Some time has elapsed since I first decided to paint the wagons red on my GWR 'North Leigh' railway but I still look out for any further information that may shed further light on when and where this colour was used.
My 1st edition copy of 'Great Western Way'(GWW) stated: "it would seem to be about the end of the 1870s that wagons and vans first sported a standard pattern of painted lettering. It was about this time, too, that the change from red to grey as a body colour was apparently decided upon." Since that was written, however, opinions have been revised and many now think that red was still in use up to 1904. (the way things are going, I'm sure someone will eventually conclude that red continued until nationalisation, when it was renamed 'bauxite' )
My old GWW also states that the earliest lettering took the form of the letters "G.W.R",...on the left hand end of the vehicle usually three planks up from the bottom of the body side" The text continues by stating that the lettering soon moved to the bottom plank, with the legend "To carry ... tons" above the initials. At the opposite end (RHS), the wagon number appeared, with the tare weight above. Then, in the early to mid 1880s, the pattern was reversed, with G.W.R at the right-hand end on the second plank up and the number and tare at the LHS. Legends for load and tare were now below the letters and numbers. Numbers also began to appear on the ends of wagons. GWW also reports that, in 1894, the use of cast plates for ownership and number information started to be applied and continued until at least 1905.
With that received wisdom in mind and some knowledge of later opinions, I happened upon an interesting photo in Ian Pope and Paul Karau's book 'The Forest of Dean Branch - volume one' This photograph shows Cinderford ironworks and is believed to have been taken in the 1890s and certainly after 1880, because it shows a structure completed in that year.
There is another photo, also taken in the Forest of Dean, in 1883, of a wagon at Coleford in what is described in GWW as "the earliest style of painting with lettering on the solebar".
A selection of wagons appear in the foreground of the Cinderford photo, in a considerable mixture of liveries. For research purposes, I have copied two small sections of the photograph, to illustrate this point.
In the upper row, five wagons can be seen, of which two appear to be of a darker shade than the others. Taking the two 'dark' wagons first: the one on the left has G.W.R low on the LHS with (presumably) load above, while the number and tare are to the RHS. The other dark wagon has the G.W.R above the load, to the left, and a number (level with the G.W.R) to the RHS, with some addition small lettering above and to the right of the number. The lettering on the 'lighter' wagons is less distinct but G.W.R always seems to be on the left side.
In the lower row, the first wagon on the left is unclear but, next, is a dark-looking wagon, with G.W.R on the left and other lettering in the centre and RHS. Next is a lighter-looking wagon, with G.W.R at bottom left and (presumably) load above but what might be the tare seems to be below the number on RHS. The next wagon is not clear and the final wagon has G.W.R high on the left, with load below and number on RHS, though not on the visible end of this wagon.
I have noted that there is a clear distinction between 'light' and 'dark' wagons and that the shades of these two types seem consistent, between the various members of each type.
At this point, I decided to try some experimental archaeology.
I set up a line of model wagons from my collection, some painted grey and some in my interpretation of GWR red. After photographing the group, I processed the photo using a Photoshop plug-in that allows a Black and White conversion, with an adjustable colour response. I chose a 'colour blind' response, typical of 19th century film technology, when film emulsions responded to blue, violet, and ultra-violet wavelengths but only very slightly to green and not at all to yellow and red.
My experiment shows that the model wagons divide into 'lighter' and 'darker' shades, as in the Cinderford photo, with the red wagons being darker.
If I extrapolate from my experiment to the Cinderford photo, it suggests that, at the time of the photograph (known to be after 1880 and probably around 1890), there were three red wagons in the yard, together with seven grey wagons. Both types, however, showed a mix of liveries, with G.W.R either above or below the weight information in both cases. If my guess about colours is correct, then it appears that both styles of painting were in use concurrently, both before and after the time of the change of lettering style!
Could one have been predominant on the South Wales line from Gloucester, while the other was Swindon practice? I'm sure there are many knowledgeable people on the forums, who may have ideas on this matter.
The books on the Forest of Dean railways are well worth tracking down for the superb illustrations of many industrial scenes from the 19th and early 20th centuries.