Visiting London in the 1940s

I wonder if they followed the itineraries in this blog post!

Travel guide books have been around as long as there have been travelers but the first guidebooks as we know them originated in the early 19th century. From this article in the Sydney Morning Herald from a few years ago:

It was in response to the Grand Tour’s enduring popularity into the early 19th century that the first true travel guidebooks appeared. An English writer and playwright, Mariana Starke, recognised the Grand Tourists’ need for practical information, and in 1800 she wrote Letters from Italy, blurring narrative and guidance. Twenty years later, the book morphed into the dedicated guidebook Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent. Already it contained now-familiar forms: a ratings system (using exclamation points rather than stars), accommodation options, costs and titbits of history.

Published by John Murray, it would be the pioneer title of one the world’s first great guidebook empires, Murray’s Handbooks, which would eventually publish about 400 titles. Its exhaustive, two-volume 1845 Handbook for Travellers in Spain, written by Richard Ford after four years of research and a decade of writing, is the classic among guidebooks.

Karl Baedeker is said to have written his first guidebook – Holland, Belgium and the Rhine – for Murray’s Handbooks, but in 1829, with the publication of Baedeker’s German-language guide to the Rhine Valley, he also became its first competition. Guidebooks to Austria, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland followed, and by 1861, two years after Karl’s death, Baedeker was publishing English-language guides.

While Baedeker was the most popular for a long time, now we have a plethora of choice. Add on the Internet and it can actually get a bit overwhelming. You don’t even have to carry a book anymore, what with ebooks and podcasts and smartphone apps, you can have it all ine a neat, light package.

I love guidebooks, especially the ones with lovely pictures! Those are the more expensive and heavy ones but they are so nice to look at. In the past, I’ve always bought at least one guidebook for somewhere I’m planning to go, even if it’s a small “Top Ten” city guide and yes, even in this day of the internet. It’s easier to have a small book in your bag than sheets and sheets of printed paper sometimes.

My electronic device is an iPod and I’ve discovered that guidebooks on that are not really that convenient to use though they’d be good on a tablet sized device. There are some good apps for iPods and smartphones but unfortunately, the one I wanted recently doesn’t work on my older device. Figures.

But bringing this back to London in particular, I have an old guidebook¬† to London that was published during World War II. There’s a small insert that explains that due to the war, they cannot publish the full set of maps they usually do. There is only one fold out city center map with the underground stations marked and some of the main streets.

What makes me laugh, though, is their suggestions for itineraries for one or two days’ sightseeing. I really don’t know how you could fit it all in! Surely they don’t suggest you do all these things in the time allotted? I wonder if they’re saying that any or several of these for morning and afternoon would be sufficient though they do mention, in the ultimate of British understatement,¬† that it’s a “very hurried day”. That’s putting it mildly! I expect you could do it if you were just walking past all these sights and not going inside.

The Victoria Tower, Westminster

The Victoria Tower, Westminster

I’m reproducing the itineraries here for your amusement.

For one day in London their suggestions are:.

National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Whitehall (passing Gov’t Offices, Royal United Services museum and the cenotaph), Parliament, Westminster Abbey and cathedral, Buckingham Palace (exterior), St. James’s Park, London Museum Lancaster House, St. James’s Palace (exterior).

Lunch in the Piccadilly or Leicester Square area. (phew! My feet would be smokin’ by this time!)


Regent, Oxford Streets, Wallace Collection, Drive thru Hyde Park, Kens. Gdns, Piccadilly, Royal Academy, British Museum, Lincoln’s Inn walk, Law Courts and Temple, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St. Paul’s
They go on to suggest dinner and theatre if you are staying overnight.

An Alternative might be:
Tower of London, Monument, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul’s.


Law Courts, Temple Gardens, Embankment, County Hall, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, National Gallery (open evenings of certain days).

A bit more doable(?)

A suggestion for a two day visit:
First Day:
Charing Cross, National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, Whitehall, Parliament, County Hall, Westminster Abbey (Lunch) War Museum, Lambeth Palace exterior, Tate Britain, Westminster Cathedral, St. James’s Park, London Museum, Green and Hyde Parks, V&A museum, Nat. Hist. and Science Museums.

Second Day:
Tower of London, Monument, Royal Exchange, Bank, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul’s, (lunch) Holborn, British Museum, Oxford St., Wallace Collection, Regent’s Park, Zoo

Longer stays suggest things like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the “new” Horniman museum, Windsor, Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond, Epping Forest, Croyden Airport

Oh yes, that’s the main international airport, Croyden. In another old book I have, published in the 1950s, it mentions the London Airport (later called Heathrow) that is under construction. In that book, the Museum of London has moved to a wing of Kensington Palace.