This April we are once again blogging along with the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our team of one-place studiers will be sharing some of the treasures to be found for a one-place study, particularly around the theme of Visualisation, our Shared Endeavour for 2016.
Most people try to answer the question “How far did my ancestors (or the people in my place) travel”, but this is more about how they might have travelled or how easy it might have been.
From the early 19th century, the rapidly growing railway network provided a relatively quick and safe way of travelling. Looking at historic rail timetables will give you an idea of how easy it was to travel to and from your place by train. Comparing timetables for your place of study between different periods will give you a good idea how the service developed or was cut back over time. My own study place of New Fishbourne did not gain a railway station until 1906 (although the line was opened in 1845) and the service went from 8 trains each way on a weekday in the 1912 timetable to 42 trains each way on a weekday in 1965 with services direct to Portsmouth, Chichester, Brighton and even London. The National Railways Museum in York has a good collection of rail timetables (http://www.nrm.org.uk/researchandarchive/archiveandlibrarycollections/timetables) and local record offices also sometimes have copies of individual timetables. Although I have not been able to find a definitive website with a comprehensive set of on-line copies of rail timetables, there are many other sites which have some interesting examples. http://www.timetableworld.com/ has a number, including a 1952 timetable for the USA and a range from Germany. http://www.ribblevalleyrail.co.uk/Old%20Timetables.htm is also worth a look and is based on the Bradshaw’s Railway Guides made famous in Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys series.
Bus timetables seem to be more difficult to locate on-line. http://www.countrybus.co.uk/ has bus company history and some more recent (i.e. not current) timetables. The Timetable Graveyard at http://mjcarchive.www.idnet.com/ also has some, mostly London and suburbs, timetables.
So what about travel before the coming of the railways? Stage and mail coaches have a popular place in fiction, but in reality were more likely the province of the better off. Timetable information is fragmentary – look in newspapers of the time for advertisements for services.
For the less well-off they would have used more informal services – trade directories often show carrier services that would also convey passengers (albeit usually only slightly faster than walking pace) and sometimes give an idea of frequency as well.
However if people made use of more ad hoc services such as hitching a lift on a passing cart, a boat along the coast or river, or having to walk then not surprisingly there will be no timetable information to help you.