Victorian Tourism: Thomas Cook

Today, everyone is familiar with the guided tour or cruise, but such things were virtually unheard of in the early years of the Victorian age. The man who changed that, and who is now considered the inventor of modern tourism, was Thomas Cook.

Who was he?

Thomas-Cook
Credit: Thomas Cook Group

Thomas was born in 1808 in Derbyshire, England, and left school at ten years of age to work. In 1826, he became a Baptist minister, becoming an itinerant evangelist, distributing pamphlets and sometimes working as a cabinet maker to earn money. Eventually, Thomas settled in Market Harborough and while there, was persuaded by the local Baptist minister to take the temperance pledge. As a part of the temperance movement, Thomas organised meetings and held anti-liquor processions. In March 1833, Thomas married Marianne Mason at Barrowden in Rutland. They went on to have three children, John, Henry (who died in infancy) and Annie.

The First Excursion

Cook’s initial idea of offering excursions came to him while walking to Leicester to attend a temperance meeting, thus taking advantage of the extended Midland Counties Railway. On 5th July 1841, Thomas escorted almost 500 people, who paid one shilling each for the return train journey. It was the first publicly advertised excursion train in England.

A Growing Business

Soon after, Thomas moved to Leicester, and set up as a bookseller and printer, specialising in temperance literature but also producing guidebooks. Then, in 1846, he took 350 tourists by train and steamboat to Glasgow. For customers travelling for the first time, he offered a guidebook entitled Cook’s Scottish Tourist Practical Directory. One particular chapter bore the heading: Is it Safe for Ladies to Join in Highland Tours? [I’d love to know the answer!]

Credit: Thomas Cook Group

In the early 1860s, Thomas ceased to act as a personal guide and became an agent for the sale of domestic and overseas travel tickets to countries such as America and Egypt. As the decade progressed, alpine journeys became popular and in 1864, parties began to venture into the newly united Italy. Thomas opened a London premises on Fleet Street, London, and in 1872, he went into partnership with his son, John, and renamed the company Thomas Cook & Son. Around this time, the firm started to use ‘circular notes’, which were eventually known as travellers’ cheques.

Thomas retired in 1878, following a disagreement with his son. He moved back to Leicester where he lived quietly until his death in 1892. The business passed to his only surviving son, and was subsequently taken over by Thomas’s grandsons in 1899. The company continued to be run as a family firm until 1928.

Nile_cruises
Nile Cruise Poster 1922

The ‘Cook tour’ rapidly became famous during the Victorian era. However, not everyone thought highly of them. One critic referred to them as ‘everything that is low-bred, vulgar and ridiculous’ (Blackwood’s Magazine, February 1865).

Not surprisingly, the worst critics were the wealthy English, now finding their exclusive haunts overrun by the middle-classes. Another gripe was that tourists were ruining the places they visited by importing their customs, such as tea, lawn tennis and churches!

In my novel, No Stone Unturned, Lucy Lawrence does not travel as part of a Cook tour to Egypt, however, she does encounter many tourists in Cairo who have. As Lucy is fairly occupied trying to solve a robbery, and subsequently a murder, she doesn’t pay them much heed. However, it was her upper class of Victorian male who traditionally did the ‘Grand Tour’, the forerunner of the guided tour. It was frowned upon for a woman, even a widow such as Lucy, to travel without a male escort. Thankfully, there were women prepared to break the mould, and I talk about one of them in my next post on Victorian travel.

Footprints-EBOOK-Cvr

Footprints in the Sand – Book 2 of The Lucy Lawrence Mysteries

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 jealousies 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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