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London and Its Environs Guidebook (1922)

In the age of the Internet, travelling is effortless. Finding a good hotel, restaurant, or activity in any given town is a series of keystrokes away. Prior to the Web, guidebooks were the go-to resources for navigating foreign cities. Guidebooks, which are still published today, provide information and recommendations to travelers as they visit unfamiliar locations. The books may not be as convenient or current as their Internet counterparts, but the paper resources still provide the much needed information.

The guidebooks of the 19th and early 20th centuries are quite different from contemporary resources. These guides included information about restaurants, hotels, and neighborhoods, but they also emphasized the fine arts and history by providing numerous entries relating to historic sites, architecture, literary walks, and art museums (including floor plans of the museums). Baedeker and the Blue Guides were two series that used this format for guidebooks.

Baedeker was the “king” of travel guides having popularized guidebooks in the early 19th century. A century later, the Muirhead brothers, who worked for Baedeker to produce much of the English language series, created the Blue Guides in 1918. These well-respected guidebooks may not have been as popular as the Baedekers with the general public, but they were highly admired by many travelers.

The first Blue Guide published in 1918 was London and Its Environs (Special Collections has the 1922 edition). This volume contains the general information that travelers expect to find in travel guides – “On the Way to London,” “General Hints,” “Hotels and Boarding Houses,” “Restaurants, Luncheon Rooms, Tea Room,” “Amusements,” and “Church Services.” In addition to these essentials, the book highlights various areas of London with an emphasis on important landmarks and “The Great Public Collections.” The latter focuses on important art museums including the British Museum, The National Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum, etc.

The abundance of maps makes this volume extraordinary. Besides a general map of the city, there are maps and floor plans of museums and museum complexes, the Zoological Gardens, the Tower of London, Epping Forest, and a removable appendix and map to the “cars, omnibuses, tramways and underground railways and plans of London with street index.” The volume also includes an index to the entire guidebook for those searching for a particular site.

Special Collections has almost 20 Blue Guides and Baedekers with a number of other travel guides and narratives to the United States and countries worldwide. If you have any questions about this volume or others, contact Jennifer Brannock at Jennifer.Brannock@usm.edu or 601.266.4347.

Text by Jennifer Brannock, Curator of Rare Books and Mississippiana