about the red guides

"The use of a reliable guide book doubles the pleasure and interest of a holiday.  These well-known books are not dull, dry-as-dust compilations. but pleasant travelling companions, readable from cover to cover.  Each volume contains the latest Maps and Plans and is lavishly illustrated.  In all cases a much wider area is included than the title indicates, and it will be found that nearly every holiday and health resort of importance is described in one or more of the volumes."  (Source:1924 Ward Lock Red Guide promotional leaflet)

The earliest Ward Lock travel guides were published in 1880, but were issued on green paper boards – not in the familiar red cloth covers as we know them today. The series originally comprised 30 titles.  The guides were priced at a shilling, and were therefore known as “Shilling Guides”. Many were not explicitly dated. 

The guides adopted their familiar red cloth covers in 1892 (- see illustration of the 1894 Isle of Wight guide at left).

By the end of the century, 72 guides had been published, covering different towns and areas in England & Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands and a number of Continental destinations.

According to the book Adventure in Publishing, The House Of Ward Lock, 1854 to 1954, by Edward Liveing, Ward and Lock "noted the public’s growing tendency to explore the British Isles.  The ubiquity of the railway lines had played its part in the growth of the travel at holiday times and the increasingly popular “weekend”.  At Easter, Cornwall was the resort of the well-to-do; in August of working class folk. The Lake District was thronged with families in the summer who climbed its fells without any of the fears that prevented their ancestors from doing so a century earlier.  Women took to walking after the passing of crinolines.  Also, like their men-folk, they had taken to bicycling when the two low-wheel of machine supplanted the perilous “penny-farthing”.  The tandem, too, came into fashion and added its touch of romantic adventure to this form of self-propelled travel."

" All this growing zest for travel required catering for in more ways than in the provision of food and lodging.  And so it came about that in 1896 Ward Lock and Bowden Ltd. Introduced their series of Guide Books to the British Isles. The early “guides” were issued in green paper boards – not as we know them today in their familiar red cloth covers – and were priced at a shilling.  Gradually a great series was worked up until, as today, every holiday district and seaside resort of consequence was covered by its own particular Guide.  A special staff of qualified editors and correspondents continually toured the land, compiling and revising material on all places and matters of interest to the holidaymaker and on such subjects as the local history, geology, botany and zoology of the areas concerned."

In the early years of the 20th century, Ward Lock also published a range of hard-backed Tourist Handbooks.  These mainly covered the Continental destinations including Belgium, Holland, Norway, Paris, Rome and Switzerland (and later on, Brittany), but was later extended to include a small number of British destinations (London, The English Lake District and North Wales).

Around the mid-1950's, when Ward Lock changed the format of their guide books and introduced cardboard covers and brightly coloured yellow and red dust jackets , the number of different towns and areas covered by guides had reached a total of around 160. These later versions are not featured on this website at present.

The last red guides are believed to have been published in the mid 1970s.

The guides are sometimes difficult to date and we offer some advice how to do this on the dating clues page .

Click on the pictures at left to show them larger and with a higher resolution.