Ward and Lock’s London Guide: Dating an Undated Book

I was given this book for Christmas, but there was a condition attached: I could only keep it if I could figure out when it was published.

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Front Cover

While there’s no copyright date or any other obvious indications when it was published, the cloth cover and artwork place this guidebook firmly in the mid-twentieth century. The full title is Guide to London with Large Section of Plans of Central London; Map of London and Twelve Miles Round; Railway Maps; Main Roads out of London; Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and Twenty other Maps and Plans (Ward, Lock and Co., London, 54th edition–revised).

Flipping through the book, perhaps most striking is the insert on the table of contents page:

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Table of Contents

“The Publishers regret that owing to War-time difficulties, it is not at present possible to include the customary complete set of maps and plans in this Guide.” This clearly places time of publication during World War II. Were the maps excluded for practical reasons (e.g. paper shortages) or for security reasons (e.g. not letting a contemporary map fall into enemy hands).

However, far from mentioning the war, the advertisements at the front and back of the book seem to be from a country at peace. Below an advertisement for “Bumsted’s Royal British Table Salt”, an inset reads “The Advertisements at front and end of this Guide will assist you involving the problem of where to go for your holiday and where to stay”.

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Bumsted's Royal British Table Salt

This advertisement offers “Oxford and Kingston Steamers” and “Camping Holidays: A River Tour without Hotel Bills”:

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Oxford and Kingston Steamers

It seems unlikely that this would be published during the Second World War.

Even more surreal is the advertisement for the Great Western Railway’s “Holiday Haunts 1940” guide:

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Holiday Haunts 1940

It’s as though the advertisements come from a parallel world where the war never happened. Only one makes reference to the contemporary situation:

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Kershaw Prismatic Binoculars

“In the state of emergency now existing, we are unable to accept orders for KERSHAW PRISMATIC BINOCULARS.” Even here, it doesn’t talk about a war but “the state of emergency.” In the run up to the war, companies such as Kershaw must have switched to purely military production.

We’re looking at a book, then, that must have been typeset in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It looks forward to a very different 1940, one where families could go on holiday to the English countryside and not hide in Underground Stations during The Blitz.

Ward Lock London 54th Edition National Gallery

This page, showing the National Gallery’s opening hours is particularly poignant. In late August 1939, all the artwork was taken to Wales, eventually settling in a disused slate mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The National Gallery didn’t close its doors completely, Myra Hess held famous piano recitals there and once the tide of the war had turned, one painting a month was brought from Wales for display.

So, the 54th edition of Ward & Lock’s Guide to London was probably originally published around summer of 1939. But the copy I have here is the “revised” edition. When was this published? I find it hard to imagine it was published after August 1940, when The Blitz began. Also, by then the information would have been hopelessly outdated and incongruous.

My guess, then (and I could be wrong) is that this is from the very early months of the War. Possibly the only difference between this and the 54th edition is the removal of the maps. It could, have been printed at any point during the war but I feel an earlier date is more likely. If you have any further thoughts or corrections, I’d love to hear them.

Ward Lock London 54th Edition Back Cover

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About Richard

I am a writer who travels endlessly. Fascinated by how our lives are propelled forward by what's left behind, I thirst to know everything. I read, collect, gather, organise, list. Here are some of the things I read, see and experience. Please make yourself at home: drinks and pretzels will be served shortly. If you'd like to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

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