For a recent birthday treat, we decided to take a trip on the Dartmouth Steam Railway. The train arrived in the platform behind a Army USA Army Transportation Corps S197 locomotive. I observed the former Devon Belle observation car directly behind the engine.
I was delighted when the helpful Guard advised that we could travel in the observation car for a supplement of £2.50 one way. There are very few observation cars in operation so was a real treat to travel on number 13.
Devon Belle Upholstery
I had seen the seats for number 13 in another location very recently. In Spring 2017 the seats for the BSK carriage we are restoring at Midsomer Norton were re-upholstered. I visited the Allen Pavitt Contracts near Dunkerswell, Devon to help offload the BSK seats that my friend Phil Jones had brought in a van from the railway. While we were there, Allen showed us some seats he and his team were re-upholstering for the former Devon Belle observation cars based at the Dartmouth Steam Railway.
History of the Devon Belle
Only two such observation cars were ever built. Numbered 13 and 14. They were built in 1947 for the newly introduced Devon Belle prestige train on the Southern Railway. I have no idea why they were numbered 13 and 14 when only two were built but maybe you can shed some light on this!
The two observation cars were built as Third Class Pullman cars accommodating 27 passengers in armchairs and double seats. Some seats can be swivelled around to enjoy the views from every angle. Visibility through the double glazed side lights and end observation windscreens is excellent.
As we entered the carriage we passed a closed kitchen/bar area and a curved wall panel with a large map of Devon. The panel highlights the route of the Devon Belle Pullman train.
Great Western Railway
It was rare to see Pullman vehicles operating on the Great Western Railway (GWR). GWR operated services on the line to Kingswear and felt their coaches were already luxurious enough. The only Pullman Car Company train operated over the GWR was the Torquay Pullman introduced in 1929. It operated from London Paddington as far as Paignton. Unfortunately this train failed to attract passengers away from the Great Western Railway’s Torbay Express which operated from Paddington all the way to Kingswear. The Torquay Pullman only lasted for a few months. Its interesting that a Pullman car is in use today over a former GWR line and one that was operated by the rival Southern Railway.
Southern Railway Timetable
The Southern Railway introduced the Devon Belle in June 1947 and it was booked to depart Waterloo at 12 noon. It arrived at Exeter Central at 3:30pm. There was criticism at the time that the timings were too lax for the powerful Bulleid Pacifics particularly between Waterloo and Salisbury. At Exeter Central the Plymouth portion was detached and ran via Okehampton and Devonport over the top of Dartmoor.
Some ten minutes later the Ilfracombe Pullman departed with the observation coach on the rear and reached the North Devon resort around 5:30pm. The return service to Waterloo was 10 minutes less with a shorter stop at Exeter Central as it followed the Plymouth portion into the station. Clearly the observation cars were marshaled at the rear of the consist in both directions with the observation end facing outwards. This involved shunting and turning these cars at both Waterloo and Ilfracombe. The train was originally made up of 10 carriages with 6 for the North Devon resort and 4 for Plymouth. Passenger demand saw this frequently increased to 14 vehicles.
Devon Belle ownership
When first introduced, the Devon Belle only ran on Summer weekends but two years later it was extended to some weekdays. Unfortunately apart from Saturdays and during the high Summer season, passenger numbers were modest and in 1954 the Devon Belle was withdrawn. The two observation cars were eventually sold to British Railways.
Number 13 became London Midland Region number M280 and was used on Specials in North Wales. In 1961 both observation cards were transferred to the Scottish Region and ran on the Kyle of Lochalsh and the West Highland lines. The Dartmouth Steam Railway purchased number 13 from British Railways in 1968 so it has been a long term resident.
Number 14 was purchased from BR in 1969 then shipped alongside 4472 Flying Scotsman for its North American tour. The coach was finally repatriated in 2007 and now operates on the Swanage Railway.
Devon Railway Journey
Travelling in the observation car at the back of the train gave stunning views across Torbay and the River Dart through the rear windows.
I’d recently seen archive film of the two carriages operating in Scotland during the early 1960’s. It was quite serendipitous that we were able to travel on these vehicles only a short time afterwards. The rocky cuttings we passed through along single track railway resembled the Scottish scenes from the archive video: The Railways of Scotland – Volume Five – The Western Highalnds
We passed Greenway Halt where passengers can alight and visit Agatha Christie’s former home now owned by the National Trust. Well worth a visit especially when topped off with a Devon cream tea. You can even stay at Greenway in a holiday cottage or apartment owned by the National Trust. Imagine staying in a holiday cottage with it’s own steam railway halt just a short walk away!
It wasn’t long before we arrived in Kingswear. There was time to admire the coach in the platform before taking the ferry across to Dartmouth.