Southern Named Trains
"Southern/Brighton Belle"

Brighton Belle
The down Brighton Belle passes through Wandsworth Common station in March 1964.
Photograph: Mike Morant collection.
Probably the most famous electric train of all, the all-Pullman "Brighton Belle", had its origins in the steam-hauled services of the LB&SCR which first introduced Pullman cars into its trains in 1875. Then in 1881 the railway put into service the first British all-Pullman train, the "Brighton Pullman Limited" which consisted of four first class Pullman Drawing Room cars connected by open end balconies and with a buffet, though they soon added ordinary coaches to the train as well. Then in 1888 the Pullman stock was replaced by three brand new Pullmans, shipped over in parts from America and assembled at Brighton, which were the first electrically lit coaches to run on a British railway. There were two services each way between London and Brighton on weekdays and a Sunday service, the all-Pullman "Brighton Pullman Limited Express" which had been tried briefly in 1881/2 but had not been a success. In 1894 the Sunday train was renamed the "Brighton Limited" and introduced the 60 minute schedule to the Brighton line. It then hit the headlines when, faced with the threat of a competing electric railway being built from London to Brighton, they ran a train to Brighton in 48 mins 41 secs and the return to London in 50 mins 21 secs, the schedule being put forward by the promoters of the new electric line.
Southern Belle Class H2 Nº424 Beachy Head on a Pullman working, almost certainly the "Southern Belle", in LB&SCR days.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

In November 1908, following the widening of the line from Earlswood to Balcombe Tunnel and extra facilites being provided at Victoria, a daily all-Pullman service was once again introduced, now named the "Southern Belle" with two return trips each day, eventually with three on a Sunday. In this state the train continued to operate until replaced by electric units in 1933.

Locomotive power had improved considerably over the years from Billinton 4-4-0Ts and 4-4-2Ts, Marsh 4-4-2Ts and L Billinton's 4-6-2 and 4-6-4 tanks. Following the formation of the Southern Railway the service saw River class 2-6-4Ts, Maunsell 2-6-0s and, finally, "King Arthur" 4-6-0s built specially for the Brighton line with six wheel tenders.

The Brighton Belle entering Redhill tunnel.

photograph by Keith Harwood

Brighton Belle
Then, in 1933, the Brighton line was fully electrified and the "Southern Belle" stock was replaced by three five-car all Pullman EMUs comprising two third class brakes, an open third and two open firsts with small kitchens. Seating capacity was 152 third class passengers and just 40 first class - a far cry from the original "Brighton Pullman Limited" of 1881! The new units had only been in use for a year when it was felt that a change of name was required. The Southern Railway had started running the "Bournemouth Belle" and it was felt that both trains had a claim to the name "Southern Belle" so the electric train adopted the less attractive name of "Brighton Belle".

As was mentioned above, three five-car units were built but only two were in use at any one time with the third "resting". Three return journyes were made each way, including Sundays, mainly non-stop from Victoria to Brighton but in the train's latter years the 11:00 pm departure from Victoria would call additionally at Haywards Heath. The timetable showed all journeys as taking 60 mins, but in fact the down one only took 58 mins, schedules that were also shared by the hourly non-stop trains of ordinary stock with one Pullman and one Pantry car. At times between 1948 and 1957 one set also operated a Sundays only service from Victoria to Eastbourne, known as the "Eastbourne Pullman". From 1958 all Pullmans were taken out of use on trains starting their journey after 8:00 pm with the exception of the 8:25 pm up "Brighton Belle". However, the following year the authorities relented and from November 1959 all the Pullman cars were back in service on late trains on the Brighton line, including the midnight departure from Victoria.

Brighton Belle The "Rail Blue" era Brighton Belle at speed with unit 3051 leading.

photograph by Mike Morant

When the "Rail Blue" era arrived the "Brighton Belle" was not allowed to escape and had her traditional Pullman colours of Burnt Umber and Brown replaced by the new corporate British Rail colours. With all its contemporary stock being withdrawn, the now very aged and rough-riding "Brighton Belle" was faced with the prospect of very expensive renewals so the decision was taken to retire the stock from service and not to provide any replacement. Despite a huge cry of protest this policy was put into effect with the last train running on 30 April 1972.
"Brighton Belle" timing Victoria - Brighton winter 1959/60
  am pm § pm
Victoria dep: 11:00 3.00 7.00
Balham Junc pass: 11:07½ 3:07½ 7:07½
Windmill Bridge Junc pass: 11:12½ 3:12½ 7:12½
Coulsdon North pass: 11:20 3:20 7:20
Earlswood pass: 11:27½ 3:27½ 7:27½
Three Bridges pass: 11:35 3:35 7:35
Keymer Junc pass: 11:47 3:47 7:47
Brighton arr: 11:58 3:58 7:58
Notes: § Not Sundays

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This page was last updated 28 October 2020

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