Why did the English build them like that? ...........Because the first rail lines were built by the people who built the pre railroad tramways, and that is the gauge they used.
Why did they use that gauge then? ............Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used the same wheel spacing. Okay!
Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? .............Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they all had the same wheel spacing. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Specifications & bureaucracies live forever.
So the next time you're handed a spec. and wonder what horse's butt came up with it, you may be right... because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war-horses.
Now, the twist to the story...
There's an extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses' behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are SOLID ROCKET BOOSTERS, or SRB's. Thiokol makes the SRB's at its factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRB's wanted to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRB's had to fit through that tunnel--which is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses' behinds. So, a major design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced . transportation system was determined 2 thousand years go by the width of a horse's butt.
So now you know.................