The Shepheard Hotel Cairo

By the middle of the Victorian era, foreign travel was much easier and tourism was flourishing. One of the most popular destinations was the land of the pharaohs – Egypt. The ‘leisure’ classes took advantage in their droves and some could even afford a Thomas Cook Tour up the Nile. A forty-day round trip from Cairo to Luxor in the 1850s cost about £110, the equivalent of £12,856 today. 

Touristen_in_Egypte_-_Tourists_in_Egypt
Credit: Nationaal Archief

Two distinct groups of visitors tended to undertake the trip. The first were the military and government officials either stationed in Egypt or en route to India, via the Suez Canal. For many, a stop over in Cairo was an attractive proposition. Secondly, you had tourists drawn to Egypt by its romantic associations, unique antiquities and of course, the wonderfully mild winters. Both groups wanted ‘home from home’ comforts in their accommodation while staying over in Cairo.

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Samuel Shepheard

A canny Englishman, by the name of Samuel Shepheard, found himself in Cairo in 1842, having been thrown off a P&O ship for taking part in an unsuccessful mutiny. He found work at the British Hotel in Cairo and within a couple of years, had bought the hotel and renamed it after himself.

During a hunting trip he met and became friends with Khedive Abbas and two years later Shepheard, with the khedive’s help and influence, managed to buy a former palace on Esbekier Square, an area of park land with tropical greenery and rare trees, that was once occupied by Napoleon’s army and used as headquarters during his invasion of Egypt.

 

Shepheard's Hotel

Shepheard’s new hotel became known as a ‘safe haven’ for weary travellers who were guaranteed the best whiskey and the company of fellow Westerners. As the hotel grew in popularity, its guests included British military officers, bureaucrats, and wealthy American travellers. One of its most celebrated guests at the time was the novelist Anthony Trollope. Samuel was renowned as a superb host which contributed in no small part to the success of the hotel.

Shepheard made a small fortune from the hotel, benefitting from the dawn of adventure tourism along the Nile.  Shepheard sold the hotel in 1861 for £10,000 and retired to Eathorpe Hall,  Warwickshire, England. 

DiningDespite his departure, Shepheard’s Hotel remained the centre of the Anglo-American community in Cairo and in 1869, it hosted the celebration of the Grand Opening of the Suez Canal.

The hotel became the playground for international aristocracy where any person of social standing made a point of being seen taking afternoon tea on its famous terrace. 

In my novel, Footprints in the Sand, I base the Hotel Excelsior on Shepheard’s Hotel. It was the perfect setting for Lucy to mingle with the odd assortment of fascinating guests, who would eventually feature in the murder mystery. The famous dining room is the setting for one of the pivotal scenes in the book.

Footprints-EBOOK-Cvr

Cairo, Autumn 1887: A melting pot of jealousy, lust and revenge. Who will pay the ultimate price?

Lucy Lawrence throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the land of the pharaohs.

Travelling to Cairo as the patron of the charming French Egyptologist, Armand Moreau, Lucy discovers a city teeming with professional rivalries, and a thriving black market in antiquities which threatens Egypt’s precious heritage.

When the Egyptian Museum is burgled, Lucy is determined to solve the case, much to the annoyance of the local inspector of police, and the alarm of Mary, her maid. But when an archaeologist is found murdered in the Great Pyramid, Lucy is catapulted into the resulting maelstrom. Can she keep her wits about her to avoid meeting a similar fate?

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Historical fiction writer, blogger

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