Tuesday 21st of May 2013
The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway began using Pullman cars in their express trains from 1875, and in December 1881 they introduced the first all-Pullman train in the UK. It was known as the Pullman Limited and ran between London and Brighton via Horsham. Subsequently ordinary rolling stock was added to this service. In 1888 a second all-Pullman service was instituted, using carriages lit by electric lighting and designed by William Stroudley.
The L.B. & S.C.R. was also the origin of the familiar British umber and cream Pullman livery. In 1903 Billinton changed the colour of the ordinary L.B. & S.C.R. coaches to umber brown with white or cream upper panels, and in 1906 this colour scheme was also adopted by the Pullman Car Co., with the name of the car in large gilt letters on the lower panel flanked on each side by a coloured transfer of the Pullman Company's crest.
Another all-Pullman service was introduced in 1908 under the name of the Southern Belle, advertised as ‘the most luxurious train in the world’. The cost of the special London Victoria to Brighton day return fare was twelve shillings; to gauge the cost in real terms, this sum represented sixty per cent of average weekly earnings. The Southern Belle was steam hauled until 1933 when electric units were introduced. With the arrival of the mid-day Victoria to Brighton service at Brighton Station on 29 June 1934 the Mayor of Brighton, Miss M. Hardy, renamed the Southern Belle the Brighton Belle and it ran with this title until withdrawal.
Three five-car all-Pullman electric multiple units designated 5BEL were built for the service and ran throughout the train's life, usually in trains with two sets. The service was scheduled to take just under one hour for the 51-mile non-stop journey. During the Second World War the service was suspended and the carriages were put into store, but the train was re-instated in 1946.
The 'spare' multiple unit set was used for a Sunday Pullman service from Eastbourne, known as the Eastbourne Pullman for much of the 1950s, but this service was discontinued in 1957.
The trains were refurbished in 1955, but by 1972 the stock was old and rode poorly by contemporary standards. Despite public protests, the decision was taken not to replace the rolling stock and the service was withdrawn on 30 April 1972 and gradually disposed of by British Rail. Some carriages, beautifully preserved, are used on the Venice Simplon Orient Express; others became static restaurants, in various states of repair and permanently exposed to the elements. In 1972, one carriage became part of a public house in Winsford, Cheshire - it was removed in 1998 because of the high cost of refurbishment.
Surprisingly, given their age, fourteen of them survive. All were re-painted in their proper livery of brown and cream, as though in disgust at the grey and silver with which they were covered from about 1968. The motor thirds faced the final degradation, their traction gear stripped out to sell for scrap value.
Here we see Car 91 being hauled by diesel power through Weybourne Station on the North Norfolk Railway on 10 September 2009, prior to being transferred by road to Derby for deep restoration by the 5BEL Trust. Click on the four arrows icon to see the video in full screen mode.
Under the patronage of the Transport Trust, a campaign to return the Brighton Belle to mainline service was launched by the 5BEL Trust in 2009. It has begun the refurbishment of a five car set to an exacting standard; in effect, raising the bar for the restoration of electric trains. Restoration is being carried out by Pullman restoration specialists, Rampart of Derby.
The aim is to operate the train as push-pull until the complete 5BEL set is restored to full operating condition, with a return to the mainline a clear goal. Despite the high cost of restoration, the programme is seen as an investment for future generations and a torch bearer for the preservation of electric trains. Progress with the restoration of the Brighton Belle to mainline use will depend on the level of public donations, but the Trust expects to have the train operational by 2013.