“Devon Belle”


On Friday June 20th 1947 the Southern Railway introduced a Pullman Car train named the “Devon Belle”. Although initially envisaged as an express service to Ilfracombe in north Devon, when it started it had a front portion for Plymouth.
The “Devon Belle” left London’s Waterloo Station at 12 Noon every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday between Friday June 20th and Monday October 27th that year.
It was due to pass through Clapham Junction Station at 12.07pm, Surbiton at 12.17pm, Woking at 12.31pm, Andover Junction at 1.21pm, and Salisbury Station at 1.42pm. The first stop out of London was at Wilton, where it was due to arrive at 1.47pm but only to change the locomotive. Six minutes later the train was off again. Templecombe was due to be passed at 2.20pm and Yeovil Junction at 2.33pm, the first stop for the passengers’ benefit being at Sidmouth Junction at 3.16pm.
From there it was but a short sprint to Exeter Central Station, where the “Devon Belle” was due to pull up at 3.36pm. Here the train was split into two portions, the front for Plymouth and the rear for Barnstaple, Braunton, Mortehoe and Ilfracombe.
The Plymouth portion was due to depart from Exeter Central at 3.41pm and Exeter St David’s, the Great Western Railway’s Station, at 3.44pm. Only two stops were then made, at Okehampton, arrive 4.25pm, and Tavistock, arrive 4.53pm, before the “Devon Belle” reached the Southern Railway’s Devonport Station at 5.20pm.
Shortly after leaving Devonport Station the train went on to Great Western metals at Devonport Junction. A short stop was made at North Road Station at 5.26pm and then it was off for the final swing through Lipson Junction to the Southern’s terminus at Friary Station, where the “Devon Belle” was due to arrive at 5.36pm.
The upward journey began at Friary Station at 11.30am, leaving Devonport Station at 11.44am. After connecting up with its north Devon portion at Exeter Central Station again, the train was due to arrive at Waterloo Station at 5.20pm. The Up and Down trains passed each other somewhere between Yeovil Junction and Sidmouth Junction.
Mr George M Pullman, an American disgruntled by the poor standard of passenger accommodation on his country’s trains, devised the luxurious carriage that bore his name. That was in 1858 but it was not until 1875 that a constituent company of the Southern Railway, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, introduced them on their express trains between London and Brighton.
When first run the train consisted of ten carriages, six for Ilfracombe and four for Plymouth but this was soon found to be inadequate, especially during the height of the holiday season. As a result, the “Devon Belle” usually consisted of twelve carriages, eight for Ilfracombe, including the famous Pullman Observation Car at the rear, and four for Plymouth. This allowed for 70 first-class and 138 third-class passengers, with every seat having a dining table. When required the capacity was increased by the addition of two more carriages, bringing the total seating capacity to 94 and 168 respectively. The train would normally weigh 460 tons but the larger one would increase that to 540 tons or around 575 tons with passengers and luggage.
Every pair of carriages had a kitchen and pantry so that meals could be served quickly and efficiently to all tables. Indeed, there were 22 Pullman staff on each train, including an attendant for each carriage and the conductor. They travelled right through to either Ilfracombe or Plymouth and then stopped overnight at each terminus in old Pullman cars that were specially converted for sleeping.
In the first-class carriages the parlour seats were arranged down each side. For a party who wished for privacy, four seats were partitioned off to form a coupé. In the third-class carriages the seats were arranged in pairs down one side and singly down the other and the capacity of the coupé was increased to six persons. The kitchens were tiny but could serve anything from an ice cream to a full dinner. The carriages were entirely of wood construction. Nine men were employed to clean and polish the carriages of the “Devon Belle”, starting at 6am in the morning.
Although the Observation Cars did not run on the Plymouth portion it might be mentioned that they were rebuilt by the Pullman company from two ordinary third-class carriages, numbers 13 and 14. Seating was in comfortable armchairs and double settees that could swivelled to face any direction. Each Observation Car had its own refreshment buffet and kitchen.
The Southern Railway ceased to exist from Midnight on December 31st 1947, following which its system became the Southern Region of British Railways, under the terms set out in the Transport Act of August 6th 1947.
During the 1949 summer season the trains ran in the Down direction on Thursdays to Mondays and in the Up direction on Fridays to Tuesdays. However, in the summer of 1950 the Plymouth portion was detached at Exeter Central Station and kept there until the return working the following day.
Thus 1949 was the last year in which Plymouth saw Pullman carriages in regular service.