The Devon Belle Pullman Train

O gauge model Devon Belle - 35003 Royal Mail loco in BR (Steam) Blue livery

Train Locomotives


Waterloo to Exeter:-
SR Bulleid Pacific, Merchant Navy Class


Exeter to Ifracombe & Plymouth:-
SR Bulleid Pacific, West Country Class

20th June 1947 to Sept 1954

Train Composition
Typically 12 or 14 cars at height of season in SR days (pre-1948 nationalisation), reduced to 10 and then 8 in British Railways days.
As introduced, it was an all Pullman car train of the 1923 design known as 'K-type' with wooden bodies and 'Match-Boarding' sides. Although of a different design, the Observation (& Bar) Cars built in 1947 were of the similar construction, but using underframes and running-gear from WW1 ex-LNWR Ambulance vehicles previously used for 1921-build 'J-type' 3rd Parlour Cars No. 13 & 14. 1st Guard Parlour Cars Princess Elizabeth and Minerva were an unusual Pullman car variation, and unique to the Devon Belle service were the Observation Cars (Nos. 13 & 14).
SR Formation (Plymouth portion - Ilfracombe portion): 3rd Brake Parlour, 3rd Kitchen, 1st Kitchen, 3rd Parlour, 1st Guard Parlour, 1st Kitchen, 1st Kitchen, 3rd Parlour, 3rd Kitchen, 3rd Kitchen, 3rd Brake Parlour, Observation.
BR Formation (Plymouth portion - Ilfracombe portion): 3rd Brake Parlour, 1st Kitchen, 3rd Parlour, 1st Guard Parlour, 1st Kitchen, 3rd Parlour, 3rd Kitchen, 3rd Kitchen, 3rd Brake Parlour, Observation.

Waterloo- Clapham Junc - Surbiton - Woking - Andover Junc - Salisbury (see Service) - Yeovil Junc - Sidmouth Junc - Exeter Central:-
Front Portion of Train: Exeter Central - Exeter St David's - Okehampton - Tavistock - Devonport - Plymouth North Road - Plymouth Friary.
Rear Portion of Train: Exeter Central - Barnstaple Junc - Barnstaple (Town) - Braunton - Mortehoe - Ilfracombe.

The Devon Belle was a seasonal service involving two complete trains. Trains having left Waterloo and Ilfracombe at midday passed between Yeovil and Sidmouth Junc; the Plymouth portion departed Plymouth Friary at 11.30 A.M. The Plymouth service was discontinued from September 1949; the front portion (3 cars) continued to be detached at Exeter but stored there until the return journey. Services were reduced even further in 1952 with a typical train of 7 cars plus Observation car, and the Devon Belle ceased operation at the end of the Summer season in 1954. In it's heyday, trains of 14 cars (a load approaching 600 tons fully laden) were hauled by the Southern Railway (to become British Railways Southern Region) elite Air-Smoothed Pacific locomotives, designed by OVS Bulleid. The locomotives were painted in SR Malachite Green with three broad yellow lines (post-war) prior to nationalisation. Following nationalisation, the Merchant Navy Class locomotives were repainted in British Railways Express Passenger (Steam) Blue livery with two sets of white-black-white lining along the sides. For a few months in 1949 an experimental blue livery with solid red lining was applied to No.35024 East Asiatic Company; 35024 has the distinction of being the first to be repainted (again) in the standard Express Blue livery and, in May 1951, the first to be given the BR standard Passenger Green livery - see note below on lining. Note locos 35011, 35014 & 35023 went straight from SR Malachite Green to BR Green.

The locomotive headboards were a major departure from railway tradition in that there were wing-shaped boards for mounting on the smoke deflectors of the locomotives, in addition to the scalloped headboard. Locomotives used on the Devon Belle service had a mounting added towards the top of the smoke deflectors. The front board carried the word 'The' in addition to 'Devon Belle' and included a hole for the (lower) middle route indicator lamp. As the headboard covered the (oil) lamp / route indicator disc bracket, a bracket was provided on the top of the board. These yellow letters on a red background boards were replaced by a single, smaller, BR(SR) standard green and white headboard, mounted on the smokebox door, for the 1953 season. By this time the majority of the Merchant Navy Class locomotives had been repainted in BR Green livery, although the lining-out was unique in that the central black was wider and bordered the outer orange lines.

Schedule - Locomotive Roster Another unique aspect to the Devon Belle was that as many as four Merchant Navy Class and four West Country Class locomotives could be required to operate the service. Merchant Navy Class locomotives were changed at Wilton, 2 miles west of Salisbury, due to servicing needs. West Country Class locomotives were used west of Exeter Central (where the train was spilt and reformed) as road loading restrictions prevented the use of the heavier Merchant Navy Class locomotives. Note I'm using the generic class of 'West Country' light pacific locomotives thereby inferring both West Country and Battle of Britain named locomotives. Note in the following table:  MN = Merchant Navy Class; WC = West Country Class.


Down Service

Up Service

11.30 am WC-1 departs Plymouth Friary
12.00 am MN-1 departs Waterloo WC-2 departs Ilfracombe
1.27 pm WC-1 arrives Exeter Central
1.38 pm   WC-2 arrives Exeter Central
1.40 pm MN-2 departs Exeter Central for Wilton
1.47 pm MN-1 arrives Wilton  
1.53 pm MN-3 departs Wilton
3.33 pm   MN-2 arrives Wilton
3.36 pm MN-3 arrives Exeter Central  
3.39 pm WC-1 (3?) departs Exeter for Plymouth MN-1 (4?) departs Wilton for Waterloo
3.48 pm WC-2 (4?) departs Exeter for Ilfracombe  
5.20 pm MN-1 (4?) arrives Waterloo
5.32 pm WC-2 (4?) arrives Ilfracombe  
5.36 pm WC-1 (3?) arrives Plymouth Friary

Because of the length of time idle between Devon Belle duties, WC-1 & 2 could have been used for other duties hence the possibility of two further locomotives being required. I've assumed the possibility of re-use of MN-1 as schedule allows for both watering & coaling at Salisbury prior to taking over the "Up" train for the final leg to Waterloo.

Special Excursions
The Devon Belle ran from Thursday to Tuesday with the full service (in both directions) from Friday to Monday. In order that the trains were in place for the full service, Thursday was a down service only, similarly an up only service on Tuesday.
With the stock lying idle on Wednesday a scheme of 'Special Excursions' was introduced in 1950. These were run from both Waterloo and Victoria stations. For example,  a special excursion to Dorchester, Dorset took place on 20th August 1952. Once passengers had alighted at Dorchester, the train of 7 cars plus Observation car, hauled by West Country Class No. 34008 Padstow, proceeded to Weymouth. At Weymouth the train was re-configured for its return journey. This involved both the locomotive and the Observation car being turned on the Turntable and the Observation car attached to the opposite end of the train. During this manoeuvre a woman passer-by commented: 'I suppose it's come here because of the flooding!' She was referring to the disastrous Lynmouth Flood 5 days earlier, on the night of 15th August 1952.

My 20th Aug 1952 recreation in miniature (7mm Finescale): 34008 hauling The Devon Belle - 7 cars plus Observation car.
Note: Modeller's license has been applied - 34008 wasn't fitted with the headboards for the actual excursion!

Childhood Recollection I, now, consider myself very fortunate indeed to have lived until the age of three and a half at Raynes Park within sight and sound of the former LSWR main-lines out of Waterloo. Further, fairly frequent visits were made to Waterloo and Victoria stations over many years. Time permitting (in our rail journey), I was taken by my parents onto the platforms for a closer look at the Pullman Trains: Devon Belle, Bournemouth Belle and Golden Arrow. This was the only chance to see them properly, as by Raynes Park the Belles were travelling pretty fast; with a clear road out of Waterloo, the expresses would scream through Raynes Park at speeds well in excess of 60mph. As a toddler, I was very wary of the locomotives and my father did his best to get me over my uneasiness (circa July/August 1950):- we'd walk the length of the Devon Belle and arrived alongside the blue and shiny 35003 Royal Mail just as the safety valves lifted. My father later insisted that he didn't hear the locomotive over the sound of my crying!!!!! He also asserted that the wailing I made as I dragged him back to the relative safety of the Ticket Barrier was mistaken by many passengers as the starting whistle and caused them to hurry aboard the train!

FOOTNOTE: The above information has been obtained and verified where possible by sources too numerous to relate, over several years. Kindly note that the above locomotive rostering for the service is my personal interpretation and currently is unsubstantiated. Hopefully I've included something on all of the (many) unique and unusual aspects of the SR/BR Devon Belle service. Save to note, I read somewhere that Ilfracombe station was a pretty windy place that gave rise to concerns when turning the Observation car on the Turntable. Further, yet to be resolved is the implication that the Plymouth portion travelled by itself from Exeter.