The Railwayana Page





Locomotive plates









 - THE TOP 50

















Loco plates, and in particular nameplates, are the "premier league" of the railwayana world, if only because of the prices. In fact, there are much more interesting artifacts to collect, as there is little that is not known or has not been researched to death in the locomotive field.


This page deals with nameplates, number plates (cabside and smokebox) and worksplates (builders' plates) from British mainline locomotives.




Naming locos seems to have been a peculiarly British thing. A number of books are available on the subject including "British Locomotive Names of the Twentieth Century" H C Casserley/Ian Allan, "Nameplates of the Big Four" Frank Burridge/OPC and "Nameplates on Display" Ian Wright/Pennine Publications. Check the last to see whether your favourite plate is in public hands before setting your heart on acquiring it!


Any nameplate from a mainline loco is expensive. Industrials, i.e. locos which worked in collieries etc, and names of overseas locos, are considerably cheaper. The world record highest price is 60,000, for LNER "Golden Fleece" sold at Sheffield in December 2004. 


I maintain a list showing the top nameplates at auction - the Top 50 - listing the most expensive plates at auction.


Mainline steam loco nameplates


A plate from a GWR "Saint" class 4-6-0 No 2982.  To many, the Great Western's plates epitomised what a nameplate should look like. The letters were not spread out in this fashion on later GWR plates. Lalla Rookh, incidentally, was not a character out of a Walter Scott novel (a number of "Saints" were thus named) but the heroine of the eponymous "oriental romance" written by Thomas Moore in the early 19th century, and for its day, a major best-seller.  Thomas Moore himself was commemorated on an LNWR "Prince of Wales" class loco.  

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Plate from "Star" Class No 4054.

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The first "King" class nameplate sold at auction, October 2000.  This shows the final style of letter spacing.

Where the loco was not named after a Castle, a number of Castle plates had "Castle Class" appended below the name. This is one of the series named after British 2nd World War aircraft, many of which, it has to be said, were very poor machines.

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"Castle" and "Grange" plates shown together.  This shows the difference in radius.  The Grange is one of the longer plates. 

The reverse of a GWR nameplate, which were unique in construction, most other companies' plates being cast. GWR plates are rather light in weight compared to cast brass. The rivets securing the individual letters to the steel backplate can be clearly seen, as can the corrosion where the plate has been fastened to a bracket. Later GWR plates (and GWR designed named locos built by BR) had half round beading instead of the full round shown here.

LNER "Footballer" from a B17 4-6-0. This was the team known as Bradford Park Avenue, which has the unfortunate distinction of having disappeared from the league.  Another loco was named "Bradford City".

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The football is a hollow brass hemisphere, secured by a central bolt.

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LNER D49 "Hunt" class.  The fox faced forward on each side.  It is detachable, hence a number disappeared in service and replacements were provided, some of them at the time of disposing of the plates, so they were never carried. Collectors generally prefer the original foxes which have smooth "fur" from polishing over the years (as the one shown). The original LNER loco numbers are stamped into the back of the foxes from certain locos (not all, it is not a guide to originality). 

BR (ER) A1.  While the A2s and A4s had the famous LNER Gill Sans lettering, the later A1s had a more chunky font.  These LNER plates are very heavy.

The rear of the above A1 nameplate with the names of previous plates cast from this pattern stamped into the pattern.  Note how the same backplates were used for (in chronological order) A4s, A2s and A1s. The bolt in the top LH corner of this A1 plate has been burnt off. LNER plates (same for Britannias) fixed from the rear, unlike, say, the LMS straight plates. "City of Chester" for instance has no less than 16 fixing holes. 

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Considering the huge number of plates it has, the NRM has relatively few glamour plates. In fact, it sometimes appears that they have gone out of the way to select some very average ones. However, "Silver Fox" from the A4 is probably one of the best of the lot. 

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Reverse of Gresley B17 nameplate, showing cast-in brackets and ribs.  The A3s are similar.  The plates have no bottom rim on the front and don't look so good unless mounted on a false splasher. Another very heavy plate.

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Detail of the front of the above B17 plate ("Elveden").

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One idea for displaying LNER plates (NRM). An A3 class.

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Nameplate from a B1. The first batch of locomotives were named, somewhat esoterically, after antelopes.  These were shaped to fit the side of the smokebox, the plates being thicker at the top than the bottom.

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A "double-line" plate from an ex-LMS "Royal Scot". This plate, from 46162, never had a crest and was one of the few to be painted red.  The other side is in the NRM at York. These "double-liners" are very heavy.

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"Old Contemptibles", from Royal Scot 46127. Named after the nickname for the early members of the BEF in World War I.

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Badged LMS "Patriot" plates.  LMS badged-plates, from "Royal Scots", "Patriots" and a few "Jubilees" are generally highly sought after.

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A pair of Jubilees. I think these are very pretty little plates. Others were named after admirals and ships. 

(photo of Baroda courtesy Ian Wright)


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LMS "Coronation" class plate. Plates for the streamlined locos were chromed originally.

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Reverse of "City of Chester".  It is possible to see traces of the original chrome plating. To accommodate one of the boiler lagging bands, a vertical slot has been planed, which also has the benefit of enabling one to determine which side of the loco the plate is from.  This plate is from the left hand side.

Southern Railway "King Arthur" plates.  "Prianius" is a spelling mistake - there was no such Arthurian knight of that name.  For a quick and irreverent introduction to Arthurian legend visit Lugodoc's site.

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Close-up of Sir Tristram showing wear on the bolt hole. Horizontal scoring on Southern plates seems to be common. I have heard a suggestion that this may be due to running the locos through carriage cleaning plants. It would be difficult to pass off a repro as an original.

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Southern Railway "Schools" class, "Eton" below a "King Arthur".  "Eton" has been skimmed, a no-no when it comes to restoration.  Sir Lavaine is in original condition.

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SR "West Country" shield and scroll, mounted on a painted wooden stand. 

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Reverse of a "West Country" plate. The plates are planed on the back, and bosses are welded on to provide support for the mounting bolts.

SR "Battle of Britain" class, and a former world record holder.  The nameplate is in the shape of an aircraft wing. (photo: courtesy Ian Wright)

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SR "Merchant Navy" class plate. Check the enamel centre before buying as the condition of this is important. A number have been "restored" indifferently although, being enamel, it should be possible to strip off poor restoration jobs. Traditionally, collectors separated these into the Southern locos (35001-19) and the rest although in practice, I don't think the market makes much of a distinction.

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The "ears" of Merchant Navy plates are each attached with a couple of very short countersunk 5/16" Whitworth screws. These would not be sufficient to hold them securely in service, and the ears were themselves bolted to the cladding or support

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"Classic traction" plates


warships.jpg (42375 bytes) "Warship" class plates.

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Nameplate and crest on Class 50 008 (photo courtesy Brian Matthews)

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Swindon style font on Class 47 D1665.  This photo was taken many years ago at the stabling point which existed for a few years on the site of the old Crewe North shed. 

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Nameplate of Class 40 D215 / 40015.  An early batch allocated to the West Coast Main Line was named after passenger liners. (photo courtesy Brian Matthews)

peaks.jpg (62188 bytes) An impressive selection of "Peak" names. 

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The plate and crest on "Peak" Class 45 014. (photo courtesy Brian Matthews)

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Class 47 677 (D1742).  An example of a naming for publicity/goodwill purposes.  In fairness, such namings also took place in steam days. (photo courtesy Brian Matthews)




Loco numbers tend to appeal to the die-hard enthusiast, as a number by itself is not very evocative to the general public. The Great Western had to be different of course, having large cast brass cabside number plates (and cast iron on lesser locos), which was presumably the reason why GWR locos were not renumbered on nationalisation in 1948.


GWR cabsides


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Brass plate from a "Manor" class loco.

Cast iron plate from 4575 2-6-2, a former Cambrian line loco and now preserved.

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Cast iron plate from a 2-6-0.


GWR "cabsides" are generally in demand, and can be very expensive, depending on "status" of the loco concerned. "King" class 6001 sold in March 2002 for 24,200, substantially more than many mainline nameplates.  Note that, somewhat counter-intuitively, plates from preserved locos tend to be less valuable than plates from locos no longer in existence. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although replica plates are frequently sold for preserved locos and perhaps this detracts.


Smokebox numberplates


These were fixed to most steam locos in BR days, following on from an LMS practice.  Smokebox numbers are less impressive, but for those collectors whose interest in railways arose through train-spotting, perhaps the front number is the most evocative item of all. Forgeries are not unknown in this segment of the market so be careful.  


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LM "Jubilee" class.

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BR "Standard" (upper) and ER O4.  Notice difference in size.  The Standard plates were  flat, like WR plates, and were fitted to brackets over the top hinge strap.

Reverse of O4 plate

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WR "Manor" class plate plus shedcode.


The size and pattern of smokebox numberplates varies significantly. Plates from ex-GW and "Standard" classes are large and flat, as they were mounted on brackets in front of the top smokebox door hinge. The rear of plates for ex-LNER and LMS locos are shaped to fit the curvature of the smokebox door. Some castings have pattern record numbers on the reverse.




Worksplates or builders' plates (the plate recording the date and place of manufacture of the locomotive) are very collectible. In many ways, a worksplate is superior to both a nameplate and a number plate, as it is usually fairly obvious what it is, and the designs are frequently attractive. Some collectors specialise in this area, seeking examples of as wide a range of different builders and designs as possible. Worksplates are also one of the few collectables from foreign locos, railway systems outside the UK generally being very parsimonious when it comes to embellishments to locos or trackside.


A wonderful display of worksplates, at Fawley in July 1999.

Further desirable examples.


Main line steam locos in the UK were sourced from a mixture of the railway companies' own workshops and private manufacturers. While worksplates from private builders are almost universal, the mainline companies' policy varied regarding locos built in their own workshops. Presumably because they had cast smokebox numberplates, LMS locos had minimalist worksplates recording where built and date, but with nothing to record the actual loco number. Although attractive in their simple design, it is difficult to attribute these plates to any one locomotive, although from time to time sufficient provenance is demonstrated to attribute them to particular locos.


The LNER used wonderful, large engraved plates on some locos. Unfortunately, many of these had the "LNER" filled in post nationalisation. Lacking any cast number plates, the LNER applied worksplate style numberplates to most of its locos, generally know as "nine by fives", being the dimensions of these oval plates, in inches. These are not desperately attractive but as they do record the loco's number, they have some appeal.



Up Cast Iron Locoplates Non-UK Other Signalling equipment Totems Whistles

27 February 2014