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British Rail / British Railways

Last modified: 2020-08-15 by rob raeside
Keywords: house flag | british railways | british rail | railroad | lion | double arrow |
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British Rail: 1965-199X

[British Rail red flag] image by Nick Job, 26 March 2013

British Rail had two flags. On land at stations, the same flag was used with a red background. This flag is still in use as the “double-arrow” symbol now belongs to the DETR (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions) and is authorised for use by the railway companies and other purposes connected to the national railway network. Recently I have seen the railways flag flying over Chester and Swansea railway stations.
Roy Stilling, 13 Feb 1999

Doing a search for British Rail on Google Images clearly shows that when used as a logo, the top arrow pointed right, even though the Corporate Identity manual ( showed it pointing left when used on a flag.
Neale Rosanoski, 30 December 2013

In Dow (1973), Railway Heraldry, page 250, Mr. Dow has a longish tirade (far too long for reproduction in extenso), containing:

"The symbol [of British Railways] ... is officially described as consisting of 'two-way traffic arrows on parallel lines representing tracks'. The top arrow therefore always points to the right (because the trains keep to the left), save only in the case of ships' funnels and ships' flags, where the top arrow will point forward on the port-side. It was conceived by Design Research Unit and, although it is by no means generally liked and has been aptly dubbed 'the barbed wire', it does represent an attempt to devise a distinctive, instantly recognisable symbol."
Ole Andersen, 13 January 2001

British Railways, or to use its more common name, British Rail, ceased to exist during the early 1990s. It was replaced by Railtrack, which was to operate the actual track and station premises, and a variety of operating companies, which were to provide services. Railtrack eventually collapsed in a welter of maladministration and debt in 2001, and the British Government put the company into administration and in effect re-nationalized it at that time. A new non-profit successor to Railtrack is in the process of development. 

I do not know whether Railtrack or the many actual operating companies had their own flags or not. I suspect that most of them did, but I have not seen any depictions or illustrations. It is certain however that all the rolling stock received gaudy new liveries in place of actual new equipment.
Kath Lavar
, 12 April 2002

"As part of its new image, BR undertook a radical look at design across the whole company. It decided that it needed a new corporate identity and in 1965 launched a new corporate image. The whole railway was re-branded as British Rail, with the distinctive double arrow logo." [National Railway Museum]
David Prothero, 23 March 2007

The colours should be:
on land flag: Rail Red = Flame Red/Azo Orange = BS 361 C 593 (see
Sealink flag: Rail Blue = BS 361 C 114 (see
Nick Job, 26 March 2013

British Railways (Sealink) house flag

[British Rail blue flag] image by Nick Job, 26 March 2013

This was the flag worn by its ships, with a blue background. I have read somewhere, although I cannot find the reference, that the double-arrow logo was reversed when used on the Sealink ferries so that the cross pieces could be read as an "S" for Sealink.
Roy Stilling, 13 Feb 1999

British Rail had ships. Today the railways have been privatised, and whilst the British Railways Board still exists, and is due to become the nucleus for the proposed new Strategic Rail Authority, it doesn’t run ships or trains anymore, and in fact British Rail lost its ships even earlier, back around 1984 when its Sealink ferry services were sold off.
Roy Stilling, 13 Feb 1999

Roy Stilling reported the Sealink logo was reversed to give an 'S' emblem. This is not quite correct, in fact the emblem was reversed on one side of the funnel, due to some maritime requirement that the top of the design should always point to the bows. This was to give a better visual indication of the ships direction to other navigators in times of bad visibility. Though the blue & white flag was the Sealink colours, all vessels displayed the logo in white on a red background until such time as the company was sold (at which point the logo was painted out as fast as the new owners could wave the paint brush!).
Peter Daniells, 16 April 2000

"In 1965 the old House Flag for the ships of British Railways, introduced in 1949, was replaced by a new flag. This had a field of blue, known as "British Railways blue", with a device which can be described as symbolic double arrows, the latter in white. This flag is now flown by all the ships, and is the only flag in use by the Shipping Division of British Rail. There is a similarly designed House Flag for use ashore by British Rail. This differ from the maritime flag by having a flame-red field.
[Flags of the World by E.M.C.Barraclough 1971]
David Prothero, 23 March 2007

Version used on logos

[British Rail wrong flag] image by Nick Job, 26 March 2013

The British Rail Corporate Identity Manual states that the top arrow of the logo on the British Rail flag should always point towards the staff. (The majority of British Rail flags were presumably made from one piece of fabric rather than right- reading both sides.) Since the convention in flag books is to have the staff on the left, this accounts for the flag being "back to front" but it is not wrong, as Roy Stilling suggests. As far as I am aware, the British Rail flag was the only instance where it was acceptable to mirror the BR symbol although, from time to time, on road signs etc., one sees instances of the BR symbol crudely being reversed where it should not be!
Nick Job, 27 April 2000.

British Railways: 1949-1965

[British Railways 1949-1965 flag] 7:12 image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 28 May 2007

In the Observer’s Book of FLAGS [eva59], I found an image with the following text: "The emblem adopted by the British Railway, the lion astride a wheel, so conspicuously displayed inland, figures at the centre of a saltire of unusual design on the House Flags of the organisation’s ships."
Jarig Bakker, Feb 1999

The flag is a white saltire on dark blue with a double red and white fimbriation. Centered there’s a dark blue disc with a white-red-white border. In the disc, the above-mentioned logo.
Jorge Candeias, 22 Feb 1999

According to Barraclough and Crampton Flags of the World 1981 [bcr81] p.230, this flag was adopted in 1949 and replaced by the blue with white "double-arrow" flag in 1965 when British Railways adopted a new corporate identity becoming British Rail.
Roy Stilling, 13 Feb 1999

Photographs of the 1949 flag and the detail of the badge on the flag as posted for sale on E-Bay are available here.
Jan Mertens, 10 October 2006

As a child, I well recall British Railways and its rather lovely lion crest. This organisation was established in 1948 and was re-branded as "British Rail" in 1969, with the result that the lion crest was replaced by a rather nasty double arrow logo, which became the symbol of lateness, shoddy service and appalling food. Something else I remember, though, is that the crest I mention above was not the only one to be seen on the sides of the locomotives. There was another in which a lion passant straddled an engine wheel, and it is this version which I believe Jorge Candeias sought to draw above.
Peter Johnson, 21 March 2007

British Railways was formed in 1948 and became British Rail in 1969 (with a new logo) until being privatized (and thus disbanded) in 1997.
Christopher Southworth, 22 March 2007

"British Railways announced the adoption of a House flag for their vessels on February 15th 1949 and described it as having a navy-blue background with white diagonals, lined dull red with a white outer edging. Superimposed on a blue base in the centre of the flag is the British Railways badge, a yellow lion astride a wheel carried out in red and white. The proportions of this flag are rather unusual, being twelve to seven."
[Flags of the World by H.Gresham Carr 1953]
David Prothero, 23 March 2007

Detail of emblem

[British Railways 1949-1965 flag detail] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 28 May 2007