The gleaming carriages of the British Pullman adorned in umber and cream livery wait as stewards, in their immaculate uniforms, welcome you on board the train.
Your steward will show you to your reserved seat in one of eleven carriages, each an original masterpiece from the 1920's or 1930's with their own name and unique personality.
The British Pullman can carry up to 252 passengers and consists of 11 parlour cars, of which 5 are kitchen cars, and a service car. The carriages seat between 20 and 26 passengers in each.
On board passengers are seated in either 'coupé's (small compartments seating up to four people) or in the open car mostly at tables for two. There is a limited number of single tables and of tables for three persons in the open car.
The British Pullman takes its name from George Mortimer Pullman, an American, who in 1864 built The Pioneer, the first railway carriage designed with true comfort for the passenger. The later creation of the Pullman Car Company in 1882 led to his domination of luxury train travel in Britain from that time onwards.
A Brief History of the Orient Express
These luxury day cars formed the train that would take passengers from London to the English Channel ports as part of the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, as well as travelling the length and breadth of Great Britain.
The history of the train lies in the individual carriages which today form the British Pullman. The carriages have changed hands many times during their lifetime and bring with them stories and events which give them their unique character.
Many of the carriages have been used by the British royal family. Although there has traditionally been a special royal train for longer journeys, the British Pullman carriages were often called into service on shorter journeys. Some of the carriages were used to bring foreign dignitaries to Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953 (Minerva and Perseus).
Phoenix was the first choice as royal carriage, and was used on many occasions by the Queen Mother, whilst Audrey was regularly used by members of the Royal Family between 1951 and 1964. In 1953 the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled in her to Portsmouth for the Coronation Review of the Fleet at Spithead, while in 1964 Queen Elizabeth travelled on her to Brighton for a royal visit to the new Sussex University.
Many of the carriages have been involved in a variety of national events, including the state visits of French Presidents Auriol in 1950 (Zena) and de Gaulle in 1960 (Phoenix); the visit of Russian leaders Bulganin and Krushchev in 1956 (Perseus) and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 (Cygnus and Perseus).
The oldest carriage (Ibis) dates back to 1925 while others (Audrey and Vera) suffered bomb damage during air-raids over London's Victoria Station in October 1940.
Many of the carriages were withdrawn from service in the 1960s and 70s - and were either bought by enthusiasts or simply left to languish and deteriorate in railway sidings.
The vintage British Pullman carriages were, however, to be restored in Carnforth, Lancashire. Attending a Monte Carlo auction in 1977, James B Sherwood, President of the Sea Containers Group, acquired two sleeping carriages from the European train, the Orient-Express, and went on to acquire some 35 historic carriages from museums and private collectors. The reconstruction of these antique and historical carriages was a major undertaking, involving considerable engineering work and complete interior refurbishment.
The first passenger trip for the newly restored British Pullman carriages was in April 1982 on a special run from London to Brighton to open the Brighton Festival. A month later the inaugural journey of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express took place amidst great media publicity showing the public appetite for luxury travel was as enthusiastic as ever.
Today, the British Pullman carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express offer travellers an extensive programme of luxury day excursions and weekend breaks to Britain's historic towns and stately homes, as well as sporting and social events. It is the sister of the world's most celebrated train, the VSOE, and carries passengers on the London/Folkestone section of the legendary journey via Paris, Zurich and Innsbruck to Venice.
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© Conciergedesk Ltd 2006
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