Published 24th October 2012
The Brighton Belle is one of those trains that evokes memories of luxurious travel despite the fact it only ran on the 50 mile route between London and Brighton. The service was famous for carrying a regular group of famous people in each direction, many from the West End theatres who lived in Brighton.
The train ceased operations 40 years ago after running since 1933 except between 1940 and 1946 because of the war. Three years ago, a restoration project commenced after years of fund raising, to return one Brighton Belle train to service.
This was made possible as many of the original 15 Pullman carriages had been preserved, either for use as static restaurants or as part of the Orient Express. Despite spanning the Southern Railway and British Rail years, the carriage interiors retained their 1930's wooden marquetry giving an opulent setting for passengers.
The Brighton Belle Trust has now acquired former Brighton Belle Trailer Pullman First ‘Hazel’ (Car S279S) from the Black Bull Inn at Moulton in North Yorkshire having spent 40 years as a highly praised restaurant.
Hazel moved north in August 1972 when George Pagendam travelled from Yorkshire to London, making the return trip from London to Brighton in ‘Hazel’. On his return to Moulton, he wrote to British Rail offering to buy this wonderful car when the Brighton Belle was withdrawn from service in 1972.
The carriage was moved by rail from Brighton to Darlington via the Watford and Carlisle to the East Coast Main Line to the Whesso rail sidings in Darlington. It was externally restored to umber cream livery, with full lining and transfers before being moved to the Black Bull Inn at Moulton and on to a short section of track at the rear of the Black Bull Inn.
The purchase took two years to negotiate and was acquired by the 5BEL Trust 40 years after being moved north and taken to the Trust’s engineering base at Barrow Hill near Chesterfield.
Hazel has been reunited with two other cars from Unit 2051 (3051) - her sister Trailer First, Doris, and Motor Brake Car No.88 and from a historical rail heritage standpoint, this is a hugely important step.
The cost of restoring the carriage to comply with today’s main line standards is expected to cost around £300,000 giving the Brighton Belle project a financial headache.
Their assessment when starting the project was that it would be highly unlikely to ever return the Belle to mainline use with the correct formation of two First Class and three Third Class cars and we therefore committed to restoring four Thirds and one First. So the budget will not cover restoration of Hazel and an appeal has been launched to raise funds to restore the carriage.
Car No. 88 was taken to York for display at the Railfest event and despite poor weather and low attendances, the vehicle was visited by thousands of enthusiasts who saw that it had been renamed ‘Diamond Jubilee’ .
Now back at Barrow Hill she will await a slot in the dedicated Brighton Belle shed to begin the delicate surgery to her underframes to allow '60s stock bogies to be fitted, along with control gear, braking systems etc, all of which were removed and scrapped by British Rail in 1972.
The technical and legal challenges faced in this restoration project are considerable. The traction motors, switchgear and cab controls were removed for scrap by British Rail and replacements must be acquired from other EMUs or manufactured.
The all-steel construction of the 5 Bel cars goes some way towards meeting modern safety standards as the rigidity of each Belle car is greater than that of a standard BR Mk. 1 coach.
To facilitate the movement of the train set around the network, control systems will be installed that will permit the vehicle to be propelled by an electro-diesel. The electrical systems supplying lighting, heating and possibly catering must also be overhauled, with battery boxes fitted to operate from a 24v system, as used on loco hauled coaches.
If you haven’t already made a donation, please be generous – just go online at http://www.brightonbelle.com. With your help, we can now return a correctly configured 5BEL train to the mainline.
The final run in 1972 was accompanied with a special brochure that contained the words:
"Today is the end of an era.
The final chapter in an unforgettable episode of railway history.
The last run of the Brighton Belle.
It's goodbye to Hazel, Doris, Audry, Vera, Gwen and Mona.
And their frilly lamp shades and old-world charm.
It's a sad day. We will miss them.
But one can't survive on nostalgia.
Let us remember them fondly but realistically - as ladies in retirement."
It seems that one complete five car set will be returning to service in a few years time depending on enough finance being raised rendering these words redundant, as once was the Brighton Belle..