What we know as the Brighton Belle was part of an order for a total of 38 Pullman cars built in Birmingham in 1932 by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage, Wagon & Finance Co. Ltd. for use on the Southern Railway. This investment was very significant indeed - and reflected a radical shift in construction techniques, utilising an all-steel monocoque structure, first seen in Britain in 1928 orders built for the LNER and GWR (Metropolitan-Cammell had pioneered all-steel techniques while constructing sleeping cars for Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits since 1922). The vehicles were also unique in their design for electric multiple unit (EMU) formation.
Here we see the Brighton Belle in service towards the end of her working life. Click on the four arrows icon to see the video in full screen mode.
15 of the new carriages were configured as three five-car all-Pullman sets to replace the ‘Southern Belle’ - this steam-hauled all-Pullman train had been in service between Victoria and Brighton since 1908, operated initially by the LB&SCR - with each five car or ‘’5-BEL’’ set numbered in the series 2051, 2052, and 2053 and beginning operation on the first day of 1933. The service was re-launched as the 'Brighton Belle' on 29 June 1934 and the units were renumbered to 3052 at the beginning of 1937. The remaining 23 cars were to be operated as stand alone Pullman , carriages for operation with standard SR configurations, later becoming the 6-PUL and 6-CITY units.
Another radical aspect of the 'Belle' - although commonplace in today's rail system - was that the vehicles were not owned by the Southern Railway, but by the Pullman Car Company. Construction had cost around £11 million at today's prices. Day to day maintenence was the responsibility of Southern Railway, but programmed maintenance, repairs and upgrades were carried out at the Pullman Works at Preston Park - for further background on Preston Park, look here.
Experience the journey from London Victoria to Brighton routine from the cab of the Belle. This was a Sunday morning service in 1939.
Each motor third was fitted with 8 British Thompson Houston Company (BTH) 225 HP traction motors, which offered a maximum speed of 120 kph (75 mph). The cars were heavy, and not just because of the steel bodies; each motor brake parlour tipped the scales at 20,000 kg (20 tons) than a parlour car and 17,000 kgs (19 tons) more than a kitchen car.
Here we see the Belle passing through Haywards Heath in the early 1960's.
The Brighton Belle was an operational success, with an uneventful history until the outbreak of war. For a short period, all of SR's Pullman vehicles were withdrawn from service because of a high perceived risk of damage from the air, but were returned to service in 1940. Despite serious damage to Unit No. 3052 during a night time air raid on Victoria Station on 9 October 1940, the other units were operated until 22 May 1942, when all Pullmans were placed in store until 1 May 1946. Now reduced to two 5BEL units until such time as No. 3052 was rebuilt, a 6-PUL unit ran as a surrogate Brighton Belle until October 1947.
SR gradually recognised that these heavy carriages were causing track damage; more worryingly, their customers had become critical of the poor ride quality. In 1955, the bogie sets on all 5-BEL and 6-PUL units were replaced. The Belle escaped the new British Rail corporate colours of blue and grey until 1969; not only did the umber and cream disappear under hastily applied paint at Eastleigh, but also the Pullman car names. The vehicle interiors retained their 1930's marquetry, but the seats now sported InterCity 70 blue moquette.
It was a short re-birth, with 5-BEL No. 3051 providing the last ever Brighton Belle in service to Victoria on 30 April 1972. Afterwards, the units remained in sidings at Brighton, permitting British Rail to remove electrical and control gear for scrap, until gradually each vehicle was purchased and dispersed around Britain.
Here we can take part in that final run from Victoria, with the platform bands and merriment on board masking the sadness of the day. It looked as though the Brighton Belle was lost for ever.
"Today is the end of an era.
From the final run brochure
Well, one complete train set is coming out of retirement - renewed and revived for a new working life! Do you have any images that you can scan or donate to the project? We are building an archive of images and stories of the Brighton Belle in construction in 1932, and in operation between 1933 and 1972.