A little History - the early days of Gauge ‘3’
The Gauge ‘3’ Society was founded on the 28th of April 1990, celebrating its 30th year in April 2020. However, Gauge ‘3’ itself is very much older than the Society, finding its roots at the turn of the twentieth century.
Gauge ‘3’ (or N°3 as 2½" gauge was originally known) was one of five standard model gauges recommended by a subcommittee of the Society of Model Engineers on 1st February 1899, making this gauge now more than a century old. It should be noted that all five ‘ME’ standards were based on ‘Imperial’ measures. At the time, 2½” gauge allowed the construction of fairly successful and reasonably scale spirit-fired, live-steam locomotives. Number ‘3’ gauge provided enjoyment to those who could afford to run a garden railway during this period. It was very much thought of as a “scenic” size, the spirit (& clockwork) powered engines being unsuitable for passenger hauling.
At this time, Bing and Carette (both Nürnburg-based German toy manufactures) were also importing various gauges of locomotives and rolling stock (based on Continental metric standards) one of which was 67mm – as measured between rail centres (and not the inside rail edges). Given that rails were approximately 3mm wide at this time – this gave a gauge of 64mm (very near to 2½” at 63.5mm). Different manufacturers also used the same ‘numbers’ for different gauges however, leading to much confusion at that time. For more information on these early ‘Toy’ gauges, read more here.
These ‘Continental’ products were imported by W. J. Bassett-Lowke and competed with emerging British producers like Jubb, Bonds, Model Dockyards and others who marketed a considerable range of models for Gauge ‘3’ (2½”) in the UK. It should be noted, that this time (pre-WW1) these products were designed to a nominal scale of ½” to the foot.
Things may have stayed this way but for the tremendous influence of Lillian “Curly” Lawrence. His popular writings, under the pseudonym “LBSC” appeared regularly in the ‘Model Engineer’ and other journals between the mid 1920s and the 1950s. In 1924 (in what became known as the “Battle of the Boilers”) he demonstrated that it was possible to build an efficient coal-fired 2½” locomotive (Ayesha) capable of pulling it’s full-sized driver. Over his lifetime, he produced more designs and construction articles for 2½" gauge locomotives than for any other gauge. Most LBSC designs were based on actual prototypes but were generally designed to be functional rather than scale models. More recently, newer designs have been published that enable nearer-scale live steam engines to be built.
Today, the LBSC tradition of 2½” ‘Driver’ hauling locomotives continues with the National 2½” Gauge Association, whilst the Gauge ‘3’ Society continues with the original scenic origins of Gauge ‘3’. Although we share a common gauge with the N2½GA, the Gauge ‘3’ Society is purely scenic in nature. We model British Standard Gauge prototypes to 17/32”/13.5mm scale (1:22.6) using both live steam and battery electric powered locomotives.