4466 Herring Gull Nº4467 Wild Swan
Nº4468 Mallard Nº4469 Gadwall Nº4499 Pochard
Nº4500 Garganey Nº4900 Gannet Nº4901 Capercaillie
Nº4902 Seagull Nº4903 Peregrine

Researched and written by Mel Haigh,
Education Officer, Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust Ltd.
First published in Chime 122, Christmas 2001
Continue to Part Five
Return to An A4 by Any Other Name Title Page

Return to top

Copyright © The Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust Ltd