Memories of Sunderland: The Pullman Lodge, but where did the Carriages go?

Sunderland’s seafront has experienced rapid change in recent years. Where the Seaburn Inn hotel now stands was another landmark locals perceived as iconic, but ultimately failed to survive the current climate. That landmark was known as The Pullman Lodge, a restaurant, bar and hotel that was known for its signature railway carriages which people could dine inside.

The Pullman Lodge was opened at some point in the mid 1980s, but the railway carriages they utilized were in fact antique. Dated from 1912, these carriages, known as Padua, Rosalind and Sapphire were once point of the iconic Orient Express, which is what given them brand value to be utilized in a restaurant. Not surprisingly at its height the venue was very popular amongst locals.

In addition to the carriages, the Pullman Lodge had a large children’s play area known as “Fork Quest”. This author has many memories going to that play area which become a favourite place to go, believing that the entire pub was simply known as “Fork Quest”. Of course, that made it ideal for parents and family who simply wanted to talk and have a drink.

However, the Pullman Lodge went into decline by the 2010s. Reasons included a trend towards the decline of traditional pubs as a whole in Britain, caused by higher running costs, cheaper alcohol available in supermarkets, more competitive low cost chains such as Wetherspoons and a change in people’s drinking habits. In 2017, the holding company was liquidated.

When pubs go under and become unprofitable, owners of the land tend to rationalize that they will make more money out of selling the land, than attempting to resuscitate the struggling business (and risking capital). As such, the land was sold to Sunderland Council’s development company Siglion and the property was demolished, who eventually secured new investment to build the Seaburn Inn Hotel, which opened in 2021.

But the question remains, what happened to the carriages? These carriages, due to their historic status, were not scrapped, but in fact resold. In that same year of the Pullman’s closure, the carriages were purchased by the Folkestone Harbour Company in Kent. While they were intended to be used again as part of a regeneration project for Folkestone Harbour Railway Station, upon arrival local authorities discovered the carriages were not in good condition and no longer suitable to be used for their intended purpose. As a facebook comment notes:

Once they had been properly assessed the Pullman carriages were found to be in much worse condition than originally thought and would be incredibly difficult to restore to allow them to be used constructively, for example as dining cars or sleeping accommodation. Efforts are ongoing to explore solutions that would be practical and cost effective, and that would lead to restoration to the same high standard as has been practised on other elements of the project. It will however take time to find a way forward. We are being advised in this by people with appropriate expertise and will provide an update when there is one. Hope this helps.

As the comment was wrote on January 15th, 2020, just before the covid-19 pandemic, at the time of writing the fate of these carriages and their whereabouts remain unknown.