If you have read any British Victorian era literature, you’ll have come across references to a Bradshaw – a guide to train times. So named because George Bradshaw compiled a compendium of the various and often competing companies train timetables as an aid to the nineteenth century traveller to find the best combination of train times and fares – just as we use flightfinder websites today to find the best value flight at the most convenient times.
They also tell us other things which we might not immediately guess – for example at the start of the railway era rail travel was expensive, and services were sparse.
For example, in 1843, a first class ticket from Edinburgh to Glasgow cost eight shillings (GBP0.40) and a third class ticket half that, at a time when someone in a would be middle class position with some responsibilities would be fortunate if they were paid GBP 150 a year (in comparison, Branwell Bronte, before he was sacked from his job as a station master in 1842 was paid GBP 130 a year by the railway company).
The other thing that stands out is just how few trains there were. Again in 1843, there were only four in each direction, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, plus as first train out, leaving at an inconvenient 7am, a parliamentary (public service obligation train) train, in which a third class ticket cost a mere 2s6d (GBP0.125) each way – although there was only one parliamentary train in each direction, meaning that while you could travel on a cheap (and slow) train in one direction, you couldn’t return the same way.
What this of course shows is that the adoption of new technology was slow – while the mine owners and industrialists probably appreciated the reduced cost of transport, people had to learn the habit of travel – after all if before the railway it took you a day by mail coach to travel between cities, you are not going to suddenly start travelling to meetings just because you can.
Bradshaw’s form a rich source of period information – and not just from the timetables – the adverts also are a rich source of source of social history with adverts for water proofs and travel coats, steel nibbed pens, essential for any nineteenth century office, pencils, patent medicines and so on
Now I know this because I found a digitised copy the March 1843 guide online. What was interesting was just how difficult it was to find other editions online – there are very few publicly available scanned editions.
Searching second hand book websites was no better. Very few original editions for sale although there were quite a few recent reprints of selected years available via the nostalgia trade. Yet this was a well known, widely available , widely used, culturally significant publication throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
What this means of course is that the survival rate for printed ephemera is very low, as who, other than a few obsessives, would keep old outdated timetables?
And yet this has quite major implications for social historians among others. Digitising ephemera has never been a priority, newspapers and books have always seemed more important, while something culturally important to nineteenth century Britain is being lost …
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