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A Narrative of Extraordinary Suffering

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Report i
Prose: Short Fiction i
Subjects Great Britain—Description and Travel
Transportation; Horse-Drawn Vehicles; Cab and Omnibus Service; Ballooning
Other Details
Printed : 12/7/1851
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume III
Magazine : No. 68
Office Book Notes
Views : 1578

George Bradshaw first published his Railway Guide in 1839; from 1841 it was published as Bradshaw's Monthly Railway Guide (see Percy Fitzgerald, The Story of Bradshaw's Guide [1890]). Dickens seems to have had recurrent problems with it: in October 1851 he writes in a letter making an appointment of 'the intense folly of the unmeaning Bradshaw' (Pilgrim, Vol. VI, p. 502). In writing this satirical piece he seems to have used the 1851 May issue in which Ware is erroneously indexed as being on p. 6 (misprint for 36).

'Tu' refers, of course, to market-day in Ware being on a Tuesday and this is quite clearly explained in the notes. In the 'Classification of Railways' appears the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway, which anyone looking for Ware might well stumble upon – the line is listed as serving Ravenglass, Bootle and Broughton (the last-name either misread by Dickens or improved by him into the more outlandish-sounding 'Sprouston'). It is somewhat perverse of Mr Lost in travelling from Euston to Birmingham to choose a train to Leighton (Buzzard) or Tring (p. 6) since Bradshaw clearly shows four through services daily. The black line across the timetable at Leighton indicates the terminus of the train at Aylesbury. Worcester is listed in the index only on p. 4, which is the table for Birmingham to Worcester, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Bristol, so Mr Lost's attempt to travel there via Gloucester makes sense. The 12.30 from Paddington does go to Swindon via Didcot, where a branch line to Banbury via Aynho and other stations is indicated. But this particular table is certainly difficult to read: several trains are shown, not necessarily in sequence so it is necessary to work quite hard to disentangle individual journeys. The stations listed on p. [362] (II. 3–4) are all on the Great Western's main line to the South-West. The main line of the North Western Railway shown in Table 44 includes not only Four Ashes, Spread Eagle and Penkridge (all between Wolverhampton and Stafford) but also all the places listen from Manchester to Dundee and Glasgow. After that Dickens's references are, for comic effect, deliberately random. Kingstown is now usually known by its Irish name Dun Laoghaire. Mow Cop is actually in Cheshire, though the station is on the border with Staffordshire; the name is thought to mean 'hill with a boundary cairn'.
      Mr Lost would certainly have found things simpler after 1857 for in January of that year the first issue of Bradshaw's Through Route Railway Guide appeared. In the earlier Guides, as John Drew has noted, Mr Lost's proposed journey from London to Worcester required reference to four different pages; in the Through Guide all the necessary information could be found on p. 32 (J. Drew, Charles Dickens' 'Uncommercial Traveller' Papers (1860–9): Roots, Interpretation and Context, unpub. Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1994, p. 147).
      The 'hieroglyphic' referred to by Dickens as appearing among the advertisements for hotels and boarding-houses seems to relate to the month in which the advertisement was inserted and, probably, the number of times of its appearance and the name of the person taking the booking.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851–59 (1998). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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