The Victorians lived in an age of great industrial expansion. The coming of the railways
made communication easier. The railway network grew as did the rapid increase in
the number of railway companies throughout the country. What made travelling easier
was Bradshaw's Railway Timetables. A copy of Bradshaw's Railway Guide: April 1910
is available from Amazon, as is Bradshaw's Handbook - A Facsimile of the Famous Guide
George Bradshaw was born on 29th July 1801 in Pendleton, Salford and was apprenticed
to Mr J Beale an engraver. In 1820 the family moved to Belfast where George began
work as a printer and engraver but soon returned to Salford in 1821 in search of
By 1827 he had become devoted to maps and as a consequence his first projected, engraved
and published work was a map of his native Lancashire.
This was followed in 1830 by a work detailing the canals of Lancashire and Yorkshire,
a set of three known as Bradshaws Maps of Inland Navigation.
'Seldom has the gigantic intellect of man been employed upon a work of greater utility',
said the magazine Punch in 1865. By the time of his death George Bradshaws Railway
Guides had become a national institution, quoted in contemporary novels and on the
music hall stage. The full version of the 1876 music hall hit by Albert & Leigh is
1830 was the year that George Stephenson's Rocket won the railway trials between
Manchester and Liverpool and by 1855 there were over 8000 miles of railway track
between all the major cities. Railway mania overtook England as the number of rail
companies outstripped the profitable routes.
To augment the BBC series presented by Michael Portillo with his trusty Bradshaw
to hand there is now Great British Railway Journeys - BBC Series 1
available on DVD from Amazon.co.uk.
The eight page edition of 1841 had grown to 32 pages by 1845 and to 946 pages by
1898. By comparison the current Great Britain Passenger Timetable runs to 2150 pages.
In 1918 a Bradshaw would still only cost two shillings and in 1937 half a crown.
In 1844 Parliament passed legislation forcing railway companies to run at least one
train every weekday at a fare that ordinary people could afford. It did not immediately
trigger a nation of commuters but it opened up the possibility of cheap travel for
the masses and day trips to the seaside. Very soon rail became the only way to travel.
As travel increased - and in particular tours around Europe - it was not surprising
to find that in 1847 Bradshaws Continental Guide became available. It eventually
grew to over 1000 pages, including timetables, guidebook and hotel directory. More
recent is the European Rail Timetable Summer 2011 .
Jules Verne was one of many authors who found the attraction of Bradshaw irresistible.
As Phileas Fogg sets out from Charing Cross on his epic Around the World in Eighty Days
, what was he carrying:
'Under his arm might have been observed a red-bound copy of Bradshaws Continental
Rail and Steam Transport and General Guide, with its timetable showing the arrival
and departure of steamers and railways.'
Although many other rail companies issued their own it was a Bradshaw to which the
Victorians referred when they asked for a timetable.
Owing to its sheer size, Bradshaw gained a reputation for impenetrability, echoed
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who has Sherlock Holmes commenting that 'the vocabulary
of Bradshaw is nervous and terse, but limited. The selection of words would hardly
lend itself to the sending of a general message.
Of course, the Victorians were not so much interested in literary quality of the
prose as getting from A to B which was Bradshaws 'raison d'etre' and strength.
It could be inferred that Bradshaw's own strength was his religion. Although far
from wealthy his parents at first sent him to study under a Mr Cowards who was a
The Swedenborgians were one of the many dissenting groups active in the industrial
heartlands devoted to the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher
and mystic who interpreted the scriptures as the immediate word of God.
After continuing his education at a school kept by a Mr Scott at Overton, George
Bradshaw joined the Quakers (Society of Friends) at an early age. In this group he
became an associate of other Manchester radicals, such as Richard Cobden who was
one of the most active supporters of the Anti-Corn Law league.
The Quakers were a pacifist organisation, promoting peace conferences and whose greatest
achievement was in the abolition of slavery. See also my article on Thomas Clarkson
and records at Ancestry.co.uk.
George Bradshaw married in 1839 and joined the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1842.
He visited Norway in August 1853 where he succumbed to Asiatic cholera. He was buried
in the cemetery adjoining the cathedral of Christiana.
George Bradshaws legacy to the nation is a picture of travel at the height of Victorian
eminence. The last Bradshaw, number 1521 was printed in June 1961. An almost complete
collection of Bradshaws was handed to Manchester Public Library (housed in the Social
Sciences section) when Blacklocks Printing Works closed in 1971, having succeeded
Bradshaws and Blacklocks.
No more will Holmes cry 'the games afoot' and head for the South coast as in The Valley of Fear
Archbishop William Temple, headmaster of Repton set the task of finding the best
way from Great Yarmouth to Exeter without passing through London as an imposition
for an erring schoolboy. They might, had they a Bradshaw to hand.
© John Barber - originally published in Lancashire Magazine November/December 1998,
revised for Railway, October 2001.