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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The Golden Arrow

In 1926 a new all first class Pullman train service, the ‘Flèche  d’Or’, was introduced between Calais and Paris. Connecting  ferry services and trains from Dover to London were run by the  Southern Railway, and after a year or so it decided to introduce  a similar all first class Pullman service on the English side, with  a new luxury ferry linking the English and French trains.   On 15 May 1929 the new ‘Golden Arrow’ / ‘Flèche d’Or’ service  began. The trains left both capitals at 11:00 am and the ‘Golden Arrow’ on the English side usually consisted of 10 Pullman cars,  pulled by one of the Southern Railway’s new ‘Lord Nelson’ class  express locomotives. The run to Dover took 98 minutes and the  crossing to Calais was made on board the new luxury ferry the  Canterbury’.  Unfortunately the early 1930’s was not the best period for the  running of a first class only, luxury train in Britain, and the  ‘Golden Arrow’ soon included ordinary first and second class  coaches in its formation as the need for Pullmans gradually  declined. The service was abandoned in September 1939 with  the outbreak of the Second World War. On 15 April 1946 the ‘Golden Arrow’ resumed service and was  again an all Pullman formation but this time with first and  second class cars. The train was formed with pre-war Pullmans  which had been stored during the war but in 1951, to coincide  with the Festival of Britain Exhibition in London, a new set of  Pullman cars was built.   In the early 1950’s the timing and route of the ‘Golden Arrow’  was changed. The train now left London Victoria at 2:00 pm and ran to Folkestone Harbour rather than to Dover Marine on the  outward journey, with the return service still working from  Dover. In May 1960 the train reverted to Dover as it Channel port for  both outward and return journeys, and went back to its  morning departure time from London. Ordinary non-Pullman  coaches appeared in the formation once again, but normally not  more than two. In 1961 the remaining sections of line to the  Kent Coast were electrified and the train was now hauled by  new electric locomotives. The rapid expansion during the 1960’s of private motoring and  the introduction of new car ferry ships and hovercraft across the Channel, plus the expansion of air services between London and  Paris, led to a decline in use. The final service of the ‘Golden  Arrow’ ran on 30th September 1972. Some of the Pullman cars  that once ran on the ‘Golden Arrow’ have been restored and are  now in use in the English portion of the "Venice-Simplon Orient  Express", running over much the same route as they did in the  past.
The 'Golden Arrow' in the 1930s.  An illustration from the lid of a souvenir jigsaw puzzle passengers could purchase. The 'Golden Arrow' 1946.  The interior of one of the Pullman cars taken from a publicity broschure celebrating the post-war re-introduction of the service. The 'Golden Arrow' in June 1951.  The train is approaching Dover Marine Station. Advert for the 'Golden Arrow'.  From the August 1939 edition of Cook's Continental Timetable. Poster adevrtising the new 'Golden Arrow' service, 1929. Back to Railway Index The 'Golden Arrow' at Dover Marine Station in the 1950's.