The Railway comes to Worcester

  • 1 Nov 2021
  • Railways
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Most of the railway companies had their origins in the desire of country people to get access to London. By 1845, no fewer than 36 railway schemes were projected in Worcestershire, and 13 of them affected the City. Six only received legislative sanction.

The G.W.R. had its interests in Worcester and in 1844 Brunel addressed a meeting at the Guildhall in favour of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Company (the O.W & W. for short). Most of the 36 schemes were dropped and the real struggle lay between the O.W. & W. Railway and a line from Worcester to Tring, supported by the London and North Western Railway. Worcestershire became the cockpit in which was fought out in the battle of the rival systems of Stephenson and Brunel. The contest became famous in railway history as The Battle of the Gauges. The G.W.R. which backed the O.W. & W. had a gauge of 7 feet and the other lines had 4 ft 81/2 inches, a width decided accidentally from the pit rails in the north.

Up to 1845 the Broad Gauge had not made way north of Gloucester, and the control of the valley of the Severn was expected to decide its future. The battle was long and costly. It was a battle of Titans. All the great engineers and the pick of the Parliamentary bar were engaged. The Committee of the Commons sat for 20 days before declaring the preamble of the Bill proved. The Broad Gauge champions won all along the line, largely by the help of Worcester witnesses, but the legal and engineering expenses cost £1,000 for every mile of the Company's line, with the G.W.R. providing a guarantee.

The line cost more to construct than had been anticipated and this led to disputes between the O.W. & W. and the G.W.R. as to the guarantee. The  'Narrow Gauge Interest' intervened and offered to finance and work the railway, but the contract with the G.W.R. proved a stumbling block. Peto & Betts, the great railway contractors, ultimately took the construction in hand, and it became known as a 'contractors' line, the cost being paid in shares at a discount. The company fell into hopeless financial embarrassment, and its shares fell from £100 to £14. By 1849, two and a half million pounds was spent without opening one mile of tract.

On the running side too, things went badly. The carriages were old and let in water, the engines were ramshackle and frequently broke down. One at Evesham broke the crank axle, and at the shed, both driving wheels fell out on each side. On October 18, 1855, an express from Worcester was delayed at Hartlebury for over six hours, and four engines which were detailed to take it broke down, It is no wonder that the O.W. & W. line came to be known as the 'Old Worse and Worse' line.