Three Men and a Bradshaw by John George Freeman and Ronnie Scott (editor)

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Three Men and a Bradshaw by John George Freeman and Ronnie Scott (editor)

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Category: Travel
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A really quite charming, extended glimpse back into time at the first tourists and what they had to endure.
Buy? YES Borrow? YES
Pages: 384 Date: May 2015
Publisher: Random House Books
ISBN: 9781847947444

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This book is quite the very time machine, and because of that some of its own history is needed in summary. A year or two ago, our presenter Shaun Sewell was buying some private documents from the descendants of John George Freeman, to complete a set of illustrated travel journals he'd met with when risking a punt on the first few at auction. He was intent on getting them published since finding them, and seemed to be the first person with that desire since they were first written in the 1870s. Back then they were well-written, educative and entertaining looks at the early days of the travel industry, when for example piers were novel(ty) ways for the rail companies to justify sending people to the ends of the country where previously there had been little for them to do. Here then is railwayana, travel and social history, all between two covers. So even if this doesn't find the perfectly huge audience of some books, it will certainly raise interest in many households.

I think I can say that it went down very well in this household, even if I didn't particularly enjoy the first adventure, written about a trip to and round Jersey. I don't think this was because I wasn't fully in tune with the telling, more the author wasn't quite in full flow with his powers – he was only in his mid-twenties, after all. A later picture shows Freeman and two of his brothers – all snappy waistcoats (several of the clan worked in tailoring), inch-long beards and strict spectacles, and it still surprises that one of these gents is our guide. As far as guides go, there wasn't nearly as much in the way of a travel industry, beyond the Bradshaw compilations of data, train times and destination descriptions, that have become popular all over again due to a certain televised endorsement.

So what we get through these five trips – the others, to Wales north and south, to the SW and to Scotland, is a great sense of how much time has changed and how much has stood still. It was frivolity even then to hope for a successful short cut when romping around the landscape, there was already a great variety between the comfort and the cost of accommodations, and already people had got to loathe the sound of bagpipes. Music was high in the mind of our narrator, however, as he was a stridently religious man, and keen to do his sol-fa singing of hymns as often as he could, in the Lord's house or otherwise.

What has changed? Well, I guess a few of the boats are a bit bigger and more stable, so fewer people suffer seasickness as he so vividly describes it. And of course the scenery has got to be much more built upon and populous, so it's a great boon to us that he can describe it as well as he does. And of course there are a great many people who have redefined tourism since those days, in favour of getting somewhere and doing nothing. That clearly is a sin for our heroes, who often go on over 20 mile hikes, with only a rudimentary map if that, then amble round quaintly taking the airs after tea or for an hour or two before breakfast.

This was a find well worth making, for these kinds of manuscripts must be fairly thin on the ground. I did wonder quite why it needed two people to make the modern version of the book – one to get it up and running and introduced, but a second to do all the box-out quotes from Bradshaw's, and a lot of footnotes, some of which are more relevant and necessary than others. Beyond those two gents, of course, it is John himself who is the most important character here, and he really does manage to be a most amenable one. His Victorian sensibility comes across brilliantly in a couched turn of phrase, or through the use of obscure words and suchlike ('Marrowbone express' to be the same as Shanks's Pony, for instance). What did strike me – certainly during chapter one – was that I was lacking the humour the curators told us to seek, their having referenced The Diary of a Nobody and Jerome K Jerome. I think it safe to say the author really grew into his hobby over the five years of this journal, however, and he does provide for many a good titter by the time the end pages are reached, and for me one great laugh.

I think others will find more favour with his writing as comedic, however – for it really does manage to be quite acerbic, even scathing at times, over the whole tourism industry and especially the people engaging with it – witness the chap he meets who delayed a private yacht hire in order to eat well, having never been seasick and wanting to know the full effect. We also get the author's own illustrations, showing he really could copy a scene (or sometimes just a postcard) with consummate skill, while his portraits of people met en route made me see Edward Lear's sketches, while something of Tenniel's large heads was to be had. There's so much in this book, in fact, that were it to be a time machine it'd have to be a full-on TARDIS. This is a great look at the social history of travel, and while nowadays there's a holiday for everyone, that really wasn't the case back in the 1870s. This won't be a book for everyone, but will be a hit for many, as it ended up being for me.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years and a World of Change Apart by Diccon Bewes is pretty much the nearest equivalent – the Freemans would cry out for a suitable modern day comparison as offered by Bewes.

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Buy Three Men and a Bradshaw by John George Freeman and Ronnie Scott (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Three Men and a Bradshaw by John George Freeman and Ronnie Scott (editor) at


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