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LMS Route: Rugby to Tamworth

Trent Valley Lineside: lnwr_tvl4454

Ex-LMS 4-6-0 Royal Scot Class No 46132 'The King's Regiment Liverpool' is seen on an up express service south of Tamworth

Ex-LMS 4-6-0 Royal Scot Class No 46132 'The King's Regiment Liverpool' is seen on an up express service south of Tamworth. The tender has British Railways' 'Cycling Lion' crest (see below) which was the first crest applied by the British Transport Commission. Built in November 1927 as LMS No 6132 and with a parallel boiler by the North British Locomotive Company of Glasgow, No 46132 was renumbered by British Railways in April 1948. It was then rebuilt by British Railways with the Stanier 2A tapered boiler in 1949, which would have been shortly before the above photograph was taken, and remained in service until February 1964 when it was withdrawn from 12A Kingmoor shed in Carlisle.

While the Railway Executive experimented with different colour schemes for its locomotives, carriages and wagons (during 1948, even though British Railways had been in existence for months) the hunt was on for some kind of emblem which could be applied to trains. The Railway Executive and BTC’s saviour in this matter is the subject of some confusion. According to Haresnape (1989: p12) it was Abram Games (1914-1996), a brilliant graphic artist who had already produced some excellent modernist posters and products and would later go on to devise the graphic identity for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Not so, according to Jackson (2013: p94) and Lawrence (2016: p11), it was the work of sculptor Cecil Thomas (1885-1976). Whichever of them it was, they created the “lion on wheel” totem/seal for the BTC, which could be used for any of its subsidiaries, and it was the British Railways version of the BTC totem that was eventually adopted by the Railway Executive for use on locomotives. This image of the BTC seal seems to back up Jackson and Lawrence’s attribution, as it features Thomas’s signature. The most likely explanation for the confusion is that Thomas sculpted the original seal, while Games adpated it as the coloured lion on wheel used on trains.

Whatever its precise parentage, it’s not universally admired, with many railway enthusiasts still sniffily suggesting that the lion looks rather emaciated. But for my money, it’s a stylish and dramatic piece of graphic design, the detail on the lion’s mane and its fierce countenance especially. What this emblem wasn’t, however, was in any way modern or forward-looking. It harked back to heraldic imagery via a sort of pre-war Modern / Art Deco style. The lion stands on what is clearly a steam locomotive wheel, despite the fact that British Railways already had many electric trains and some early diesel locomotives, all of which pointed the way to the company’s future. It’s not clear whether Games/Thomas were responding to the BTC’s brief or whether they viewed British Railways as an old-fashioned company (Games was apparently famous for producing designs and then resigning commissions if his client wanted something different). Either way, the lion on wheel, whatever its intrinsic artistic merits, looked much less modern than London Transport’s corporate identity, which dated from the previous decade. Despite the fact that Gill Sans was essentially British Railway’s corporate typeface, the lion on wheel emblem used a different typeface altogether, with different weights of diagonal strokes on the lettering particularly noticeable and obviously different from Gill Sans. The good news was that, despite the fact it was neither particularly modern nor in keeping with British Railways’ corporate typeface, nor was actually British Railways’ own totem, it looked super on British Railways’ trains. It was reversible, so that the lion always faced forwards on steam locomotives (many diesel engines had a cab at each end and could run in either direction, so the lion faced left on these, and didn’t always face the direction of travel). But again, it wasn’t a logo as such, because it was rarely seen anywhere but on trains.

Courtesy of The Beauty of Transport.