On the 25th August, 1939, John Bartholomew and Son printed 10,347 copies of their ‘Automobile Association Map of England and Wales’. As far as maps go, I think it’s fair to say it’s not exactly anything to write home about. Stripped away of any extraneous information, beyond the roads themselves, the strictly black and white map is rather clinical, resembling a diagram of the human circulatory system.
Whilst undoubtedly of interest to some, I fear this map would make for a somewhat uninspiring blog article, so luckily for me, things really pick up when you turn the map over.
The reverse of this map is devoted to at-length descriptions of the Automobile Association, and the assorted benefits of membership. Perhaps the one we are most familiar with is the patrol service, providing motorists with assistance in their hour of need. In 1939, the service looked like this.
The accompanying text informs readers that the road patrol service is the first of its kind in the world, with officers patrolling on motorbikes with side cars, or pedal cycles. Equipped with tools, petrol and a fire extinguisher, they were surely well armed to tackle any emergency.
Of course, in a time where mobile telephones were possibly beyond the realms of any imagination, contacting the patrol might have been a tricky business. But not so, as the AA proudly provided its members with access to roadside telephone boxes.
In truth, a lot of care and attention appears to have gone into this service, with phone boxes specifically located on main roads where telephones were scare or on roads described as ‘passing through lonely areas’. The telephone boxes were all fitted with an identical lock, and AA membership included a key, to allow members access to this invaluable communication link. A card inside included details of the nearest AA approved garages as well as those of local hotels, doctors and the nearest ambulance service. Although local calls were free of charge, an honesty box operated for those making trunk or toll calls.
One thing I hadn’t realised the AA took charge of was road signage, but this is yet another service proudly boasted about on the reverse of the map.
The text says, ‘In the early days of motoring, many of the signposts – where they existed – were in a more or less dilapidated condition’. From 1907, the AA undertook to improve the situation by installing their own signposts. By 1939, this totalled over 100,000.
Then finally, something that really was a revelation to me, the AA’s aviation department.
Launched in 1928, this department worked in collaboration with the Royal Aero Club, to provide aviators with ‘extensive air touring facilities’. This included their Air Route Maps, another type of map publication which Bartholomew printed.
To end, another interesting point of note; just seven days after this map was printed, Germany invaded Poland, leading to the start of the Second World War.