Special Collections & Archives holds a variety of town guides from cities across the UK, donated by Gerald Bloomfield.

Here are Dr. Bloomfield's comments about the collection:

"Virtually all the town guides were collected between 1960 and 1963 when I was a graduate student at the University of Nottingham. They were used mostly for background on the industrial geography of places, although the photographs, advertisements, text and maps provide much more detail about the towns and cities. Since the PhD research was focused on the location of the British motor vehicle, cycle and aircraft industries, guides to a wide range of places were collected. These include places beyond the classic industrial towns--from Malvern (Morgan cars), and Barton upon Humber (Elswick-Hopper cycles) trial, to the Hawarden Rural District (de Havilland aircraft, now the source of Airbus wings). Most significant urban centres in the British Isles are represented, and there is a comprehensive collection of guides to places which became Greater London in 1965.

The guides can provide a benchmark for assessing the very substantial changes which have affected British urban places in the past 50 years. The following features will be of interest to geography, environmental studies and urban planning:

  • All the guides reflect a period before the extensive modernization of the later 1960s and subsequent decades. Many of the street scenes depicted look very similar to views of the 1930s or even earlier.
  • Although planning had become compulsory with the 1947 Town and Country Planning act, the only visible effects on the townscape were the extensive council housing estates (public housing). Large-scale slum demolition was just beginning, tower blocks were very rare, while town centre development and new roads and motorways were only in the planning stages. Urban-edge retailing (supermarkets had scarcely begun) and service growth were unknown. New hotel accommodation was totally undeveloped.
  • Many of the New Towns created after 1946 are represented in this collection.  These include places such as Corby, Basildon, Crawley, Cwmbran and  Welwyn Garden City already established by 1960. In addition, there are guides to some places which were included in a second generation of New Towns designated in the 1960s. Examples include Newport Pagnell and Wolverton (later part of Milton Keynes) as well as Dawley and Oakengates (Telford New Town).
  • Very few of the municipalities which sponsored the guides survived the local government reorganization of 1974. The publication and content of the guides reflect features of local urban pride, which has now disappeared in many places. The fragmentation of local government led to complex movements towards the consolidation of services and administrative areas into larger units.

    In the 1940s, the nationalization of hospitals, electricity and gas removed these services from local control. During the 1960s, there were substantial amalgamations in water supply and police services. Problems of small autonomous areas and services were most acute in the conurbations. Greater London was the first region to be consolidated in 1965, when 32 London boroughs replaced 85 local authorities in the former counties of London and Middlesex and in parts of Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey. Elsewhere, the issues were tackled by legislation in the early 1970s. Counties were partly reorganized and the 424 Districts replaced some 1,700 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland. The attached list of places names the successor districts and counties from 1974.

  • Since the industrial base in most of the towns and cities has been very substantially eroded, the guides provide a very good benchmark for studies of de-industrialization over the past half-century.

Municipal guidebook publishing began in the 1920s, when local authorities were allowed to spend local rates (taxes) on publishing and promotion. The dominant publisher by the late 1950s was Ed. J. Burrow, with offices in Cheltenham and London. This company also published separate town maps with their distinctive "pointer scale" as an aid in finding streets. Another significant town guide publisher was Pyramid Press, Streatham Hill, London. Others were G.W. May of London, Home Publishing Company in Croydon, and the British Publishing Company in Gloucester.

The town guides vary in size from a slender brochure of 30 pages for a small Urban District to large-format volumes of over 300 pages for a major City and County Borough such as Liverpool.  While not always providing total coverage of all firms and possible themes, the details are generally accurate. Many of the later volumes of the Victoria County Histories of England often cite the town guides as a source of local information. Research in various fields could find the finer details of life and landscape in British urban places circa 1960 a useful adjunct to other more general sources and the census of population.

Gerald T. Bloomfield 12 July 2008"

The guides can be found by search in the Library catalogue for Bloomfield, G. T. (Gerald Taylor), donor.