The Orient Express operates two trains solely within the UK, meaning that passengers can enjoy the opulence and comfort of the golden age of rail travel without leaving the country.
The British Pullman and the Northern Belle offer different experiences in terms of style, décor and atmosphere, but in both cases guests will enjoy the height of luxury, sipping champagne and relaxing in their comfortable period surroundings as they travel across the country in the quintessentially British manner made famous by countless books and films. Each provides a totally unique and memorable day out.
The British Pullman
The eleven carriages of the British Pullman were inspired by the concept of ‘palaces on wheels’ pioneered by the 19th century American inventor, George Mortimer Pullman. Built in the 1920s and 30s for the Pullman Car Company, the cars have been carefully restored to their original glory as spectacular examples of Art Deco decadence, with beautiful mosaic flooring, brass fittings and crystal chandeliers.
The carriages seat from 20 to 26 people each, depending on their function. The first class parlour cars hold 24 or 26, with the first class kitchen cars seating 20. Passengers sit either at tables for two in the open car or in the coupés, enclosed areas for four. (There are also a few single tables and tables for three in the carriage.) Travellers relax in style as they made their journey from stations all round Britain to the ports, to continue their journey on to the continent.
Each carriage has a different name and a unique history. The oldest, the kitchen car Ibis, was built in 1925 and was promptly sold to the Italian company which operated the original Orient Express, only to be exported back to the Pullman Car Company in 1928. Some have been used by members of the royal family – Minerva and Perseus, for example, carried foreign guests to the queen’s coronation in 1953, and the Queen Mother particularly favoured Phoenix, which had been burned in 1936 but was restored in 1952.
Following the gradual decline of the Orient Express in the years after the Second World War, many of the eleven carriages were sold off to individuals or simply left to age and disintegrate in the 1960s and 1970s, though others retained a degree of use and fame. Cygnus and Perseus were drafted into service for Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965.
The British Pullman owes its renaissance to the rail enthusiast and head of Sea Containers, Inc., James Sherwood, who purchased to carriages at auction in 1977 and went on to purchase and restore a total of almost 40 vintage cars. In 1982 he began the first service of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE), which carries passengers in unparalleled vintage style to Venice via Paris, Zurich and Innsbruck, with the British Pullman travelling the London-to-Folkestone leg.
The Northern Belle
As a sister train to the British Pullman, the Northern Belle entered service as late as 2000 to transport passengers between destinations in the north of Britain. The Northern Belle’s first journey was a trip from Liverpool Lime Street to Belvoir Castle in York, which boasts views of seven counties from its hilltop vantage point. 252 guests and celebrities were invited for a champagne brunch and live entertainment, before arriving at the castle for a jousting competition.
Whereas the British Pullman recreates the elegant Art-Deco luxury of the Golden Age of Rail, the Northern Belle was designed to reflect the affluent style and comfort of the country house, within the contemporary 1930s engineering and timeless class of the well-known Belle train.
Passengers enjoy the thoughtful and stylish touches characteristic of a country house – starched linen napkins, specially-commissioned marquetry and branded silverware. Each carriage seats 42 passengers at tables of two and four, giving the train a total capacity of 252, with more than enough room in between tables for guests to mingle and enjoy the relaxed and sociable ambience of the train amid the grandeur of their surroundings.
Each of the six carriages is named after and decorated in the style of a different famous stately home or castle: Alnwick, Belvoir, Chatsworth, Glamis, Harlech and Warwick. Chatsworth, for example, follows the 17th century majesty of one of Britain’s most famous stately homes, with its decoration of yew tree burr, maple and satinwood, whereas Warwick’s imposing towers lend their 800-year-old oak panels, walnut and boxwood to their carriage.
The decoration of each of the cars is totally unique and was carried out interior designers James Park Associates, who famously refurbished New York’s iconic Fifth Avenue hotel.