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In depth idiot
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Though there were some exceptions, brown was used to indicate a through piped or vacuum brake fitted wagon, grey a manually braked, unpiped wagon. This colour coding was already in place during the 'big four' period (shades of brown and grey varying) and continued into BR, being eliminated as vacuum brake stock went extinct as the air brake was standardised.

On Brown brake vans the guard had access to a valve to brake the train, on a grey van all he had was the manual brake. On fully fitted goods trains expect to see a brown van, on part fitted or unfitted, grey or brown could be seen.
 
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