BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

28 October 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

History Features

You are in: Gloucestershire > History > History Features > History comes to life: The battle of the gauges

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Brunel's GWR company staged a revolt

History comes to life: The battle of the gauges

Relive the events of May 21st, 1892 when tensions reach boiling point as a rail revolution sparks conflict with the world's most famous engineer. Our audio drama recreates clashes and confusion at Gloucester railway station.

The date:  May 21st 1892

"Everyone had to change at Gloucester - even Queen Victoria!"

Dramatist and producer Alan Morgan

The place: Gloucester Railway Station

The background:

The mid 19th century was an exciting time for rail companies. It was the age of expansion and competition. Rivalry was at its height.

In Gloucester competition and chaos was particularly evident. At one platform trains of the Birmingham and Gloucester company would carry passengers from the North, on another platform trains of the GWR would take passengers to Bristol, to Cardiff, to Swindon, then on to London.

The problem was that if you wanted to travel from Birmingham to Cardiff or Bristol, you had to change at Gloucester because the trains ran on different gauges of track.

Everyone had to change at Gloucester – even Queen Victoria! The solution to the confusion and inconvenience caused by having to change trains would be for all rail companies to adopt one gauge of track.

But which gauge should that be - the standard (or narrow) gauge or the broad gauge of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway? Gloucester became the frontline of 'the battle of the gauges'.

Artist's impression of the battle on the platform

Pic: Gloucester Illustrated by Alan Ball

What happened?

This audio drama highlights the problems and the deliberate chaos caused on the station when the Parliamentary Commission set up to decide on which gauge to adopt visited Gloucester.

The artist's impression here originally appeared in the Illustrated London News and graphically demonstrates the shenanigans on the railway platform at Gloucester on that day in May 1892. It features in Gloucester Illustrated by Alan Ball (reproduced by permission of the book's publishers Halcroft).  

The episode concludes with reference to an amazing logistical feat when, having lost the battle, the GWR decided to change their existing track to standard gauge - all in just one weekend!

Dramatist Alan Morgan is joined by local rail expert Alan Drewett and the Phoenix Players of Gloucester.

Click the 'Hear The Battle of the Gauges' audio link on the top right of this page to relive the causes and the chaos at Gloucester railway station.

last updated: 08/04/2008 at 14:01
created: 05/09/2006

You are in: Gloucestershire > History > History Features > History comes to life: The battle of the gauges

sunny Today's forecast
min 9°C
max 16°C
For other UK weather forecasts enter a town or postcode
National Forecast

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy