Wilkes & Ashmore (Industrial Designers): Papers relating to the British Railways Board

Scope and Content

The collection consists of twenty-five folders created by Wilkes & Ashmore (Industrial Designers) summarising their design work for the British Railways Board. Eleven of the folders take the form of progress reports relating to locomotive appearance design.

Administrative / Biographical History

During the 1950’s and 1960’s British Railways were at a crisis point and the British Railways Board frequently found itself facing a deficit. In 1955 a ‘Modernisation Plan’ was published advocating the replacement of steam by electric and diesel power. The plan also promised innovation in the design of long distance carriages including vehicles with ‘reclining chairs’ but no details. The publication of the plan also brought about a realisation that there needed to be some co-ordination in the policy of industrial design. This led to the creation by the British Transport Commission of a Design Panel in 1956, to advise on the best way to achieve a high standard of appearance and unity in its equipment. The initial priorities of the Design Panel were locomotives, passenger vehicles, equipment for stations and line side equipment. By 1964 these had been revised to be: the systematic development of a corporate identity for British Railways; improved and new livery for locomotives, freight and coaching stock including the prototype passenger train (XP64); improved internal equipment and décor of new coaching stock; and the introduction of new uniforms.

The Design Panels’ proposals were referred to as the ‘Carriage of Tomorrow’ project and remained largely a paper exercise until late 1961. The project stemmed from a review of fourteen experimental coaches built in 1957 with a specification to design a new carriage for quantity production. Mock-ups were to be shown at an exhibition at the Design Centre in London March 1963. Shortly after 1961 Wilkes & Ashmore (Industrial Designers) were appointed as design consultants to create a mock-up carriage section for the new passenger trains to evaluate features before committing to large scale production.

Consultants, including Wilkes & Ashmore, frequently found themselves faced with a ‘clean- up’ operation due to the manufacturers’ reluctance to take outside guidance, which prevented them from being in a position to design the whole train. Wilkes & Ashmore had a long term relationship with the British Railways Board, although they were not the only consultants employed, and in fact the Luxury Pullmans that were the Design Panels’ first real success were based on a design by the consultants Jack Howe. When Wilkes & Ashmore were the consultants of choice they were responsible for the general design and construction of the mock-ups, and engaged other consultants and suppliers to handle the details such as surface finishes and lights. Wilkes & Ashmore were heavily involved in the ‘Carriage of Tomorrow’ project and were also commissioned to produce designs for the interior of the lounge car mock up displayed at the ‘New Face of British Railways’ Exhibition held at the Design Centre in January 1965. They were also the consultants for the Brush Type 4 which became the standard British Railways locomotive.

Wilkes & Ashmore were also involved in the Corporate Identity Programme launched at the beginning of 1965, the most immediately obvious feature of which was the adoption of the title British Rail for marketing purposes, and the new symbol. The programme was based on the idea that properly planned and applied industrial design could act as a powerful and inexpensive marketing tool. The aim of the programme was to promote greater unity in the appearance of rolling stock, stations, typefaces, uniforms, signposting and publicity to a prescribed house style. To ensure the policy was implemented an industrial design manual was produced.


The progress reports have been arranged in one continuous series, whilst the other folders and files have been arranged in chronological order to reflect the evolution of the designs.

Conditions Governing Access

Access is given in accordance with the NRM access policy. Material from this archive is available to researchers through the Search Engine reading room.

Opening times:

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Contact details:

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Acquisition Information

Purchased from Onslow’s Auctions Ltd., The Depot, 2 Michael Road, London, SW7 2AD, in November 2002.

Alternative Form Available

Not applicable.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

All the folders and files are in good condition, although some photographs and illustrations have come loose.

Archivist's Note

This catalogue was prepared in January 2003 by Helen Dafter and Angela Quinby, students on the post-graduate archives administration course at the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies, as part of a work placement at the National Railway Museum. Final editorial work was carried out by Tim Procter, Access Team Project Leader, National Railway Museum, in May 2004.

Description created by Jane Ronson (Archives Hub team) using the Archives Hub EAD Editor, May 2015.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied of items in the archive, provided that the copying process used does not damage the item or is not detrimental to its preservation. Copies will be supplied in accordance with the NRM’s terms and conditions for the supply and reproduction of copies, and the provisions of any relevant copyright legislation.

Appraisal Information

No appraisal of this collection has been undertaken.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

Material held at the National Railway Museum:

1997-9264: Painting design in paint and charcoal, depicting BR (WR) Beyer Peacock 1700 HP Type Diesel Hydraulic locomotive, by Wilkes & Ashmore (Industrial Designers), c1960. (NRM Pictorial Collection (Railway)).

Location of Originals

Not applicable.

Geographical Names