I’ve written in the past about how an out-of-date guidebook is about as much practical use as a used box of matches … but added that a very old guidebook can be a collectors’ item. You can compare the attractions of yesteryear with their condition, or even existence, today, or you can just enjoy the florid prose that some of those early writers liked to indulge in.
So, you can imagine my delight when I received among my Christmas presents, a facsimile edition of the 1853 edition of Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide.
Like any guidebook, it’s not really a book you read from cover to cover, but rather dip into for bits of information you want. Nowadays, if you want information about, say, the Republic of Upchuck, you hit Google … and the first few entries your search turns up offer you cheap flights to Upchuck, or discounted hotels in Upchuck, even though you have no intention of going there.
That, surprisingly, is nothing new. Bradshaw’s is chock-full of adverts. Opening the book at random, I find that Barrett Brothers, of 184 Oxford Street would offer ‘ … solid leather portmanteaus and trunks of the newest construction’.
Or, hotels. I read that, at the Hotel de la Poste in Ghent ‘ … Mr Pauw begs to inform the English nobility and gentry visiting Ghent, they will find his Establishment a cheerful and respectable residence, where every attention will be paid to their comfort. (No wifi, then?)
If you watch Michael Portillo’s Great Railway programmes on BBC, you’ll know his inseparable companion is his 1913 Bradshaw, and he likes to compare what the compilers of the guide wrote with what he found on his travels a century later. I’d like to do the same, sometime. Although I have no immediate plans to visit continental Europe, I do have a Rhine cruise pencilled in on my wish-list, although I suspect it’s going to cost a bit more than the £2-17s-10d that Bradshaw suggests.
Anyway, they probably wouldn’t accept pounds; it says here: ‘Prussian currency is available on the Rhine as far as Nassau, where Florins and Kreutzers supersede the Dollars and Groschen’
(These have, of course, since been superseded by the Deutschmark, then by the Euro.)
So, armed with ‘Bradshaw’, I’m good to go; all I need now is a contract from the BBC, and some nice pastel-coloured jackets!