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Pullman Cars

photograph: Mike Morant collection

The Devon Belle on the descent from Honiton tunnel to Axminster formed here of 14 coaches including the observation car, the maximum permitted loading for this train.

Such is the scope of this subject it is not possible to provide definitive coverage so we only aim to give a flavour of this stock. The Pullman Cars pictured on this page did not necessarily all operate over Southern metals.

George Mortimer Pullman had been building and operating passenger cars in USA since the 1860s. He also had his eye on expansion into the UK and Europe. On the continent Pullman formed a complex, some would describe as suspiciously muddy, association with the Wagons-Lits organisation. The first Pullman cars in Britain were constructed and operated on the Midland Railway from 1874. Pullman found the market in the UK for sleeping cars - his main trade in the USA - to be limited due to short distances and regular service on long haul routes compared to the USA, though the competition from Pullman did force the railway companies to take on train dining seriously. So Pullman concentrated on luxury daytime travel.

The British Pullman Car Company was founded in 1882 and was under British management for most of its 20th century existence. Pullman cars were initially constructed in the Midland Railway's Derby works, then by the LBSCR at Brighton until a Pullman works was established at the former LCDR Longhedge works. By 1908 most new construction was being carried out by British carriage building companies and from 1928 rebuilding was moved to their new Preston Park works at Brighton. The British Pullman operation was characterised by the rebuilding of cars and re-assigning cars between services as necessary. In 1954 the British Transport Commission, the "owners" of British Railways, started buying up British Pullman Company shares and by 1963 it was a wholly owned subsidiary of British Railways. The operation was eventually subsumed into BR until the concept of luxury rail travel was allowed to lapse, albeit occasionally the Pullman name would be re-invoked for certain first class services, whilst travel by rail generally declined.

The railway companies of the south of England through to the Southern Region of British Railways were major users of Pullman cars either in complete Pullman trains or in portions of other services. Indeed on the Southern this did not stop at locomotive hauled cars for the SR operated the legendary Brighton Belle Pullman electrical multiple units (5-Bel) and also Pullman cars within EMU formations (6-Pul and 6-Cit). Perhaps the Southern's strong association with Pullman luxury operation was to emphasise the premium end of an otherwise largely commuter and short haul operation with the Pullman services being mostly associated with continental ferry travel, ocean liner travel and up market holiday resorts. However it has to be noted that the Brighton line Pullman services were more to do with well-heeled commuters to and from that resort than holiday traffic! In 1958 seven Pullman cars were sold to the Southern Region, repainted green and used as buffets, mainly in Southampton boat trains, until withdrawn in 1963.

All-Pullman trains operating on Southern metals were:

Bournemouth Belle 1931-1967,
Brighton Pullman Limited 1881-1908,
Southern Belle 1908-1931 becoming the Brighton Belle 1931-1973,
Continental Express 1924-1929 becoming the Golden Arrow 1929-1972,
Devon Belle 1947-1954,
Eastbourne Pullman 1948 irregularly to 1957,
and Thanet Belle 1948-1951 becoming the Kentish Belle 1951-1958.

The Night Ferry was a Wagons-Lits train, although at various times Pullman cars were included in its formation.

Today the Pullman luxury concept has been revitalised on the mainline by the Venice Simplon Orient Express operation and on special dining services on preserved railways.

Following withdrawal, and placed even out of reach of the Southern's "Withered Arm", the Pullman camping coaches at Marazion, Cornwall, became a well known place to see Pullman cars in the 1960s. Between 1960 and 1963 56 Pullman cars were converted to camping coaches. The Southern Region was the largest user with 25. The Western Region took six, originally equally split between Marazion and Fowey, but after withdrawal of the camping coach service all six were kept at Marazion for staff holidays. All six had a Southern Railway eastern section heritage, with at least four of them originally having run in SECR crimson lake livery. Alicante was a 1912 kitchen car, Aurora a 1923 brake car, Calais a 1921 twelve wheel parlour car, Flora a 1923 brake parlour car, Juno also a 1923 brake parlour car and Mimosa a 1914 twelve wheel kitchen car.

Elmira and Maid of Kent were two of those originally built as ambulance cars by the LNWR, and were converted into 1st Class Pullman Cars in 1921 by Claytons. They were subsequently rebuilt as Composite cars at Preston Park in the 1930s. They were both further rebuilt and declassified to third class cars at Preston Park in 1948, Elmira becoming car 135 and Maid of Kent, car 137. They were then converted to Camping coaches in 1960, Elmira becoming 022261 and Maid of Kent 022262, both being allocated to Ravenglass.

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  • Observation

    Newly completed Devon Belle Observation Car, seen outside Preston Park Pullman Works, with a full works compliment in July 1947.
    Photograph courtesy Charles Harvey Hunt, who can be seen sat fifth from the left in the front row.
  • Observation
    Car Nº14

    Former Devon Belle Observation Car Nº14 (converted in 1921 into a Pullman from a 1918 LNWR Ambulance Car, rebuilt as a Bar Car in 1937 and remodelled as an Observation Car for the Devon Belle in 1948) went to North America in 1969 to accompany the Flying Scotsman on tour. Here carrying the number SC281, the car is seen prior to departure for the USA.
    Photograph by Ray Soper.
  • Nº14 in USA

    Now in the USA, she is seen here in 1971 crossing from Fort Erie, Ontario, to Buffalo, New York. Nº14 could later be found in San Francisco but in 2007 was repatriated to the UK where, after restoration work, she went to work on the Swanage Railway in 2008.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • Observation
    Car Nº13

    Devon Belle Observation Car Nº13 is now in service in Devon, although not on a former Southern line. It is seen here on the South Devon Railway in June 1980.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Lydia

    The much travelled Lydia is a 1928 built Kitchen car which spent her early life in service with CIWL in Italy. She then served on the pre-war Golden Arrow and was part of Dwight D Eisenhower's train on D Day as he toured southern England. She subsequently served in Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train in January 1965 before touring Canada and the USA with the Flying Scotsman from 1969, where she is pictured here in the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in August 1972. She then settled at the US National Rail Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, until being repatriated to the UK in November 2000. Lydia is now (October 2020) being restored for possible use on the Weat Somerset Railway.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • Ibis

    Ibis is also a 1928 built Kitchen car which spent her early life in service with CIWL in Italy. Upon her return to Britain she served, amongst other uses, on the Bournemouth Belle. She is part of the original VSOE fleet and is pictured here at Stewarts Lane on 10th April 1988.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Orion

    The 1951 built former Golden Arrow Kitchen Car Orion now serves as a tea room at Pecorama, Beer, Devon, in which rather delicious cream teas can be bought. She is pictured here on 23rd July 2000.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Zena

    1928 built Parlour car Zena started her life on the GWR running in the short lived Torquay Pullman before soon coming to the SR where she ran mostly in Southampton Boat Trains. Zena was one of the Pullman cars to adopt Southern green for wartime service and was noted as still being in this livery during 1947. She is pictured here in Haworth yard on K&WVR in June 1971. Zena was also part of the original VSOE fleet.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • Elmira

    Former Pullman Car Elmira at Ravenglass on 10th September 2002.
    Photograph by Glen Woods.
  • Maid of Kent

    Former Pullman Car Maid of Kent at Ravenglass on 10th September 2002.
    Photograph by Glen Woods.
  • Car 303

    Car 303 was a Pullman Kitchen Car built at the Preston Park, Brighton works in 1952. At 63' long and 8' 5½" wide, it was 1½" narrower than some other Bournemouth Belle cars. When new, this car was allocated to the Devon Belle Pullman train. It spent June 1959 to June 1960 on the Eastern Region, after which it returned to the Southern Region. Photographed here whilst part of the Bournemouth Belle, it was withdrawn in 1967 and scrapped in 1968. You may also note it has LNER Gresley bogies. All the 1951 and 1952 new build cars had Gresley bogies with the exception of Phoenix which was built on the underframe of car Rainbow (II) that burnt out on 15th August 1936 at Micheldever whilst working a Channel Island Boat Train from Southampton to Waterloo. The other 1951/2 cars were built on Gresley bogies as the construction of these cars had commenced in 1939 but the war put everything on hold. Originally the cars were to form a new Pullman train to operate on the East Coast Main Line.
    Photograph by Michael Blackbourn.
  • Lucille

    Lucille is an all-steel Pullman Parlour Car built by Metro-Cammell in 1929 and originally used on the LNER. It was transferred from the Eastern to the Southern Region in March 1961 where it spent the remainder of its BR days, being noted as part of the formation of the final Bournemouth Belle on 9th July 1967. Restored by Thomas Hill of Rotherham and the VSOE workshops at Stewarts Lane, this car is now part of the VSOE Pullman fleet.
    Photograph by Michael Blackbourn.
  • Car 32

    Car 32 was a matchboard bodied Pullman Kitchen Car built by BRCW in 1926 and was unlucky enough to be damaged by enemy action in September 1940. Originally consisting of 46 seats, this number was reduced to 36 in 1945. In 1950 it was in the Devon Belle formation and is shown here whilst a part of the Bournemouth Belle. It was withdrawn in September 1963 and sold for scrap the following January.
    Photograph by Michael Blackbourn.
  • Car 63

    Car 63 was originally a matchboard bodied Pullman Kitchen Car built by Metro-Cammell in 1928. In 1950 it was rebuilt as a Brake Parlour Car at Preston Park, with the seating reduced from 42 to 36. It worked on the Southern Railway, the LNER, the Eastern and Southern Regions before being withdrawn in 1966.
    Photograph by Michael Blackbourn.
  • Hermione and

    Not on Southern territory (nor did Pullmans run here until preservation!) two Pullman cars in service on the Colne Valley Railway on the 1st April 1991. However these two cars did serve on the Southern. Hermione is a guise for 3rd class Parlour Car No.36 (built in 1926 for the SR central section, was running in the short lived Plymouth portion of the Devon Belle just before nationalisation and was refurbished in 1951 for service on the Festival of Britain Golden Arrow) the other is former Brighton Belle EMU 1st class car Gwen (latterly in service on the VSOE).
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Doris

    Doris, at one time in use as a Directors' dining room at Finsbury Park, London, is a former Brighton Belle first class kitchen car. This car has now been moved to the Bluebell Railway where it was renovated for use as a static catering outlet for cream teas. She was later swapped with the the 5BEL Trust (for Carina) and will hopefully form a part of a future restored 5-Bel unit.
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • Agatha, Fingall
    and Car 35

    This May 1969 photograph shows Agatha (a 1928 first class car formerly in non-Southern Queen of Scots service, more recently in service on the VSOE), Fingall (a 1924 Kitchen First car) and Car 35 (a 1926 3rd class car built originally for the SR central section which went on to serve on the Devon Belle, and following refurbishment in 1951 on the Golden Arrow. Then in the 1960s Agatha was part of scratch hauled sets (used to cover for Blue Pullman MU maintenance) on display at the Montagu Museum Beaulieu with Schools class 928.
    Photograph by Mike Watts.
  • Fingle

    After Beaulieu Fingall had a spell on the Isle of Wight at Haven Street before being repatriated to the mainland and the Bluebell Railway where she is seen here out of service at Horsted Keynes in the early 1980s. Following a comprehensive restoration she entered service from 1992.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Fingall

    Fingall pictured on 21st March 1999 at Kingscote in service on the Bluebell Railway's Golden Arrow dining train.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Fingall

    Fingall stabled in the Pullman Dock at Sheffield Park on 21st July 2001.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Bertha

    This is Bertha, a 1933 built Kitchen Composite for 6-Pul set 3012. She is seen here at Kingscote whilst working the Bluebell Railway's Golden Arrow dining train on 21st March 1999.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Bertha

    Another view of Bertha, in the Newick Siding at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway.
    Photograph by John Lewis.
  • Car 64

    Car Nº64 is a 1928 built Parlour Third which started her life as a second class Restaurant Car on London-Harwich boat trains. She ran in the Bournemouth Belle during the Belle's final years of operation. For a time Car 64 was part of the Bulmers Cider Pullman train but now named Christine is a part of the Bluebell Railway's dining train.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Car 64

    The other end of Car Nº64 just before the engine runs round at Kingscote whilst working the Golden Arrow service on 21st March 1999.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Car 76

    A Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine weekend with consequentially no Golden Arrow Pullman dining train running gives the Bluebell's C&W department the opportunity to give their Pullman cars a good going over. Seen here behind the carriage works at Horsted Keynes, Lilian is the current guise for all steel 1929 Parlour 3rd Car 76. The Bluebell Railway named this car in honour of the wife of its late President, Bernard Holden MBE.
    Photograph by Colin Duff.
  • Topaz

    This photograph shows the old Pullman car Topaz as preserved in the National Railway Museum, York, in a rather an awkward position for photography. Topaz was built in 1914 as a Pullman Parlour First seating 24 passengers. As exhibited at the NRM it is in the lined dark red livery of the SECR. Pullmans ran in this colour on the SECR and, for a time, on the Southern Railway before being repainted in brown and cream..
    Photograph by John Lewis.
  • At Marazion

    Some of the six Pullman cars at Marazion. The seaward side of them is nowhere near as good as the landward sides appear!
    Photograph by Michael Taylor.
  • Coach end

    It is not often a coach enthusiast gets "up close and personal" with the parts of a coach not normally seen, but thanks to a specially arranged tour around the carriage works during an SREmG outing on 20th June 2003 the photographer was able to capture details of this car's end. Note that the fittings are the same as for non-Pullman stock, though the "Pullman Gangway" only became a standard fitting on other stock in British Railways' days.
    Photograph by Colin Duffs.
  • Underframe

    Close-up of one of the underframe on Fingle.
    Photograph by Colin Duffs.
  • Bogie

    Close-up of one of the bogies on Maid of Kent.
    Photograph by Glen Woods.

Pullman Car Pegasus and the Trianon bar

Preston Park Pullman Works with abandoned cars.

Archive copies of Coupe News and Pullman & CIWL News, newsletters on Pullman and CIWL topics

This page was last updated 23 January 2006

For more information on Pullman train services and cars you are strongly recommended to read "Pullman Trains in Britain" by R W Kidner and published by the Oakwood Press ISBN 0-85361-531-4.

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