Tak­ing to the Skies with Brad­shaw’s

This England - - Contents - Alan Thomas

Many read­ers will re­mem­ber the Brad­shaw’s rail­way timeta­bles, but far fewer are likely to re­call the Brad­shaw’s In­ter­na­tional Air Guide that was first pub­lished in 1934. It did not en­joy the longevity of its rail­way coun­ter­part, be­ing with­drawn at the com­mence­ment of hos­til­i­ties in 1939. Nev­er­the­less, it was the very first pub­li­ca­tion to pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive, de­tailed timeta­bles for in­ter­na­tional air travel.

Henry Black­lock and com­pany of Brad­shaw House, Sur­rey Street, Lon­don WC2, who pub­lished the monthly guide at one shilling (5p in to­day’s money), is­sued a for­mal dis­claimer typ­i­cal of the time: “The ta­bles in this book are com­piled with as much care as cir­cum­stances will per­mit; but it must be dis­tinctly un­der­stood that the Pro­pri­etors do not hold them­selves in any way re­spon­si­ble for in­ac­cu­ra­cies. It will be es­teemed a favour if early in­ti­ma­tion be given of any er­ror that may be found in the guide.”

In ad­di­tion to the timeta­bles of world­wide ser­vices and a large fold­ing map of transcon­ti­nen­tal air routes, the vol­ume car­ried a host of won­der­fully nos­tal­gic ad­ver­tise­ments for ex­otic lo­ca­tions. One such ex­am­ple was the Torrs Ho­tel in Nairobi, that of­fered ex­quis­ite cui­sine, su­perb dance floor and West End orches­tra.

Of course, since the guide was is­sued all those years ago travel by plane has changed be­yond all recog­ni­tion, so much so that to­day the con­tents of those early pub­li­ca­tions, re­flect­ing as they do a dif­fer­ent, more leisurely yet more so­phis­ti­cated world, make for fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing.

In many cases pas­sen­gers were col­lected from a town ter­mi­nus (th­ese were listed) and trans­ported to the air­port, to ar­rive no later than 15 min­utes be­fore the “sched­uled time of de­par­ture.” The ta­ble gave dis­tance and time al­lowance be­tween ter­mini and air­ports, and listed sea­sonal vari­a­tions: for ex­am­ple, 10 min­utes by car in the dry sea­son, 45 min­utes by launch in the wet sea­son if trav­el­ling by fly­ing boat, an air­craft once used quite com­monly for in­ter­nal flights.

On pages pre­ced­ing the timeta­bles, a great deal of in­for­ma­tion was pro­vided for pas­sen­gers, and it makes an in­ter­est­ing com­par­i­son with present-day rules and reg­u­la­tions.

Pas­sen­gers had to en­sure their lug­gage (free up to 33lbs) was clearly la­belled and a re­ceipt ob­tained upon regis­tra­tion. This was im­por­tant, since a re­ceipt had to be shown be­fore bag­gage could be re­claimed.

Pri­vate ra­dio tele­grams could be sent or re­ceived dur­ing the flight on many Con­ti­nen­tal and long-dis­tance ser­vices, and it was stated that most as­sur­ance com­pa­nies in­cluded air travel on a life pol­icy with­out extra charge.

Be­neath a head­ing, “Per­sonal Hints,” was the grat­i­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion that be­cause the cab­ins of the “air lin­ers” were en­closed and heated, no spe­cial cloth­ing was re­quired; cloth­ing sim­i­lar to that worn for rail or boat travel be­ing seen as suf­fi­cient.

The Lon­don to Paris timetable de­tailed the flight from Croy­don to Le Bour­get by Im­pe­rial Air­ways, a dis­tance of 224 miles with a flight time of 21⁄ hours. The air­port was 12 miles from the ter­mi­nus, Vic­to­ria Sta­tion, with a jour­ney time of 45 min­utes; the fare was £4.15.0d (£4.75p) for a sin­gle and £7.12.0d (£7.60p) for a 15-day re­turn.

Nu­mer­ous small com­pa­nies are tabled as fly­ing lo­cal ser­vices. For in­stance, Southend Fly­ing Ser­vices pro­vided a reg­u­lar daily flight from Southend to Rochester. The dis­tance was 18 miles, with a fly­ing time of 156 min­utes, sin­gle fares at eight shillings (40p) and re­turns at 12 shillings (60p). Light bag­gage was car­ried free.

Rail­way Air Ser­vices and Spar­tan Air­lines flew to the Isle of Wight from Lon­don, though they did not op­er­ate dur­ing the win­ter months. Bri­tish Air Nav­i­ga­tion Com­pany, based at He­ston Air­port, pro­vided year-round ser­vices to the is­land and had a flight time of 11⁄ hours with a sin­gle fare of 19/6d (97p).

The guide was truly in­ter­na­tional — in the Zep­pelin sec­tion it was stated that bag­gage must con­tain per­sonal ef­fects only, with a free al­lowance of 20 kilo­grams.

Is­sue No. 1, which came out in Novem­ber 1934, is brim­ming with gems of so­cial his­tory, of which the ad­ver­tise­ments are su­perb ex­am­ples. Brad­shaw’s of­fered a wide se­lec­tion of guides and for­eign phrase­books, “which will fit into the waist­coat pocket.”

Pit­man’s, of short­hand fame, ad­ver­tised their well­known books on avi­a­tion, in­clud­ing How to fly an Au­to­giro, priced at five shillings.

That once-renowned firm of Messrs. Wig­gins Teape pro­moted their Im­pe­rial Air Mail Writ­ing Pa­per. It was proudly claimed to have ab­so­lute opac­ity com­bined with a re­mark­able ab­sence of weight, and a trial sam­ple was en­closed within the guide.

Oc­cu­py­ing the out­side back cover in its en­tirety is a stir­ring ad­ver­tise­ment from the Air League of the Bri­tish Em­pire — Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Air Com­modore J.A. Chamier, An­nual Sub­scrip­tion £1. In an­nounc­ing what would to­day be de­scribed as its “mis­sion state­ment”, it went on to say that the League worked for no com­mer­cial gain, all its funds be­ing de­voted to ser­vice for Bri­tish Avi­a­tion to help it take its place in the world, on which “our se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity as an Em­pire largely de­pend”!

Un­for­tu­nately, the recom­mence­ment of civil avi­a­tion af­ter the war did not prompt Messrs. Henry Black­lock to rein­tro­duce their Brad­shaw’s In­ter­na­tional Air Guide. Had they done so, with the ex­po­nen­tial growth of air travel, each guide would have needed to con­tain thou­sands of pages.

De­scribed as rare and in­ter­est­ing relics, orig­i­nal copies of this 176-page pub­li­ca­tion, which, re­mem­ber, cost a princely one shilling in 1934, now change hands for hun­dreds of pounds. Not a bad re­turn for any­one who has been for­tu­nate enough either to have re­tained, or to have had passed on to them an orig­i­nal copy.

The whole ex­pe­ri­ence of fly­ing dur­ing the years cov­ered by the guide could not be com­pared in any way with air travel now. In the late 1930s it must have been a most plea­sur­able, re­laxed and civilised ex­pe­ri­ence. To­day, as we are well aware, the whole busi­ness of trav­el­ling by air, with con­gested air­ports, de­layed flights, poor cus­tomer re­la­tions, long queues and es­ca­lat­ing charges have made it a mod­ern night­mare.

Pages from Brad­shaw’s In­ter­na­tional Air Guide and pic­tures of Croy­don Aero­drome con­trol tower and book­ing hall in the 1930s.

Won­der­ful colour­ful posters ad­ver­tis­ing the ex­cit­ing and glam­orous world of air travel in days gone by.

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