Founded in 1775, TRW has provided the paints for some of the world’s most iconic locomotives.
Photo courtesy of T&R Williamson
David Savastano, Contributing Editor 05.09.23
The railway industry in the UK is full of brightly painted iconic trains, most notably the Royal Carriages. It is very likely that those trains were painted using T&R Williamson (TRW) paints. But if you go to the UK’s Railway Museum in York, you will see classic locomotives brightened to their original glory by TRW paints.
The history of T&R Williamson is quite interesting. Founded in 1775, TRW is believed to be the oldest family-operated paint manufacturer still in existence in the world. Today, it is a division of Thomas Howse Ltd., a Birmingham, UK paint specialist focused on the ACE, agriculture, construction and engineering markets, and is part of the privately-run Sheibani Group.
In 1775, Thomas and Robert Williamson, a pair of bankers, came upon a recipe for varnish, and formed their paint company in North Yorkshire. The forming of this new business coincided with the start of the Industrial Revolution.
“TRW was established in 1775 and were in the mix as the Industrial Revolution steamed and sparked into life,” said Garry Plant, general manager for TRW and Thomas Howse Paints in Birmingham.
The beginnings of the railway industry in the early 1800s proved to be the ideal match for T&R Williamson. In 1829, Robert Stephenson built The Rocket, combining numerous innovations into what would become the prototypical steam locomotive for more than a century. Stephenson turned to TRW to supply its classic colors.
“The Williamsons were involved with the like of Stephenson and supplied the red and black leads that coated The Rocket,” Plant noted. “That was the start of their bond with the new railway industry, and they grew relationships with all the train companies across Great Britain as well as various countries in Africa, India and Hong Kong.
“The transport sector became the cornerstone of the business as well as supplying coatings to the agriculture, construction and engineering and sectors,” added Plant.
In 1923, the Flying Scotsman, perhaps the most famous locomotive, first began running, and would appear in exhibitions worldwide, becoming the first steam locomotive to reach 100 miles per hour. It has been restored, and today is the centerpiece of the UK’s Railway Museum in York, where it is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Not surprisingly, TRW was involved in that restoration.
“Our colour archive stretched back to the turn of the last century and we have been involved in many restoration projects, including the Flying Scotsman and its famous Apple Green,” Plant said. Other classic locomotives that have been brought back to their original glory using TRW’s paints include The Orient Express, The Royal Opera House, Golden Gate Bridge, as well as The Royal Mews and Royal Carriages.
Working with the Royal Household
As its reputation for paints for trains grew, it captured the attention of the Royal Household. Soon, TRW was supplying the paints for the Royal Carriages.
“Over many years, we supplied the Royal Household for the Royal Carriages, and some years ago were awarded the Royal Warrant, which we hold dear and are extremely proud of,” Plant said. During the recent Queen’s Jubilee, we worked with Severn Valley Railways in the project to convert a renamed locomotive into new livery.”
In fact, T&R Williamson was recently called upon for a landmark project to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee, transforming Taw Valley, one of the UK’s most popular steam locomotives, into “Platinum Purple.” The train was repainted in T&W Williamson’s Spec 81 paint, Purple SP01353. The Taw Valley locomotive, which operates a 16-mile heritage line in Shropshire and Worcestershire, will be renamed Elizabeth II. In addition, a leading British model company Hornby is producing a limited edition collector’s model of 1,500 for the new-look locomotive.
“Being awarded a Royal Warrant of Appointment in 2011 marked one of the proudest moments in our 247-year history,” said group chairman Abubaker Sheibani. “We are one of fewer than 800 specialists-in-their-field globally to achieve this prestigious and rare accolade. So, we are thrilled to have been able to extend this Royal connection to this unique project. It is a fitting and truly memorable way of commemorating Her Majesty becoming the first British Monarch in history to reign for 70 years.”
The Future of T&R Williamson
While TRW remains the oldest family-operated paint manufacturer still in existence in the world, it is now associated with Thomas Howse Paints in Birmingham, who itself was established in 1903, and is owned by the Sheibani Group. The Sheibani Group has brought together a team of experienced paint technologists, color matching and tinting expertise and development chemists.
“The Sheibani Group has invested in UK manufacturing for many years as well as interests in overseas manufacturing coatings and other sectors,” Plant observed. “They continue to develop the UK coating arm and will grow the business organically and through further acquisition.”
Meanwhile, TRW will continue to provide high-quality paints and coatings for its transportation customers.
“TRW is a beacon of color and history in the rail industry, steam locomotion, vintage cars, trucks, tractors, canal boats, rail stations and so much more,” Plant concluded. “Our focus is to continue to grow the business in the UK and across various export markets, remain a true independent business and to develop new innovative, greener products, preserve and create new jobs and be at the forefront of a new industrial revolution post Brexit and as we focus on climate change.”