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A Matter of Colour

MikeOxon

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I’m currently pondering what colour I should use for the body of my Broad Gauge ‘Rob Roy’.  References to the colour originally used on Broad Engines declare it to have been ‘Holly Green’ but opinions differ on what shade that name represents.

 

According to Christopher Awdry’s book: ‘Brunel’s Broad Gauge Railway’, the Boiler Cladding was ‘Holly Green (Dark Blue/Green)’ until 1881, after which ‘Chrome Green’ was adopted. (he quotes the Broad Gauge Society as the source of this information).  It interests me to observe that the ‘GWR Wolverhampton Green’ is also frequently described as a ‘blue/green’ hue, so might the original Broad Gauge colour have been more akin to this Wolverhampton colour than we now realise?

 

I found some support for this view from an unexpected source. The ‘new’ Great Western railway franchise adopted a new corporate livery in 2015, which is claimed to have been based on the original Broad Gauge engine colour - see https://www.pentagram.com/work/great-western-railway-1/story for more information. I quote: "A bespoke paint has been created for train liveries based on the original ‘dark holly green’ used on the first GWR locomotives." What the sources for the chosen colour were is not revealed but it seems very unlikely that the present colour has anything to do with the original Victorian pigments. The ‘new’ GWR colour is defined in the Wikipedia UK Railways/Colours list as #0a493e, which can also de defined as RGB= 10, 73, 62 or HSL= 170°, 86%, 29%

 

When I place this colour against the GWR Chrome Green colour described on the GWR Modelling website the result is somewhat startling. Were early GWR engines really this blue?

 

74736447_GWR_EngineGreens.jpg.9d42d2fd35cf76e38d9ef448bbfa6cbf.jpg

 

One point to consider is the effect of ‘brightness’ on the perceived hue. As I explain on my website about colour perception , the human concept of colour can be divided into ‘colour’ and ‘brightness’ (or ‘luminosity’). If we maintain a constant ‘colour’ but vary the brightness, perception of the colour can vary considerably, as shown below:

 

Green_Luminosity.jpg.06dac01d28c1cd1849ea827e86551994.jpg

 

To my eyes, at least, the colour does appear more definitely ‘green’ as the luminosity decreases and all the reports of early engine colours agree that they were darker than the later chrome green.

 

Another colour to consider is the modern interpretation of ‘Holly Green’, described as British Standard BS 4800 14 C 39 - Holly green / Hollybush / #435d50 Hex Colour Code. (RGB= 26, 36, 31). The ‘Encycolorpedia’ website also shows the effect of variations, as shown below, which confirms that darker colours tend to look more green.

 

841928252_HollyGreen_BSI.jpg.74c8a913a2427c75e870749db722757e.jpg

 

Finally, I went out into my garden, where there is a real Holly tree, and photographed some leaves, together with seasonal berries.

 

Holly-Green-garden.jpg.9ab802c4f543a2cdb74fdb4606f0e8f1.jpg

 

These leaves have a greater green content than the various ‘official’ colours and I find their colour rather pleasing.  I thought I’d see what this colour looks like when applied (by Photoshop) to my (still unfinished) model:

 

Rob-Roy-colour.jpg.640eb22fb53f04d70fafd0b729f97ba4.jpg

 

In the end, I shall probably look along the array of ‘rattle cans’ in the local motorists shop and make a personal choice, relying on the fact that no-one will be able to contradict me with any confidence.

 

Mike

 

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Most interesting, Mike. Because of the real Holly tree, I have always interpreted the term Holly green for the BG as being very dark green, as per your garden photo. 

 

However your thoughts about GWR Holly green being closer to Wolverhampton green than we may have imagined are intriguing. I suppose the first question is what source the BGS uses for Dark Blue/Green (assuming Awdry got it right). The next question is perhaps whether there is anything in the early GWR history that might support the two works liveries being closer than we thought.

 

None of which I can answer! 

Edited by Mikkel
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I imagine this won’t help at all, but the darker bluish-green on GNR tenders was also called holly green. As an aside to my aside, I read once that at the dawn of the GNR, the locos were the same shade of green as the GWR ones as that was the colour the manufacturer chose.

 

Of course, if I see a citation needed for that last one, I’ll deny all knowledge of saying it.

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Don't forget the effects of the varnish that was applied in multiple coats. It's not clear whether the sources include that or are describing the base colour.

 

The underlying colour may well have been one of the more saturated colours you;ve described but there were probably at least 5 coats of varnish on top in your period, each one giving a slightly brownish tinge to everything underneath it, including lining.

 

And to make things more complicated the effects of heat on the varnish would cause it to become slightly cloudy.

 

It's possible to simulate these effects by overlaying semi-transparent layers in your favourite drawing/painting software. That might be informative and is probably easier than trying to mix a representative colour "by hand".

 

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Is there a rattle can, or a Precision paints colour for the new GWR Holly Green?  I have to admit that when I see the GWR trains they look a dark green, perhaps I should look harder next time.  (I will ask my wife next time she goes on one, Friday possibly.  We always disagree about colours so it will be interesting.)

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Many thanks to all who have responded with such interesting and thoughtful comments.

 

JCLs comment that "the darker bluish-green on GNR tenders was also called holly green." certainly gives food for thought.  Also, the idea that manufacturers dictated early engine colours has a ring of truth about it.  It seems quite plausible that 'Wolverhampton' green represents the true legacy of that early period.

 

Harlequin's comment about varnish reminds me that the upper sides of LNWR carriages were painted pale blue, so that they would appear white after varnishing.  Also, the original instruction for GWR carriages was to paint the upper sides white.  They only became cream after applying varnish.  I had a quick attempt at adding yellow 'varnish' to the 'new' GWR green, with the result shown below:

 

225219136_Greensvarnish.jpg.e565931b3492456031675529c4f35dbf.jpg

 

The 'greening' effect of adding 'varnish' is very clear and, with some darkening, they would begin to approach the chrome green appearance.

 

Chris N reminded me that I travelled on the 'new' GWR, this summer, and took a photo on our arrival at Penzance station.  It's difficult to judge the base colour against all the reflections but there is a distinctly blue appearance.

 

Penzance-Station.jpg.131852370dac91632980f0f976b25adb.jpg

 

Your wife's views would be interesting, Chris.  Some females have an extra type of green sensor on their retinas.  It is thought that this may give them a better perception of subtle green/blue hues.

 

Like Mikkel, my perception of 'holly green' is like the Holly leaves in my garden but who knows what the early Victorians thought?  The leaves can look more blue under a bright blue sky, for example - mine were in the shade.

 

In the end, as I said above, it will be down to personal choice but I feel there is a good case for choosing something 'bluer' than traditional GWR chrome green.

 

 

 

 

Edited by MikeOxon
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First rule when modelling beyond the lifetime of those of us still alive, is that you cannot be proven wrong unless the Great Western Museum can come up with a paint sample. If it looks right to you then it is right in my view. For guidance perhaps the earliest restoration of City of Truro had a shade of  green maybe selected by one of the "old boys" in Swindon's paint shop who as an apprentice might have worked on broad gauge locos or remembered them as a lad and thought City of Truro should be in the "correct" shade. Would it have been too different to what became the accepted green after the grouping, who knows? If you want get a few folk excited start a debate of the correct shade of Caledonian Railway blue in some circles... After all there is plenty of debate about shades of black elsewhere, and that is just about how much light they reflect back according to matt, sheen or gloss most of the time! If the locos were varnished they would appear to be in a different shade anyway if that helps or hinders the decision.

 

Kevin

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Hi Mike,

For your varnish simulation I suggest you set the transparency "Blend mode" of your overlay to "Multiply".

 

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1 hour ago, 5&9Models said:

Also there are 18 different species of holly.....!

Agreed!  Ours is Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’, a female plant.

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Here is Mike's colour sample of the current GWR green...

 

Quote

image.png.9e851c4fa9af4c287fd03ac50c62c3d5.png

 

...compared with this model, posted by Edwardian in another thread:

 

Quote

The picture below was taken by me at STEAM, Swindon, in 2014.  Perhaps someone knows the builder/exhibitor?

 

1993952997_517ClassNo_832.JPG.d4cac4a499f72ae2c7234f88557da79d.JPG

 

 

 

And then this in real world lighting, which I wouldn't be averse to calling Holly Green:

 

17 hours ago, MikeOxon said:

 

Penzance-Station.jpg.131852370dac91632980f0f976b25adb.jpg

 

Complete speculation of course, but if the 517 model was a little darker/more varnished, would it look similar to the current GWR green? 

Edited by Mikkel
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On 19/11/2019 at 13:18, Harlequin said:

Hi Mike,

For your varnish simulation I suggest you set the transparency "Blend mode" of your overlay to "Multiply".

 

 

I tried adding some brownish varnish as you suggested, by multiplying layers in Photoshop:

 

684631003_GWR_HollyGreenVarnish.jpg.c9498334151961d085f073568e839eb6.jpg

The effect on the white lettering looks plausible and the green has darkened and become less blue.

 

The idea that 'Wolverhampton' green might have been the original colour is growing on me.  They would simply have been 'left behind' when Swindon changed to Chrome Green in 1881.

 

I took the photo of the '517' model from Mikkel's comment, above, and applied 'varnish', exactly as described before, to get this result:

 

517model_Varnished.jpg.2e019e26ad90db2506b9971add8d76bb.jpg

 

It now looks rather more plausible.

 

One green pigment that was well known, long before the 19th century, is Malachite (basic copper carbonate)  Could this have been the basis of those early engine greens? - long before Bulleid re-discovered it

 

Malachite.jpg.9e4e04600455e0164df8f7e2fad2a2bd.jpg

,

 

 

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I hope you don't mind me putting this up, I've added this to RMWeb a couple of times, and it never ceases to make me smile.

According to E.F. Carter, the GNR locomotive colour was "green of one shade or another"; "bright, almost grass green"; "green"; "light grass-green"; "slightly yellower green than [a colour previously described as green]" or "bright green".

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If you think this is complicated you should see the endless knots folks tie themselves in over Stroudley’s Improved Engine Green.
My advice is to model the 1840s ... then nobody’s got a clue what the right shade might be. Saves a load of bother! :rolleyes:

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If I ever build a fictional railway the livery specifications will include Medium Black.

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4 hours ago, Mikkel said:

If I ever build a fictional railway the livery specifications will include Medium Black.

In the ‘50s my dad worked for Lines Bros. in Margate making Triang railway models. He was in charge of purchasing the raw materials and he always said black was the hardest colour to manufacture. The injection moulded plastic had to be the right shade of black, any greenish, blueish or reddish hues would be rejected, and it was quite a common problem.

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Rummaging in the darker recesses of my paints box, I spotted an ancient tin of Humbrol varnish.  On opening the tin, it released a powerful sulphurous odour and the contents could hardly be described as 'Clear'.  I reckon that applying this would have a profound effect on the colour of any model - probably similar to old Victorian varnish!

 

1334486608_ClearVarnish800x600.JPG.5d0f060eea45bdbded5b15fd3faae856.JPG

 

As a reminder, the following photo shows my interpretation of 'Wolverhampton' green, as applied to my model of GWR No.184, which I painted with Rustoleum 'Painters Touch' Dark Green enamel.  It's a bit too glossy for my taste but I won't be using any of that old tin of varnish :)

 

1514031296_WolverhamptonGreen800x600.JPG.281bad3f11aae5eb6612ded7f4a83a7b.JPG

Edited by MikeOxon
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5 hours ago, 5&9Models said:

In the ‘50s my dad worked for Lines Bros. in Margate making Triang railway models. 

 

That's quite a heritage you have between you. You are model railway royalty :)

 

Edited by Mikkel
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6 minutes ago, MikeOxon said:

I won't be using any of that old tin of varnish :)

 

Thank God, when I saw the two photos in your post I thought that was your plan!

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2 hours ago, Mikkel said:

 

That's quite a heritage you have between you. You are model railway royalty :)

 

But..(there’s always a but), they eventually offered him the post of General Manager and he turned it down to do teacher training! Thus I had a dad who could have brought me home a new train set every week but instead ended up being headmaster of my primary school! Life can be cruel like that...! :(

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I asked my wife if she would tell me what colour she thought the GWR trains were when she went to work last Friday.  Her answer was, "It is cold so I had thought of taking the car."   :(

 

However, all is not lost.  Having heard yesterday that there was a bus replacement service from Reading to Bedwyn, we sked the question, "Where is Bedwyn," and today we found out by going there.  Apart from a muddy walk along the Avon and Kennet Canal we also discussed the colour of the trains.  

 

The answer to which of these do you think it is, 

GWR_Holly GreenVarnish.jpg

 

brought the answer, "Yes."

 

It depended on the light.  She described the colour as 'slightly blue, green', but when the light was good, it looked like the colour on the left, when it was not so good, like the colour on the left, in poorer light darker, and on Reading station she said it looked black.

 

Next, I shall get out my time machine that my youngest son has said he will build me, and ask her if the broad gauge engines I show her bear any resemblance to the colours above.

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