Sunday, July 29, 2007

Staying On Track

George Bradshaw (1801-1853), compiler of railway guides, is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography's "Life of the Day" today. (The full bio is available at the DNB website for the next week.)

Bradshaw is one of my favorite Victorians because his particular set of abilities is so characteristic of the period: he was a disciplined man whose painstakingly detailed work was undertaken in service of extending the fruits of the Industrial Revolution to the British public (in this case, the steam railway) and making that public exponentially more conscious of time, imposing order and regularity on travelers through schedules produced with new printing technologies and disseminated through newly formed commercial distribution channels.

During an apprenticeship to a Manchester engraver, Bradshaw discovered the technical and artistic pleasures of map making. He produced engraved maps of Lancashire roads as well as maps of the canals of his native north England.

This interest in documenting travel routes was extended to the nascent railway system in 1830, when he produced Bradshaw's Railway Time Tables, a small cloth-bound book that sold for 6d. In 1840 Bradshaw's Railway Companion was produced, containing section maps and monthly timetables. The first edition of Bradshaw's Monthly Railway Guide appeared in 1841; Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide ("the foreign Bradshaw"), followed six years later. The monthly Bradshaw continued publication until 1961, more than 100 years after its founder's death.

The DNB notes that the monthly Bradshaw was notoriously hard to read because of its small format and print: "This presented a challenge to Victorian opticians to produce spectacles which were serviceable for reading Bradshaw--an essential companion for railway travellers. You did not simply 'look up' train times: you 'studied' Bradshaw. But the word 'Bradshaw' became synonymous with incomprehensibility: the guide was pilloried in Punch and Vanity Fair and was the subject of music-hall jokes [click here for an example]. When the actress Fanny Kemble was asked what she read to send her to sleep she replied: 'Why, the foreign Bradshaw, of course.'"

Everyone consulted Bradshaw, even certain Transylvanian vampires. In the second chapter of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jonathan Harker discovers the Count in his library, reclining on a sofa and leafing through a copy. As the business manager of Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre, Stoker would have been intimately familiar with the Bradshaw guides; they would have been indispensable as he planned the company's extensive provincial tours.

Bradshaw was an active and philanthropic Quaker. He died in Norway in 1853 after contracting cholera and is buried there.

Shown here: Top--George Bradshaw by R. Evans (1841); Bottom--a typical page of a Bradshaw guide, from an 1850 edition.


Eric Royal Lybeck said...

That's funny. I never put two and two together. There are actually a few references to the railroad in Dracula. Back then, it might have been like including an ipod or something modern to further hide the medieval count in the "present".

Peter Mc said...

Whitby! There are fewer train services here today than in Victorian times. That's depressing. If you'd like any pics of where stoker stayed, or of Whitby, do let me know.

Dr Kristan Tetens said...

Peter, yes, absolutely. In fact, if you'd like to guest-author a post about Whitby I'd be happy to publish it here with photos.

Will be in touch with you soon about the Beagle project.

Alex said...

I am in the midst of reading "Around the World in Eighty Days", and a mention is made of these schedules:

'Mr. Fogg learned all this in consulting his "Bradshaw", which gave him the daily movements of the transatlantic steamers.'

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