History of the Blue Guides

The Blue Guides have been setting the standard for travel guides since 1918, when the first Blue Guide “London and its Environs” was published by the Scottish brothers James and Findlay Muirhead.  The Muirheads had for many years been the English-language editors of the German Baedeker series; when they also acquired the rights to John Murray’s famous travel “handbooks” they established the Blue Guides as heir to the great 19th century guide book tradition.

1828Karl Baedeker (1801-59) publishes his first guidebook, Rheinreise von Mainz bis Köln.
1836John Murray III’s (1808-92) first Handbook published: a Handbook for Travellers on the Continent. These handbooks become the standard for English travellers for the next 75 years.
1861First Baedeker in English, The Rhine, published jointly by Baedeker and John Murray.
1878James Muirhead (1853-1934) works for Baedeker in preparing a handbook for travellers to London
1887Findlay Muirhead (1860-1935), graduate of Edinburgh University, leaves his studies at Leipzig to join his brother James at Baedeker. For almost the next thirty years the Muirhead brothers are responsible for all English language Baedekers, including compiling guides to Britain, the US and Canada.
1914Following the outbreak of the Great War, the Muirhead brothers find themselves out of a job.
1915Findlay and James Muirhead acquire the rights to John Murray’s Handbooks from the cartographical publisher Edward Stanford, who had bought them 14 years previously from John Murray IV. In the same year they establish their company, Muirhead’s Guidebooks Limited.
1917Agreement with French publisher, Hachette, to co-publish English and French language guidebooks under the names Blue Guides and Guides Bleus respectively. Hachette’s existing Guides Joannes had blue covers, while Baedeker’s guides had red covers.
1918First Blue Guide London and its Environs published.
1920Hachette publishes Guide Bleu Londres et ses Environs.
1931Blue Guides acquired by Ernest Benn Limited.
1933Co-operation with Hachette ends.
1934(Litellus) Russell Muirhead (1896-1976), Findlay’s son, becomes series editor. He retires in 1963, remaining a consulting editor until 1965 when the Muirhead family’s connection with the series ends.
1963Stuart Rossiter (1923-82) appointed editor.
1967Blue Guide Greece, compiled by Rossiter, published. This was the first of Rossiter’s “scrupulously edited guides, compiled for the independent educated traveller wanting to avoid the monotony of international uniformity.”
1971Blue Guide Rome and Environs by Alta Macadam published. Macadam’s Italy titles thereafter become some of the best selling Blue Guides and include Sicily (1975), Northern Italy (1978), Florence (1982), Venice (1980), Tuscany (1993), Umbria (1993), Central Italy (2008). Titles are frequently updated: (Macadam is working on new sections of Northern Italy which will be published in 2018). Other key Blue Guide authors are, and have been, Ian Robertson (Spain, Portugal, Switzerland), John Tomes (Scotland, Wales), Ian Ousby (England), Paul Blanchard (Italy), Paola Pugsley (Crete, Turkey), Delia Gray-Durant (France), Ellen Grady (Italy: Sicily, Marche, Italy Food Companion) and Carol Wright, whose fifth edition of her seminal Blue Guide New York wasrecently published.
1982WW Norton and Co of New York, established 1928, becomes US co-publisher, selling all Blue Guides in the US.
1984The Blue Guides acquired by A&C Black (Publishers) Limited, themselves later acquired by Bloomsbury Plc, publishers of the Harry Potter books among others.
2004Somerset Books acquires the Blue Guides, and a year later, 2005, relaunches the series with the first “new” Blue Guide, the 12th edition of Blue Guide Northern Italy (the first was published in 1924 – see all Blue Guides since 1918).