intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Two important facets of railroad history combine at Petworth Old Railway Station: the popularity of rail travel in the 19th century and the Golden Age of the prestigious Pullman cars, commissioned by several luxury travel companies. A legendary conveyance to be discovered, during the Belle Epoque era of tourism and travel. A bygone state of mind to appreciate …
The Petworth Railway Station in 1892
The railway line between Pulborough and Midhurst (West-Sussex) was created around 1857. There was no real intention of building a station in Petworth, located midway between the two. Unexpectedly, instructions came to do so in 1892 from the then Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII. He wanted a station in Petworth so he could visit his friend, Sir Edward James, at West Dean and also get to Goodwood for the horse racing.
Edward, Prince of Wales, was passionate about horse racing
© Old Railway Station
The design of the Petworth Old Railway Station is unique among British station houses, having been designed specifically for its Royal visitor. Built entirely of timber, it has some particularly beautiful features,with its tall windows and the oblique boarded panels that underline them. Its proportions are perfect, and the brick-shaped chimneys are quite typical of the era. Two canopies were then built on each side of the station. Luckily, the building survived an air raid during WWII, which destroyed several cottages in the neighbourhood.
The old ticket desk © Old Railway Station
Passenger traffic ceased in 1955 (freight transport was to cease ten years later) and the Petworth Old Railway Station fell into disrepair. It was rescued in 1980 and became a B&B in 1995. Gudmund Olafsson, who fell in love with the site and its history, progressively transformed the Edwardian station into a delightful railway hotel, by acquiring some heritage carriages. The first two Pullman coaches were brought here in 1998, followed by another in 2003 and the last one in 2007. These 4 Pullmans, whose history would fill a book of its own (two of them are more than 100 years old now), comprise 8 double rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms. There are 2 further double bedrooms in the Station house.
© Bluebell Railway Company
Designed around 1862 by the American George Pullman, the Pullman coaches (wagons) were the first to offer passengers seats which were convertible into couchettes (berths) for long distant train travel. Other carriages were also designed as saloon cars and restaurants (lounge cars) interconnected by safe passageways. These increasingly luxurious first class carriages won over the United States before conquering Europe and made the name of such travel companies as the Orient Express (London-Istanbul), the Golden Arrow (London-Paris) or the Flying Scotsman (London-Edinburgh).
Pullman carriage of the Orient Express © Simon Pielow
Until the end of the 1930s, Pullman coaches were constructed entirely in wood on a metal chassis and designed with great refinement, to make passengers as comfortable as possible, with teak furniture, silky carpets, mahogany marquetry, stained glass windows, sanded glass and metallic ornaments designed by famous decorators. They were among the first to be equipped with toilet compartments, hot-air heating, lighting and running water. Each coach had its own steward (to make the beds and serve refreshments).
The Petworth Old Railway Station and the precious carriages (only 100 left in the world) have been restored with “much loving care“, and retain their original features and character. Quite an intensive task, considering the damage caused to the wooden structure and decor by rain and humidity.Constant maintenance is now required, since water tends to collect in places from which it would normally drain away when on the move.
The “Montana” Pullman carriage dates back to 1923 © Old Railway Station
Typical hallmarks of the Pullman carriages of the Belle Epoque (1871-1914) in Europe are its umber and cream colour and elliptical roof as well as its stained glass oval toilet window.
A “step back in time” is how most guests describe staying at the Petworth Old Railway Station. The building has a particularly colonial feel, consistent with its age and period. The interior finish is largely unchanged and original, as in the Waiting Roomand Parcels Office, which is now used as a Reception area, with only the furniture making a concession to modern comforts. The steeply sided gardens are quite exotic in the summer. In winter, a warm and welcoming fire blazes constantly in the Royal waiting room, where guests can enjoy a drink, read a book, or just relax in the tranquil surroundings (one mile away from town).
Interview with Gudmund Olafsson, owner of the Petworth Old Railway Station, by Richard Vobes © The Bald Explorer
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