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The Old Railway Station – Petworth

History of the house

Princely, almost exclusive, Victorian station, with original Pullman railway carriages where you can stay

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 …

Petworth Old Railway Station 1892

The Petworth Railway Station in 1892

By Royal will…

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.

Prince_of_Wales_Edward

Edward, Prince of Wales, was passionate about horse racing

Britain’s most beautiful railway station

Petworth Old Railway Station

© 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 only place in Great Britain where you can spend the night in a Pullman railway carriage

Petworth Old Railway Station Pullman_carriages

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.

Pullman cars: from brilliant invention to myth

Pullman_carriages

© 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

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).

A precious, but fragile heritage

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.

Petworth Old Railway Station Pullman_carriage

The “Montana” Pullman carriage dates back to 1923 © Old Railway Station

intoHistory TipTypical 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.

Re-live the Golden Age of rail travel

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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Facilities

  • 10 bedrooms
  • En-suite bathroom, TV, Wifi, tea & coffee making facilities
  • Full English, silver service breakfast, bar
  • Open fire in the “Waiting room” (between October and May), small library
  • Gardens / terrace
  • Spoken language: English
  • Closed at Christmas
  • Private parking
  • Nearest city: Chichester (15 km)
  • London Gatwick airport: 60 km
  • Pulborough Railway Station: 11 km
  • Car strongly advised as there is no public transport and taxis are very few and very expensive
  • Limited access to guests with reduced mobility in one of the Station House rooms only
  • No children under the age of 10
  • Domestic pets are not allowed
  • Non-smoking interiors

In the neighbourhood

Petworth House and Uppark House are two of the closest National Trust properties. The former is a magnificient 17th century palace, housing an internationally important art collection, while the latter is an intimate 18th century mansion.

Petworth_House

Petworth House’s Art collections © Fiverlocker

The Weald & Downland Museum is a traditional buildings open air museum in a beautiful rural landscape. Domestic and craft demonstrations bring lost traditional skills back to life.

Arundel Castle, and Goodwood House (home of the Dukes of Richmond), the city of Chichester and the Historic Ships Museum in Portsmouth are also all worth a visit.

Petworth

Antiques shop and cafe in Petsworth © Leimenide

The place is also quite well located for (horse and car) racing fans, being close to Goodwood, for polo supporters (Cowdray Park in Midhurst) and antique shops lovers (Petworth).

To read, watch or listen to

 

Pullman_carsTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of the Petworth Old Railway Station, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Learning and understanding

  • Fire and Steam, A New History of The Railways in Britain“, by Christian Wolmar
    From the invention of the locomotive at the beginning of the 19th century to High Speed trains, spanning the life of pioneers and the commitment of railway professionals during the two world wars, this extremely well illustrated book explores each stage of the history of railways in England.
  • Pullman Trains of Great Britain“, by R. W. Kidner
    For railway enthusiasts, this monograph reference book is brimming with fascinating details of the great age of Pullman carriages in Great Britain.

Books to be devoured in situ

  • Belles and Whistles, Five Journeys Through Time on Britain’s Trains“, by Andrew Martin
    Both very detailed and peppered with genuine and humorous anecdotes, these five accounts plunge today’s traveller back into the world of the railways in England at a time when people took the time to appreciate the extraordinary comfort provided by this new mode of transport.
  • A Century of Railway Travel“, by Paul Atterbury
    A very beautiful journey with photographs showing the trains in Great Britain from the passengers’ point of view. The author’s comments provide an additional dimension to these splendid, evocative photographs, placing the spotlight on adventure and risk, the latest techniques and minor occupations, luxury and inequality.
  • Murder on the Orient Express (Poirot)“, by Agatha Christie
    Extremely famous thriller by Agatha Christie, where the whole plot takes place exclusively in the carriages of the Orient Express on its return journey from Istanbul. An absolute must to be (re)read, of course for the investigation carried out by Hercule Poirot in his inimitable style, but also for the luxurious but confined space in which it takes place.

Films to be watched before arriving

  • The Flying Scotsman“, by Moore Marriott (1929)
    A real action film in black and white, filmed between London and Edinburgh during the golden age of the railways. The main rôle, as you will discover, is played by this legendary train (still in working order today) supported by romantic, audacious actors – with splendid photographic scenes of the authentic world of rail. (see the original trailer)
  • Murder on the Orient Express“, by Albert Finney (1974)
    Share the life of strange passengers aboard the “the train of kings and the king of trains” during a thrilling investigation.

Period music to be enjoyed on location

  • Victorian Edwardian“, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Light and pleasant music tunes from the end of the 19th century, in harmony with the recklessness of the Belle Epoque. To be enjoyed in the Station House or in its gardens.
  • The Great British Dance Band of the 20s, 30s and 40s
    To get yourself more closely in tune with the era of the Pullman carriages in the Old Railway Station.
Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

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19th century Train Hotel 100-150€/room

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The Old Railway Station
Hotel
Station Rd
GB-GU28 0JF PETWORTH
United Kingdom
+44 1798 342346
Hotel’s own website

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