Some afternoons and evenings I go channel hopping and find myself completely absorbed by Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys in which he travels these islands with a well thumbed copy of George Bradshaw’s Victorian Railway Guidebook.
I became quite interested in George Bradshaw (1801- 1853) after writing a short biography for Lancashire Magazine and then a much expanded and complete article for Railway Magazine in 2001 on the anniversary of his birth.
Copies of the original Bradshaw railway guides and train timetables are quite rare and expensive. Facsimiles and reprinted version can however be purchased through Amazon.
I was quite pleased to find a reprinted version of Bradshaw’s Handbook: 1861 railway handbook of Great Britain and Ireland from Amazon in which he describes his journeys through the length and breadth of Great Britain and the towns and cities he visits. I couldn’t resist buying this as there is a wealth of detail. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about Hertford:
‘HERTFORD, capital of Hertfordshire, close to an old ford on the river Lea, where Ermine Street crossed it. Population 6,605. It is a small, irregularly built country town, with some trade in grain and malt, and remains of a royal castle or palace, which having been modernised, is now turned into a school. A tower or two of the original structure may be noticed. Here John of Gaunt had the custody of two captive monarchs. One was his father’s (Edward III.) prisoner, the king of France, taken at the battle of Poictiers, in 1356; and the other was David of Scotland, who was captured in 1346, at the battle of Nevill’s Cross, by Queen Philippa, while her husband was in France. Afterwards it became the seat of several queens-consort, one of whom was Henry VI’s wife, Queen Margaret; and the retreat of Elizabeth, when a plague drove the court and judges out of London. A branch of Christ’s hospital, or the blue-coat school, consisting of 500 or 600 of he younger children, is stationed here in a large quadrangular pile The sessions house and Town Hall are united in one building. The County Gaol is a fine large edifice. There is an old cross-shaped church, with a low spire, a fine corn market and prison, but nothing else remarkable.’
I wonder what Bradshaw would make of it today. ‘Nothing else remarkable’!! Three hotels and more guest houses; pubs, bars and restaurants to suit all tastes and pockets, two rail stations, a bus station and a church of every denomination. No McDonalds but still a Saturday market but no annual fairs – you can’t be perfect.
He also notes the following:
A telegraph station.
HOTEL. —Salisbury Arms.
MARKET DAY. — Saturday.
FAIRS.- May 12th, July 5th, and November 8th.
BANKERS. -— London and County Bank; Unity Bank, Head Offices, London.
The London and County Bank became National Westminster Bank – now part of RBS – and I presume he is referring to the Unity Joint Stock Mutual Banking Association was also a constituent of the Royal Bank of Scotland but ceased trading in 1862.