Gadling Guide Review: Bradshaw’s 1862 Guide To London

George Bradshaw was responsible for the development of a series of railway timetables that were an icon of British Victorian travel – they’re mentioned by Sherlock Holmes, Phileas Fogg and there was a 1876 music hall song called “Bradshaw’s Guide.”

I reached my destination, and was going to alight
When she placed her hand upon my arm, and said with much affright
‘Oh Dear Sir, don’t leave me, all alone to ride
What shall I do without you and the Bradshaw’s Guide.’

If you’re fond of Baedeker’s Guides – the essential red, leather-bound book that’s also an icon of the Grand Tour years of travel – you may also find the Bradshaw appealing. You probably want a vintage one, sold for a pretty penny on eBay, perhaps, but for a mere tenner, you can pick up a reissue of “Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs.”

A new version of this isn’t going to have the magical ticket stubs or marked pages that one that’s been used in the late 1800s would have, but it does have the pretty little engravings of London’s monuments. It’s got the cramped, hard to read type of 1800s guidebooks, exhaustive details and information that has zero value for today’s traveler – though it would be an amusing exercise to travel with this book as a guide.

What I love about it, though, is what I love about all old guidebooks – the practical information for travelers of another time. Current guidebooks put this stuff at the front; in the Bradshaw’s London guide, it’s all in the back.

There’s an entire section devoted to London churches, complete with the names of their ministers. There are several pages of postal regulations. The table of money for all nations does not include all nations by a long shot, but it does include Prussian, a nation, which no longer exists. There’s a list of “Dissenting Chapels,” begging the question: what is a dissenting chapel? The “Places Worth Seeing” section is alphabetical and lacks description, but opens with cemetery Abney Park. (I looked it up elsewhere; it does indeed seem to be worth seeing, still.)

It’s fun to open the book at random, pick a location, and then, turn to the web to see if it’s still in existence today. This reissue of Bradshaw’s Guide to London is not going to help you if you’re walking around modern London – it neglects to include even one map – but if you’d like to take a virtual tour and do some time travel as well, it’s good fun.

“Bradshaw’s 1862 Guide to London” is available on Amazon for about $10.

[Image: Crystal Palace, London, 1851 via Wikimedia Commons]

An off-season weekend getaway to Cape May, New Jersey

off-season cape may

A few weeks ago I felt the urgent, desperate need to flee New York City.

There was something about the city’s noise, its attitude, its frenetic pace that was driving me out of my mind. I felt caged in by the narrow tenement buildings of my Lower East Side streets. A taxi driver honked unnecessarily and I felt the irrepressible urge to slam on his front hood and yell “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT FOR?”

It was clear that I needed a break.

My requirements were simple: a place outside of the city where I could unwind with a good book, a fireplace and maybe a bottle of Pinot Noir. My top priority was silence.

I found what I was looking for in Cape May, New Jersey. While in the summer it’s a hotspot for vacationing tri-staters, in the winter it’s close to deserted. I recruited my boyfriend, rented a car for the three-and-a-half hour drive and booked a room at Congress Hall, a charming Victorian hotel that once served as the summer residence for presidents Pierce, Buchanan, Grant and Harrison. With a friendly yellow exterior, a tiled lobby reminiscent of Havana and a daily schedule of events, the Congress Hall had the look of a coastal resort and the feel of a grown-up summer camp.

But most importantly, in a section of the hotel called the Brown Room, Congress Hall had a fireplace and in front of that fireplace were a scattering of leather armchairs and a bar with an extensive wine list. Behold, the resting place I’d been dreaming of.

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Turns out, the Brown Room and adjoining Blue Pig Tavern are among Cape May’s only hotspots during the off-season months of October-March, and by 5pm the area was bustling with locals taking advantage of happy hour. After a relaxing evening of reading, wining and dining on delicious mussels, I fell into one of the most restful sleeps I’d had in months.



The next morning, we woke early to explore the town. The streets were dead silent, except for the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. Further inland, quaint multi-colored storefronts advertised shop names from a different time: Good Scents, Just For Laughs, Whale’s Tale, the Cape May Popcorn Factory.



The only store open at 9am on a Monday was the Original Fudge Kitchen, where I picked out a selection of salt-water taffy and gulped what tasted like stale Folger’s coffee (even though it was a retreat, I am still a New Yorker, and I was desperate).



After the pit stop, we continued our stroll. The roads were deliciously devoid of cars, and only a handful of pedestrians shared the sidewalks. After ascertaining that nearly every shop had closed for the season, and that there was in fact very little to do, we made our way to the waterfront. The late winter day was fresh, and we had the beach entirely to ourselves. After tiring of splashing in the surf, we headed back to the hotel. A fireplace was waiting.


Visit the Cape May National Historic Landmark, New Jersey

[Flickr image via Alan Kotok]

Charles Dickens featured at new Museum of London exhibition

Charles DickensThe Museum of London has opened a major new exhibition on one of the city’s greatest writers–Charles Dickens. Dickens and London celebrates Dickens’ 200th birthday looks at the relationship between the writer and the city he used as inspiration for many of his novels.

The exhibition recreates the sights and sounds of 19th century London, something the museum does very well for many eras. London 200 years ago was one of the greatest cities of the world, and one of the worst. The center of global commerce and culture, it was also home to grinding poverty and drug abuse. One item on display is Dickens’ notes from an opium den he used as inspiration for one of his scenes.

Dickens often wrote about the plight of the poor and he knew what he was talking about. When still a child, he had to work ten-hour shifts in a shoe polish factory while his father spent time in debtor’s prison.

The British Library in London is also marking the bicentennial with a small exhibition titled A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural. Dickens loved a good horror story and penned many, although another author once accused Dickens of plagiarism, an accusation that had some foundation in fact.

Dickens fans will also not want to miss the Charles Dickens Museum. Although Dickens only lived here from 1837-1839, the prolific author finished The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby in that time. Even if you’re not terribly interested in him, his house gives you a good idea of a moderately wealthy family home of the era.

Dickens and London will run until June 10, 2012.

Photo of Dickens with his two daughter courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The five most beautiful colleges of Oxford

Oxford
Oxford is the most beautiful city in England and makes a great day trip from London. What makes Oxford unique is its famous university with more than two dozen colleges. While each has its own distinct character, they tend to all be similarly laid out with one or more quads and a chapel. Here are five of the best.

Magdalen College
Founded in 1456, this college’s soaring Gothic tower on High Street is one of the most recognizable features of the city’s skyline. When this was the Royalist capital during the English Civil War, lookouts kept watch from the top for Cromwell’s troops and even kept a supply of rocks up there to drop on them! Today it’s more peaceful and every May Day morning a choir sings from the top in one of Oxford’s most popular traditions. Behind the tower is a large cloister surrounded by a covered arcade with Gothic windows. Passing beyond this you come to a bridge over a stream and a pleasant walk alongside a meadow where deer nibble at wildflowers or laze under the shade of trees in summer.

New College
Despite the name, New College is one of the university’s oldest, having been founded in 1386. Nobody knows how it got its name, although the greater mystery is why it kept it. Like Magdalen College, there’s a large cloister and two attractive quads. The gardens are especially interesting because one of the walls is actually the medieval city wall, built in the twelfth century. The garden, with its lush flowerbeds, medieval wall, and carefully tended lawn, is one of Oxford’s best.

%Gallery-131852%Keble College
Founded in 1868, Keble College departs from the Gothic style of most other colleges and is ornately Victorian with its bright red brick and ornate facades. The chapel looks almost Byzantine with its glowing gold mosaics. This makes for a real contrast from the other colleges and after you’ve seen two or three, come here to see something different. Keble College is overlooked by the majority of tourists so you’ll find it less crowded and more tranquil.

Merton College
This college is one of the university’s oldest, being founded in 1274. It’s also one of the best preserved and much of what you see dates back to the Middle Ages. At the front gate you walk under a 15th century carving of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness and enter a quad of similar date with walls covered in ivy. The chapel here is my personal favorite, with an ornate rose window, lots of original medieval stained glass, and an altar painting attributed to Tintoretto. Check out the tombs of various Oxford scholars, including one from 1525 with a globe attached showing the world as it was then known. Two kings lived at Merton College. Charles I made it his home after he got kicked out of London during the English Civil War. Charles II lived here for a time to escape the Plague. Located on a quiet back street, it’s still a peaceful refuge today and not nearly as visited as Magdalen, Christ Church, or New Colleges.

Christ Church College
Founded by Cardinal Wolsey at the bidding of Henry VIII in 1532, Christ Church is famous for Old Tom, a tall tower that like the Great Tower at Magdalen College adds a special touch to the city’s skyline. The front quad has a statue of Mercury in the middle of a waterlily pond. Be sure to see the cathedral with its grand stained glass windows and high vaulted Gothic ceiling. From the gardens you can walk into Christ Church Meadow, a broad expanse of open greenery leading to the River Isis, the local name for the Thames. On a sunny day you shouldn’t miss it!

Brimham Rocks: weird natural formations in Yorkshire


What do you see in this picture? In Victorian times, the local people called this The Dancing Bear. In a more PC age where we don’t humiliate animals for our entertainment (much) the name has been changed to The Dog. Looks like he’s begging at his master’s dinner table.

This is one of many rock formations at Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire, England. An ancient river laid down grit and sand in this region more than 300 million years ago, forming a sandstone called Millstone Grit. Wind and rain have been scouring it away ever since. Softer portions go first, while those layers with tougher ingredients take longer to weather. Thus over millions of years the once-featureless stone has been twisted into odd formations like this one.

Needless to say the rocks have been a Yorkshire landmark since before recorded history. In Victorian times it became a tourist destination, with lots of colorful names and stories attached to the stones. One spot is called Lover’s Leap where, according to an 1863 guidebook, a couple named Edwin and Julia decided to end their lives.

“They were madly in love with each other but Julia’s father wasn’t having any of it. Especially when Edwin asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He forbade them to see each other any more. But of course, they couldn’t stand to live without each other. They decided to leap off Brimham Rocks and spend eternity together that way. Julia’s father got wind of the plan and dashed up there to dissuade them – but they jumped before he could reach them. However, by some miracle, instead of plummeting to their dooms, they floated gently to the ground. “Some said that a fairy who lived among the rocks had witnessed their misery and knew they could be happy if only they were allowed to marry.” Perhaps it was the influence of the Druids – or maybe even the magic in the rocks themselves. More boring people put it down to Julia’s skirts being so voluminous. But whatever, her Father at last consented to their marriage and naturally they lived happily ever after.”

The mention of the Druids is significant. The Victorians were fascinated by all things Celtic and many scholars thought archaeological sites like Stonehenge had been built by these Celtic priests. Natural formations were attributed to the Druids too. One table-like formation is called “The Druid’s Writing Desk” although many people say it looks more like E.T. There are dozens more, like the Idol, the Bulls of Babylon, and the turtle. There are also spots where Mother Shipton, the famous Yorkshire soothsayer, made her prophecies and practiced her magic.

While Brimham Rocks didn’t make it onto our list of the 17 strangest natural wonders, it’s well worth a visit not just for its natural beauty but also for all the strange and funny folklore that’s glommed onto it over the years. How much of it is “real” folklore and how much has been made up by the guides? Who knows? Our guide did admit that in Victorian times visitors paid only what they felt like, so the guides were under some real pressure to entertain.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: York: capital of England’s north!

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.

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