While tackling one of our last remaining ‘black holes’ of library material in the store this week, I came across this rather unusual book: Richardson’s Railway Guide.
It’s about the size and thickness of early timetables from George Bradshaw’s famous series and, like those, contains timetables for every railway in England – which given the 1841 publishing date means it’s a rather slim tome. Unlike Bradshaw’s timetables, it also claims to deliver a description of the principal towns “with many Historical and highly amusing Records” [sic].
Apart from what I take to be a typo – York to Derby is 17 miles apparently – the only thing amusing about it that I can see is a complete absence of anything amusing.
Maybe the Great British Sense of Humour was a more subtle creature in the mid-19th century, or perhaps you just had to be there. Perhaps the fares were a joke and the train times ludicrous?
Anyway, this guide is a bit of a mystery. Nobody I’ve spoken to has heard of it, we don’t have any others in the collection, and only Manchester University and the British Library have a copy – so it’s not a publication that became famous or survived much, unlike Bradshaw’s.
Interestingly enough, I’ve just had an enquiry from a visitor to Search Engine who wondered if we had a copy of Topham’s Railway Timetable and Guide in the collection. We don’t – but it leads me to wonder how many more pseudo-Bradshaws are going to come out of the woodwork?
I’d be interested to hear if you think you’ve got an uncelebrated railway guide languishing in an attic or similar. However, if you want to look at ours and are curious to discover whether your funny bone will be tickled by its “Humourous Records”, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get it out for you.
Update: Another interesting example of an early railway guides has come to light via Search Engine. A visitor brought in a guide to show us that has been in his family since his great grandfather. It’s a pristine copy – or pristine given its age of 1881 – of a locally produced timetable called the Lincoln Railway Guide. It’s the smallest timetable I’ve ever seen, and gave new meaning to the word “pocket-sized” – measuring approximately 7cm. A local jeweller commissioned the publication and his adverts are interspersed throughout – a very entrepreneurial tactic, cashing in on the railway boom of the time. The visitor has kindly sent a scan of the guide to show you here: