Photos and articles about Brighton and Hove in the time of coronavirus. See our collection and add your own!

Emergence of luxury trains

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

k) BRIGHTON BELLE and OTHER LUXURY TRAINS: The first luxury Pullman cars on the London-to-Brighton line were introduced in 1875, and the first all-Pullman train, the Pullman Luxury Limited, ran on 1 December 1881. This train included Beatrice, the first railway carriage in the world to be lit by electricity. In 1899 the train was renamed the Brighton Limited, and in a special run on 26 July 1903 made the journey in a then record time of 48 minutes 41 seconds. In 1907 another superior class train, the City Limited, was introduced to London Bridge, with a portion for Victoria detached at East Croydon until 1919, but it lost its name from the timetable in 1934.
The most famous of the luxury trains, however, was the Southern Belle, introduced at a cost of £40,000 on 1 November 1908 and dubbed ‘the most luxurious train in the world’. A one-shilling supplement above the normal fare was charged, but third-class fares were introduced in September 1915. The Belle even had its own platform at Victoria, no.17 now no.19, with a greeting arch bearing the train’s name. Three new five-car sets were built for the electrification of the main line in 1933, but the train was formally renamed the Brighton Belle on 29 June 1934 by the mayor, Margaret Hardy.
The three trains each way per day were run as part of the normal scheduled service, but the Belle retained its distinctive umber-and-cream livery until 1968-9 when it was refitted internally and repainted in the standard blue-and-grey livery of British Rail. The Brighton Belle was frequented by a number of famous figures in the town who considered it a most civilised mode of transport to their work in London, and in 1970 the actor Lord Olivier led a successful protest against the withdrawal of kipper breakfasts. In 1972 the train was even the subject of a BBC TV series, but it proved too expensive to maintain and was finally withdrawn on 30 April 1972. (A special trip was run on 9 May 1972 in connection with the sixth Brighton Festival.) The carriages, including the first-class cars Audrey, Doris, Gwen, Hazel, Mona and Vera, were sold for £10,000 each and were subsequently used on such trains as the London-Simplon-Venice Orient Express.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

The Brighton Belle, c. 1932
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

Comments about this page

  • The “Southern Belle” service originally ran between Lancashire and Brighton. It was hauled by a LNWR loco to Rugby where it was taken over by a LBSCR loco. The North Western used large 4-6-0 tender locos but the Brighton used a 4-4-2T tank loco which not only worked easily but was far lighter on coal and water consumption. The trick was that the Brighton tank was superheated. Alegedly that is why the “Premier Line”, as the LNWR liked to be called, rebuilt its express locos with superheaters.

    By Raymond (Dickie) Bird (10/02/2011)
  • When I travelled on the Brighton Belle between 1958 and 1962, the supplement was two shillings or three shillings.

    By Jim Stapleton (10/02/2015)
  • In the mid sixties the second class supplement was 2/6d. I believe that the first class supplement was 3/6d, although I was never grand enough to travel such.

    By David Packham (12/02/2015)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.