Ad’s optimism sent off track by Beeching
IN the 1950s, British Railways ran a recruitment campaign with posters depicting a jolly porter in his shiny peaked cap with the slogan “Get A Job For Life - Join The Railway”.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
In March 1962 Dr Richard Beeching, the chairman of British Rail, published a report titled The Reshaping of British Railways.
This proposed cutting the national network by 25 per cent, closing 2,128 stations, scrapping 8,000 passenger coaches and shedding 68,000 jobs.
Which is why a number of the stations pictured here in Gloucestershire are today no more than a memory.
With hindsight, of course, the Beeching axe did Britain no good at all.
It forced people and freight onto the roads and many of the closed lines were lost forever under building development.
Some of the stations that disappeared, reappeared – a local example being Ashchurch, which opened in 1997 restoring a rail link to Tewkesbury after 26 years.
Gloucester’s present railway station was originally built by the Great Western Railway (GWR).
Prior to the Beeching report, the city boasted a second station built by the Midland Railway which occupied the site where Asda now stands.
These two stations were joined by a long, covered footbridge - and many
people of ripening years will recall struggling along its length, carrying cases, to catch a connection.
Had the GWR had its way, Gloucester would have been blessed with a third station.
In 1901 the company proposed siting such a facility in Chequers Road at an estimated cost of £30,000.
The purpose of the third station was to cut off the loop that required trains from Bristol to reverse at Gloucester (as they do to this day) before continuing up country.
The proposal was dropped after a long argument between the company and the council over access.
A similar outcome became of the GWR’S plan to build a new principal railway station in Cheltenham’s Townsend Street.
The design was grand with a facade along the lines of Charing Cross in London.
To build the 600ft long structure would have necessitated knocking down one entire side of Townsend Street to make space.
Samuel Daukes, the local architect of Lansdown railway station and St Peter’s Church, was commissioned to produce the design,.
The scheme was never realised, killed off by an argument between the council and GWR over access.
But if it had come to fruition, imagine how it might have changed the dynamic of Cheltenham, focusing the commercial hub in the Lower Dockem area, instead of the High Street/promenade end of town.
Gloucester was the point at which the Midland Railway (from Birmingham) and the Great Western (from Swindon) converged and considerable chaos resulted.
The Midland’s gauge was four foot eight and a half inches, while the GWR’S was seven feet six inches.
Consequently all passengers and freight bound for the north had to change trains.
Changing trains at Gloucester became a matter of national debate.
Music hall comedians joked about it. Newspapers and journals ran cartoons about it.
And further fuel was added to the fire when Queen Victoria passed through Gloucester on September 29, 1849 and suffered the indignity of having to cross from one platform to another to change trains.
To add to the general confusion, there was the question of time.
There was no such thing as Greenwich Mean Time until 1880, so train timetables were calculated by different companies in various ways.
Three railway companies ran services from Gloucester and each had its own time standard.
This meant passengers faced the baffling prospect of three sets of clocks one based on Bristol time, another on Birmingham time and the third on London time.
A Royal Commission was set up to examine the vexed issue and following an official visit to Gloucester one of the commissioners wrote: “We were appalled by the clamour... the shouting out of addresses of consignments, the chucking of packages across from truck to truck, the enquiries of missing articles, the loading, unloading and reloading.”
The issue was eventually resolved when the straight through narrow gauge line between Gloucester and Bristol was opened.
The aftermath of the broad gauge railway being abolished meant, of course, a lot of useless rolling stock.
In May 1856 an auction took place in Gloucester and the lots offered were seven first class carriages, five composites, six second class carriages, six third class carriages, three carriage trucks, three horse boxes, one passenger engine, one goods engine, 29 high sides wagons, eight low sided timber wagons and one six wheeled timber truck.
There were no bidders at the sale.
Eastgate Station, Gloucester
Ashchurch Station, pictured by Clifford Day, and right the proposed facade for a station in Towsend Street, Cheltenham