FAQs - The Southern Railway

Frequently asked questions on the topic of England's Southern Railway (1923-48),
its predecessors (pre 1923), and British Railways (S) post nationalisation (to date),
compiled from SEmG members' conversations by Graeme Pettit.

Please click on the subject choice of interest in the table below to see if we can answer your question.

The first table contains items on this page - the second table contains off page items.

  1. Research Sources
  1. Basic Information
  1. Cuttings and Embankments
  1. Signal Box placement
  2. Colour of structures
  1. MN rebuilds
  2. Britannias on SR


Q. What books are available to help me with my researches?

A. The SEmG maintain a Book List which covers the books known of, covering the very broad topic of the Southern Railway. This list is quite large, but covers most aspects of the railway. Not all are currently in print (some being limited editions, rare, or just very old). The membership are usually willing to help with any question. (You may well get a confusing range of answers though!). The forum which the group represents, welcomes on-topic discussion, which allows the whole membership to learn.

You will also find a great deal of potential interest in the various railway magazines, both modelling and prototype.
Article and Drawing list sites are available on the web, and are kept up to date by members of the SEmG

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Q. I cannot find what I want ready to run, and would like to try my hand at building kits. What is available? Is there any basic advice you can give to the beginner?

A. This is a broad question, as it depends on what scale you choose to model. Kits are made from a variety of materials, such as whitemetal (similar to lead), which is cast into parts which may be soldered or glued together. Brass is also used. This is folded up, and again either soldered or glued. Many brass kits also contain whitemetal parts. Plastic kits are quite common, and relatively easy to put together with a solvent glue. There are also one or two resin kits available, which, again, may be glued. The beginner usually starts with a simple plastic wagon kit, or coach, then moves to whitemetal, or resin, then to brass once experienced. You will find a list of available kits on a number of members web sites .

One major piece of advice is READ THE INSTRUCTIONS and identify all parts before doing anything else - Some kits have poor instructions, others are excellent - Try and find someone else who has built the kit you want, and ask what they thought of it - You can always ask in the shop to see the instructions before you buy - It is a poor shopkeeper who will object (unless he is busy!). You may find with many kits, you need to supply your own wheels, couplings and other details. You will also need the correct colour paint, and suitable lettering. Take your time, and work from a good photograph or diagram if you can find one (see BOOKS for sources).

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Q. I want to build a proper landscape on my model railway, and would like to put cuttings and embankments on the boards, to give effect of height, and for rivers/roads etc. How do I decide what slope to use?

A. A lot of your answer will depend on the area you are modelling. If you have a fictional setting, then you can choose one which you may think suits the space available, however, in the interests of realism, it would pay to find out what the soil type is in your given modelling location, as angles varied tremendously. For instance, South Kent is chalk/limestone. The London area is clay, and many locations in the south west are sandstone. The guidance offered below may help.

  From the Scalefour Society Digest Derek Genzel
    Ratio given is vert:horiz.
    Hard Rock - 8:1
    Chalk - 8:1
    Gravel - 1:0.9
    Dry Sand - 1:1.3
    Compact Earth or Well Drained Clay - 1:1.5
    Wet Clay or Peat - 1:4

  Of course there is a whole lot more about retaining walls, trackbeds,
  drainage, etc., which is too much for this list. If you really care to
  get these things right, you could do a lot worse than joining the
  Scalefour Society, the permanent way digest sheets alone are well worth
  the subscription.

Contributed by :Ted Scannell

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Q. Where would a Signal Box typically be placed during the semaphore signalling era?

A. Prior to the days of colour light signals, as a general rule, and no doubt there were exceptions, the box would be placed more or less in between the home and starting signals of the block it controlled. This is very much a simplification, but you need to go back to the concept of which signals you need for block signalling. In its simplest of forms, for any direction you need, first a distant (or warning) signal, then a home, and finally a starting signal.Excluding the most complex of railway layouts in urban areas, most blocks were located at a station, although it was quite common where distances between stations was long, to have an intermediate block.

The home signal allowed a train into a block or station, or prevented it if the signal was 'on', and the starter allowed the train to start out from the block or station, if the signal was 'off', on its way to the next block or station.
Thus it was more common to place the box at the starting end of a platform, usually away from the passenger circulating areas, although Sheffield Park is an interesting deviation from this rule. On double lines, one end was chosen usually to minimise point rodding runs, ie reduce the length of rodding and therefore the pull required to throw the turnouts. Other factors used to come into the placement, such as the topography of the land, sighting of signals and trains by the signal man, but as very general principle, the concept is quite simple.

In real life it was rarely that simple.
At the more complex stations, a box would be needed at either end. One of my favourites, Wadebridge, required an 'East' and 'West' box. The 'West' box was needed to control the level crossing over Molesworth street, but that would have been too far to control the east end of the station, so an 'East' box was required . There are numerous similar examples where the function had to be split between two boxes in the days before electrically assisted functions.

Splitting the functions within the confines of a station then led to overlapping blocks, but this also happened where stations were quite close together. From the latter we get the fairly familiar sight of the distant signal of one block being placed on the same post as the starting signal of the preceding block.If the blocks were overlapped within the confines of a station, one home (or an inner and outer home - another complication) might suffice for both blocks combined, and similarly one starter (or a starter and advance starter - another complication).

The more you examine signalling layouts the more you realise that there there were more exceptions than the standard configuration, but the basic rule remained the same - one signal to get into the block section and one to get out of it, and go on your way (from the point of view of the driver of a train.

For goods yard, it was usual for only the turnout that gave entrance from the running lines to be unde the control of the signal man, although there were exceptions, usually where more turnouts required control.

There is no simple answer to this question, and the only way to have some sense of accuracy in the placing of signal boxes is to either follow a prototype, or study and study and study prototypical examples until you understand all the factors that came into the decision making.

Contributed by: Mike Watts

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Q. I dont know what colour to paint my buildings. Any advice?

A. Much of the subject of colour depends on what era you are modelling, and what region. During 1999, British Railways Illustrated serialised the BR (S) painting diagrams. Whilst these cover the nationalisation era, pre 1948, some colours varied slightly. For instance, during wartime, some paints were unavailable, and little painting was done. Colours faded, and varied with weathering.
Pre 1923, each company tended to use its own 'house' colours. I would suggest that you contact the specialist group which covers your interests, or ask an SEmG member, or contact the HMRS. A useful book was published by them on the livery of LSWR and SR.
If your interest is post 1948, then the table below should help you match the named colours to thier "British Standard" counterparts

        SR number                BS (and undercoat)

        No.1 Light Stone         BS386 Champagne (BS352 Pale Cream)
        No.1A Dark Stone         BS358 Light Buff (BS361 Light Stone)
        No.3 Dark Green          BS276 Lincoln Green (BS282 Forest Green)
        No.3A Mid-Chrome Green   BS221 Brilliant Green (BS No.3A Mid-Chrome Green)
        No.4 Light Green         BS217 Sea Green (BS216 Eau-de-nil)
        No.7 Pale Green          BS275 Opaline Green (BS216 Eau-de-nil)
        No.8 Grey                BS652 Dark Admiralty Grey (BS693 Aircraft Grey)
        No.9 Red                 BS538 Post Office Red (BS443 Salmon Pink)
        No.10 Deep Cream         BS352 Pale Cream (BS384 Light Straw)

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Q. The MN/WC/BB classes underwent rebuilding during BR days. Why did this happen, and what was changed?

A. Basically, although the subject is highly involved, the rebuilds occurred mainly to ease maintainance problems and reduce down-times caused by some of the original features. This is a summary of what was modified:

 1. Valve gear replaced by 3 independent sets of Walschaerts gear
 2. A saddle fitted forward of the inside cylinder to eliminate frame fractures
 3. A new circular smokebox, but retaining the existing oval smokebox door
 4. Replacement of the steam reversing gear
 5. Replaced piston heads and rods
 6. Oil bath eliminated
 7. Elimination of smooth air casing to be replaced by conventional boiler clothing
 8. Two new mechanical lubricators for cylinders and axleboxes
 9. Regulator replaced
10. New ashpans
11. Replaced cylinder cocks
12. New sandboxes
13. Modified tenders

My source for this was 'Bulleid Pacifics at Work', Colonel H.C.B.Rogers. Ian Allan 1980. ISBN 0 71110 1074 9. Lots of excellent photos in the book.

Contributed by: Mike Watts

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Q. Britannia Class locomotives were allocated to the Southern. - When did they appear, and where were they based?

A. The following BR Britannias were allocated to the SR

  • 70004 Stewarts Lane November 1951-June 1958
  • 70009 Nine Elms May 1951 November 1951
  • 70014 Nine Elms June 1951-November 1951 Stewarts Lane - 1958
  • 70017 Salisbury on loan May 1953
  • 70023 Salisbury on loan May 1953
  • 70024 Exmouth Junction on loan May 1953
  • 70028 Exmouth Junction on loan May 1953
  • 70029 Exmouth Junction on loan May 1953
  • 70034 Stewarts Lane on loan May 1953

You will find more information in the book "Xpress Locomotive Register: Southern Railway" You can order it from

There were 2 or 3 Britannia's allocated to Stewarts Lane for hauling the Golden Arrow in the 1950's or 1960's. There are photos showing "William Shakespeare" as one of them. The exact details of the allocations, including the dates, are in the above book.

Contributed by John Besley and John Russell

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This page was last updated 18 June 2005

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