The history of holidays
I spent most of yesterday on a business park just outside Peterborough. I was at the HQ of Thomas Cook, the travel company -- not booking a holiday (though the vast number of people working busily here suggested that the holiday business had not been as hit by the recession as you might guess), but exploring the company's archive. For the company goes back to the mid nineteenth century, and to an excursion he arranged in 1845 from Leicester to Liverpool. In fact one of the objects on display in the archive was an 1840s Cook's guidebook-cum-brochure for Liverpool.
I was there, as you might guess, to try to find out more about Cook's travel to Pompeii and Athens in the nineteenth century. Now, Cook's customers were not anything like so downmarket as they are sometimes painted (and were painted at the time in the more snobbish sectors of the British press), but they do give you a glimpse of the travel experience of those who are not simply blue-blooded aristocrats. Amonhst his early travellers to the Mediterranean, you find retired army officers, families from New Zealand, single ladies and all sorts.
So what did I turn up?
I spend most of my day going through the early numbers of Cook's private newspaper, The Excursionist
which I not been able to find in Cambridge (puzzling, as it OUGHT to be here -- if anybody can tell me where it is lurking, I'd be very grateful). This contains not only adverts for future travel, which became further and further flung as the century progressed (by the 1880s Cooks travellers were camping out in the Sinai desert). It also has Thomas Cook's own reflections on, and advice for, travellers, and accounts of past trips both by the management and the customers.
I was particularly interested in the account of one of the first excursions to Italy in 1864, in which 26 intrepid tourists did the whole trip as far as Naples (another 14 did Switzerland and the far north of Italy, but called it a day at Milan). The party, it seems, was very taken with Lake Maggiore ("'very like a well-appointed ballet-scene at Her Majesty's!' said a gentleman near me; and though sounding of matter-of-fact bathos, the idea was true enough"). But the "climax" was a visit to Pompeii, described in some detail -- a three hour exhausting hike through the ancient city ("some of the party began to weary"), which ended with a wonderful picnic in the amphitheatre: "chickens, tongues, sandwiches, cakes, fruits of various kinds, and drinks for all palates, consisting of cognac, lachrymi <sic> Christi (the tears of Christ!) made from the grapes grown at the foot of Vesuvius, and simple essence of lemon for that portion of the party who 'neither drink wine nor strong drink' of whom there were not less than a third of the party." (Thomas Cook himself -- on the right -- was a non-drinker, keen on the Temperance Movement -- but not one, I got the impression, to impose his principles on his customers.)
But there were all kinds of other gems too: diaries kept by Cook's travellers, a marvellous little book printed to give advice to the ladies ("A serge costume is much to be preferred to homespun. . .etc") , and much more.
It is a wonderful little archive (with a wonderfully helpful and knowledgable archivist), and I shall certainly be going back.