Taking to the Skies with Bradshaw’s
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 It did not enjoy the longevity of its railway counterpart, being withdrawn at the commencement of hostilities in 1939.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.