George Bradshaw (1801–53)

George Bradshaw, cartographer, printer, engraver and publisher publicised the concept of travelling by rail for enjoyment and education and established a brand that remained potent for more than a century. He also produced publications that are of continuing value to historians of industry and transport.

Bradshaw was born at Pendleton near Manchester and trained as an engraver and printer, working at those trades in Belfast in 1822-24, before settling in Manchester. In 1830 he published his 1:31680 scale Map of the Canals, Rivers, Rail Roads &c in the Midland Counties of England, which he dedicated to Thomas Telford (1757-1834), which was followed in 1833 by tables of the levels and lengths of inland waterways.

Bradshaw became best known as a publisher of information about railway services. He was one of several British writers and compilers who sought to profit from the growth of the railway system, his rivals including Samuel Sidney, George Measom, E C & W Osborne, and Edward Mogg. Bradshaw’s sense that travellers needed practical information and his instinct for what might interest them marked him out from his competitors.   His first Railway Time Table and Assistant to Railway Travelling appeared on 19 October 1839, and from 1841 his Railway Guide (effectively a timetable) was published monthly, growing from 8 pages when first published, to 32 pages in 1845 and 946 pages by 1898. Bradshaw’s first Continental Railway Guide was published in June 1847, and his company subsequently did much to foster international travel. He travelled widely in search of information for his guides and it was during one of these investigative journeys that he contacted cholera in Oslo, where he died in 1853, and was buried in a cemetery near the cathedral.

Publication rights in the Bradshaw brand were taken over by William Jones Adams, his London agent, and then from c.1900 by Henry Blacklock. The Bradshaw timetables remained essential works of reference in England, and publications about continental Europe multiplied. The company produced a guide to Belgium in 1856, a Pedestrian Route-book for Switzerland, Chamony and the Italian Lakes in 1870, and subsequently guides to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Rhineland, the Ottoman Empire and India.  Bradshaw’s Descriptive Railway Hand-Book of Great Britain and Ireland, was published in four parts in 1863, and in recent years has been the basis for popular television programmes in the United Kingdom. Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide became the standard work of reference for international railway services and by 1913, the last edition produced before the First World War, exceeded a thousand pages in length. It was discontinued during the war, but revived spasmodically in the 1920s and 30s, the last edition appearing in 1939. The last edition of the timetable for railways in Britain appeared in 1961.