I have in my possession a 1985 reprint of “Bradshaw’s General Railway and Steam Navigation Guide for Great Britain and Ireland, July 1922 issue” published by Henry Blacklock & Company, Manchester.
The new edition, in hardback and almost 3 inches thick, was reproduced by David & Charles of Newton Abbot, the idea being to create a typical issue of this publication in a more permanent form. The original mammoth “traveller’s bible”, produced monthly for the benefit of the wayfaring public of the times with painstaking attention to detail, was seldom late in issue and was almost totally accurate. It appeared during the last Summer before a myriad of individual railway companies in mainland Britain were swept up into a “big four” of railways” i.e. the London Midland & Scottish, the Great Western, the Southern Railway, and the London & North Eastern Railway. Such grouping was to be later mirrored in Ireland. With the partition of the country following the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 some railways became “international” straddling as they did the border drawn between 26 counties in the south and north west of the island of Ireland and 6 counties of the northern province of Ulster.
The reprints of this publication, if anything, are now scarcer than the original version, effectively becoming “collector’s items”. For the travel enthusiast of today the guide could make perfect reading for a sojourn on a desert island in that there is much in it to study. These were the days when, in both Great Britain and Ireland, the majority of towns and communities of any size enjoyed a station on a railway line from somewhere to somewhere, and access to rail and sea connections to a world farther beyond.
Dipping into the guide, giving as it does detailed information on a vast number of train services and shipping routes between those islands on the periphery of Western Europe known as The British Isles provides a unique insight into travelling in the early 1920’s, and at a time, between the Great Wars, when there existed in these islands a “social” strata somewhat different from that of today. “Knowing your place” in this “hierarchy” was an essential prerequisite for daily living. Service and civility, both the giving of, and expectation of, were strong features of the times. Hospitality and the accommodating of the needs of the travelling public were prime considerations, as railway companies, steamship companies, and hotels and other hostelries competed with each other for the favours of the travelling public. The great variety of competing shipping services between Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland, and many of the rail services encompassed by the guide, would have their modern day equivalent in the expanding number of “low cost” airlines operating between, and in and out of, these islands.
Coming to Bradshaw’s July 1922 Guide from an Irish perspective provides us with an enlightening encounter with travel “Irish-style” with, as a “backdrop”, a time when the island of Ireland was struggling to come to terms with itself following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which, with the emergence of the Irish Free State, left 6 Ulster counties still part of the United Kingdom.
Following the ratification of the Treaty, by a comparatively small margin, De Valera had resigned as President of Sinn Fein, leading the “anti-Treaty” faction out of Dail Eireann, the Irish Parliament. From the ranks of the “pro-Treaty” activists Arthur Griffiths was elected President of Dail Eireann, and Michael Collins was appointed Chairman of the Provisional Government. In the Irish Free State General Election which followed, the “pro-Treaty” candidates held the day. Alas, however, in June 1922 the Irish Civil War broke out, between the “pro” and “anti” factions. In August 1922 Michael Collins was killed in the infamous ambush at Beal na mBlath, in West Cork. In December of that year, a UK Act of Parliament established the Irish Free State, with the Civil War ending in the Spring of 1923.
The 1922 Bradshaw’s Guide reveals an array of Irish railway services, spanning the length and breadth of the island (unlike today!), from a northern extremity of Ballyliffin in Co Donegal to Schull and Valencia in the South West, from Howth in the East to Clifden and Achill in the West. The major railway operators of the day were, variously, the Great Southern & Western, the Dublin & South East, the Midland Great Western, the Great Northern (Ireland), the Midland (Northern Counties of Ireland), and the Belfast & County Down. A number of other independent railways included a variety of smaller operators based around the City of Cork and in West Cork, the County Donegal Railway, the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway, the Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway and the West Clare Railway.
The last mentioned was to feature in the popular Percy French song of its day “Are you right there, Michael, are you right? (do you think that we’ll be home before the night?). The song was basically a reflection on the unhurriedness of Irish rail transport, the “West Clare” being the particular butt of the chagrin encapsulated in the song . A tardiness which was memorably illustrated in a scene in the 1950’s film classic “The Quiet Man”, when those in charge of the train standing at “Castletown Station” appeared indifferent to the need to move the train on expeditiously to its next stop, as they passed the time of day in pleasant conversational exchanges. If one was to enquire of them the purpose of a timetable in such circumstances this would no doubt bring a logical rejoinder to the effect that a timetable was, in fact, eminently useful to the intending passenger in determining whether the train was late or not!
Apart from setting out timetables for Irish railway services, timings were also provided for “steamers” plying to and from Irish shores. Many of the steamer services and the vessels used on these were actually owned and operated by English and Scottish railway companies. Services to “first class” passengers carried, and with sleeping accommodation for those travelling overnight, were on a par with facilities which could be found ashore in good class hotels (in fact for those able to afford the superior accommodation on board, with superb dining facilities (as opposed to the less fortunate travelling, perhaps, on deck, or in “steerage”), the vessels might be described as “floating hotels”.). Compare this with the “swift” vessels skimming across the Irish Sea these days, replete with fast food outlets, souvenir shops and other delights.
The English Great Western Railway offered sea services from Fishguard to Rosslare and Waterford, with the City of Cork Steam Packet Company plying from Fishguard to Cork, each on designated days of the week. The “City of Cork” also operated on certain days between Cork and Liverpool. Laird Line advertised services, with the caveat “weather and other circumstances permitting”, from Heysham, Lancashire, and from Glasgow, to Dublin and Derry. Sailings from Greenock to Sligo, Ballina and Westport were advertised as “as arranged” (presumably for “seasonal workers” travelling to/from “the farmers” in Scotland).
An “Irish Express Service” offering “five and a half open sea passage by the finest cross-channel steamers afloat” was provided by the Belfast Steamship Company to and from Liverpool. The Midland Railway steamers operated between Heysham and Belfast, whilst the London & North Western Railway steamers navigated between Liverpool & Drogheda, Holyhead and both Dublin North Wall and Kingstown (renamed Dun Laoghaire), and Greenore in Co Louth. A service, designated “Royal Mail”, operated from Stranraer in south west Scotland to Larne, north of Belfast.
Other advertised services including “steamings” between Glasgow and Belfast, Glasgow and Dublin, and Glasgow and Londonderry, courtesy of G & J Burns Lines. A steamer service between the Isle of Man and Dublin is also described.
Scattered through the guide are advertisements for a variety of hotels, including some in Ireland. The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, describing itself as Ireland’s leading hotel, boasts “every modern convenience”. The Midland Station Hotel, Belfast offers the reassurance of “electric light throughout”. Dublin’s Royal Hibernian Hotel, “renowned for its wines and cuisines”, announces “an orchestra daily” and an “electric elevator”. The railway-owned North West Hotel at Dublin North Wall docks, in addition to mirroring its Belfast counterpart’s illuminative features, proudly promotes its “convenience” for “visiting Killarney Lakes, the Valley of the Shannon, and other parts of Ireland”.
Further north, at the port of Greenore, the railway hotel bearing its name boasts “hot and cold (!) sea baths”, a garage for vehicles, and croquet lawns. Another railway hotel, the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, Co Down advertises itself as an “ideal golf and winter resort” complete with hot and cold, fresh and salt water baths. The Northern Counties railway hotel in the popular resort of Portrush boasts 150 bedrooms, an array of bathing delights as a “special feature” (open to non-residents) and a garage.
Goods and services can also be found in the guide. As a forerunner, no doubt, to the “laptop” computer, there is advertised a lightweight typewriter “The new Remington Portable”, only 4 inches high, and with a “full size” keyboard “like the big Remingtons”. A variety of foreign language “Phrase Books” are advertised, “fitting into the waistcoat pocket”. For Tourists and Travellers “Brand’s Meat Lozenges” (“sustaining and invigorating”) are advertised as a “must”. For “Laundry, House and Dairy” Thomas Bradford & Co offer “Washing, Wringing and Mangling Machines” (one wonders how shirts etc would have survived such battering!), Churns, and Food Chopping Machines. Dr J Collis Browne’s “Chlorodyne” remedy (price one shilling and three pence) is promoted to combat coughs and colds and professing to “act like a charm” for diarrhoea, colic and “other bowel complaints”. Baileys, a London company, advertise liberally the availability of their “Abdominal Belts” and “Elastic Stockings”, alongside their “Hygienic Celebrated and Imperceptible Trusses”.
As the title to this piece suggests “Have Bradshaw’s, Will Travel” and certainly no intrepid self respecting 1920’s traveller should have left home without this weighty tome in their possession!
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