George Bradshaw (1801-1853) was certainly not the first to publish railway timetables, but his name has become synonymous with them. Bradshaw’s Monthly Railway Guide ceased publication in 1961 but is familiar today via its mentions in fiction, by authors including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Philip Pullman.
Bradshaw initially worked as a map engraver, and produced maps of canals and railways, before moving on to publish various railway timetables.
Bradshaw’s Guide began in 1841, following a number of other similar works, and containing comprehensive timetables for railway journeys. It is interesting to note that many of the monthly editions are given a month number, rather than name (First Month for January, Second for February, and so forth), following traditional Quaker usage: Bradshaw had become a Quaker as a young man.
Bradshaw’s publications cover a period of great expansion and change on the railways. In 1840 standardised Railway Time was introduced, making train travel safer and planning easier. It wasn’t until 1880 that standard Greenwich Mean Time was officially confirmed by legislation. In 1923, over 100 railway companies came together to become what was known as “the Big Four” (London and North Eastern Railway; London, Midland, and Scottish Railway; Great Western Railway; and Southern Railway), and over time three of the Big Four transferred the production of their timetables to the same company that produced Bradshaw’s Guide.
Special Collections holds various reference works on Bradshaw and his works, as well as the works themselves.
The timetables are still of use for reference today, in plotting how a journey could have been made at a particular time – essential for writing period crime novels, but for various other purposes too! However, they can give additional information to today’s student of social history: many volumes of the Guide have advertising on the spine, and the insides carry not only contemporary advertising, but also illustrations and descriptions of the towns served by the railways.