A brief History

Cast Iron Smokebox Numberplates were used on locos by some Companies from quite early days as each loco had to be identified by a number for maintenance etc. Many locos had the number painted on the buffer beam or on the side of the cab without any number on the Smokebox Door.

Midland Railway Numberplate carried in 1905 and fixed by studs from the rear

Cast Iron Smokebox Numberplates were introduced for all Locos by British Railways on Nationalisation in order to standardise the numbering and distinguish between regions. All regions had a 5 digit number except for the old GWR where it was decided it would be a pity to scrap all the cabside plates on the locos and so it was more sensible to keep the 4 digit numbers that the locos were already allocated.

These numbers were carried on the Smokebox door with the plate usually painted black and the numbers white. They are the Loco items that most people remember as they gave the number that went down in the spotters notebook. Towards the end of steam the standard of cleaning dropped right off and it was often not possible to read the number painted on the cabside!


xxxx    Western Region
3xxxx    Southern Region
4xxxx    London Midland Scottish Region 
5xxxx    London Midland Scottish Region plus certain ex Lancashire & Yorkshire, Midland & Somerset & Dorset Locos.
6xxxx    London North Eastern Region
7xxxx    BR Standard
8xxxx    BR Standard
9xxxx    BR Standard 

Shown below are examples of Numberplates from the BR regions and from BR Standards.

 Many of these plates survived and are regularly available at Auctions. When purchasing a plate one in ex loco condition with provenance is always preferable. Smokebox Numberplates, being of cast iron,  were quite often broken in service and then welded by BR to save casting a new one. It is therefore not unusual to find one that has been repaired.

 If you are interested in buying a Smokebox Plate then the price you will pay will depend on condition, how big the Class was and if the Loco was named. Ex loco plates will attract a premium while those painted front and back can drop by about 20% from the average. 300 - 500 should buy you a plate from one of the larger Classes from all Regions. For named locos you would expect to pay about 600 for a GWR Hall Class plate and 2500 - 3000 for a West Country Pacific with a great deal of variety in between.

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