Talking stock #20 The Devon Belle

The “Devon Belle” Pullman service between London Waterloo and Ilfracombe with a portion to Plymouth did not in reality last for long as named train services go. It was introduced by the Southern Railway on 20th June 1947 and lasted until September 1954. Usually the train was worked from London to Exeter with Merchant Navy class pacifics and was then split with a four coach portion heading to Plymouth and the remaining eight (sometimes up to ten) coaches including the iconic observation car heading to Ilfracombe both portions usually behind Bulleid Light Pacifics.

Light Pacific 34011 'Tavistock' in experimental Apple Green Livery head London bond deputising for the more usual Merchant Navy Class
Light Pacific 34011 ‘Tavistock’ in experimental Apple Green livery heads the London bound Devon Belle deputising for the more usual Merchant Navy Class

At the time it was the only service to as advertised run ‘non stop’ from Waterloo to Exeter i.e. not stopping at Salisbury, although in reality an unadvertised stop was made at Wilton (the next station to the west of Salisbury) to change engines. This resulted in light engine movements between Wilton and Salisbury in each direction.

Merchant Navy 21C14 shows off the iconic Devon Belle headboard and deflector wing plates
Merchant Navy 21C14 shows off the iconic Devon Belle headboard and deflector wing plates

To meet the needs of up and down services two Devon Belle rakes were formed along with two popular observation cars on the Ilfracombe portion. These observation cars, numbered 13 and 14, were converted from other coaches, with the origins of No 14 being an ex LNWR Ambulance car which was converted into a Pullman car in 1921 before being ultimately converted for its role as an observation car. With the decline in passenger numbers first the number of operating days was reduced, then from 1950 the Plymouth section ceased and ultimately the final Ilfracombe Devon Belle service was run in September 1954.

Passengers having paid the supplement enjoy the view from the '00 Works' Devon Belle observation car
Passengers having paid the supplement enjoy the view from the ’00 Works’ Devon Belle observation car

A representation of the Devon Belle has been one of the signature trains on Fisherton Sarum since the layouts first public appearance in November 2006. My rake, albeit not a full 12 /14 coaches for space reasons is formed from Hornby Pullman coaches along with a brass observation car from ‘00’ Works prior to the later introduction of the Hornby model.  I have both a light Pacific 34011 ‘Tavistock’ (in early British Railways apple green livery) and a Merchant Navy Pacific 21C14 ‘Nederland Line’ decorated with the iconic Devon Belle head board and smoke deflector wing plates for operating this train. Where possible we also include the light engine movement from the shed to the west towards Wilton and back.

4 thoughts on “Talking stock #20 The Devon Belle

  1. I do not think it is appreciated by many modellers just how many coaches applicable to the Devon Belle were actually made by Hornby as individual items. These were availably quite widely until recently. It is also worth noting that Ibis from the Imperial Airways pack is applicable for the Devon Belle from 1948.
    The Merchant Navy hauled train split the Plymouth and Ilfracombe portions at Exeter. The Plymouth portion was always at the front of the train so the observation car (which was turntabled at Ilfracombe) was at the rear.
    On the “its my railway” principle, one could run it into the sixties. I wonder whether if it had been earlier leaving Waterloo it would have been more successful ie bigger time separation from the ACE.

  2. Sorting out for a house move recently,
    I came across an old Southern Railway Magazine (July 1947)
    My father would have acquired it when he was working on the ‘Devon Belle’.

    Based in Hull, the ‘Yorkshire Pullman’ he worked on was slow in returning to service, so to support his wife and nine-month old son, he did whatever he could to earn a crust.

    [ three pages as JPEG or PDF are available ]

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