London Books Review: Bradshaw’s London Guide

By the beginning of Victoria’s reign such was the fervour to build railways over 150 companies operated the thousands of miles of track that criss-crossed Britain. Greenwich Mean Time had established a uniform time across the rail network (before each town ran to its own version of time), but travelling across Britain trying to connect with different trains operated by separate companies had become well neigh impossible.

[O]NE PUBLICATION, Bradshaw’s would become the indispensable companion for the traveller, giving timetables for every operator, to the extent that a ‘Bradshaw’ entered into common usage as the name for a reliable timetable.

As late as between the two world wars, the verb ‘to Bradshaw’ was a derogatory term used in the Royal Air Force to refer to pilots who could not navigate well, perhaps related to a perceived lack of ability shown by those who navigated by following railway lines.
Recently Michael Portillo in his television series Great Rail Journeys has revived this one-time handy companion and reproductions of this book back on to booksellers’ shelves.

So it was recently that I picked up a copy of the original Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs 1862 published by Conway.

The original volume was produced for visitors coming to the capital for the Great International Exhibition of 1862 and is written as a series of walking tours.

It gives an insight to a London unrecognisable to us today:

Newgate Market, which is productive of considerable inconvenience to the public, from its ill-chosen situation. On market-days it frequently happens that the streets in the vicinity are completely blocked up by the butchers’ carts. In thirteen slaughter houses here, there are as many as 600 sheep, and from 50 to 110 bullocks slaughtered every day. It will, certainly, be a great public convenience, of Old Smithfield, which is close at hand, as suggested, be converted into a dead meat market.

Bridewell a City house of correction . . . the prison affords accommodation for seventy male and thirty female prisoners, who are incarcerated in single cells. The sentences vary from three days to three months. The treadmill is kept in active operation.

Regent Street . . . A new building called the London Crystal Palace, to form a Bazaar, is just completed . . . there is a conservatory, aquarium, and aviary attached.

Soho Square . . . is chiefly tenanted by music publishers and those connected with the music profession. In the centre is a stable of Charles II, in whose reign the ground was principally built upon.

There is also advice for tourists on coping with London smog, avoiding pickpockets, dealing with London’s muddy streets and ferocious din, and many other topics including advice on the hiring of cabs.

Speed and Distance – When hired by distance the driver is bound to drive at a proper speed, not less than six miles an hour, except requested by the hirer to drive at a slower pace, or in cases of unavoidable delay. When hired by time to drive at the rate of four miles an hour, or if desired to drive at a greater speed, the driver shall be entitled to an additional fare of sixpence per mile over and above the four miles per hour.

But the biggest revelation is the table of cab fares:

Leicester Square to the Tower of London – 1s 6d

St. Paul’s Church to the Strand – 6d

Paddington Station (Great Western) to the Lyceum Theatre -2s 6d

This meticulously detailed and comprehensive book makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in London’s rich history.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 14th December 2012

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