But by the early C19th the industrial revolution created a new market for travel: improved roads dramatically shortened journey times; industrial expansion generated greater wealth in the cities (not for everyone); and a limited working week brought with it the concept of leisure. Steam-driven vessels began to link Dover and Calais in 1821, and by 1840 an estimated 100,000 travellers were using them annually. In the same year the steamship Britannia crossed the Atlantic in 14 days. Steamers started to ply the Rhine in 1828, the Rhone and the Danube a few years later. And the spread of railway systems speeded up, democratised and extended the range of travel.
Cook's Excursionist poster
In 1841 while walking to Leicester, Thomas decided to arrange a rail excursion from Leicester to a Temperance Society meeting on the newly extended Midland Railway. So he chartered a special train and charged his 570 customers 1 shilling, to cover the costs of transport and food. They travelled in open tub-type carriages, walked into the town centre, and enjoyed tea and games in the town's park.
Although his profit margins were small, the venture organising cheap train travel for working families was a great success and Cook decided to start his own business running rail excursions. Within 3 years of that historic 1841 temperance trip, Midland Counties Railway Company had a permanent arrangement with Cook who had to find sufficient passengers to fill the train.
In 1846 he took 500 people from Leicester on a tour of Scotland. They each paid a guinea to travel by train & steamer to Glasgow and Edinburgh, where they had vouchers for their hotels and were greeted with brass bands and cannons firing. Cook found many opportunities for people to uplift themselves culturally and morally via excursions to other places. Another of his greatest achievements was to arrange for 165,000+ people to attend the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.
He soon went up-market and by 1865 was escorting to Italy “clergymen, physicians, bankers, civil engineers and merchants.” So up-market that in 1865 Cook moved his business to London. His son John managed the London office of the company that became known as Thomas Cook & Son. They organised personally conducted tours throughout Europe and procured hotels for tourists making independent trips.
Naturally Cook and his excursionists were attacked by traditionalists as “hurried observers, visible representatives of a modernity that was bringing intrusive crowds into formerly self-sufficient villages, towns and regions.” Times were changing. The new tourists, those “red-nosed people carrying red books [Murrays] in their hands”, were by virtue of travelling in a certain organised way, “incapable of the appropriate aesthetic response to the places they visited. They profaned the very sanctity of the monuments they visited”. Speed was seen as nasty.
Tour books included images of the sites the tourists would visit eg sphinx
By 1880 the Egyptian Government was so pleased with the Cooks’ operation that they granted them exclusive control over all passenger steamers on the Nile. In return, the Cooks undertook in 1870 to invest large sums of money in rented steamers, owned by the Ottoman sultan’s viceroy, and to manage the service.
By the 1870s Cook's Tours offered hugely successful trips to all parts of the world, opening up the Grand Tour to the middle classes. By 1872 Thomas Cook & Son was able to offer a 212 day Round the World Tour for 200 guineas. The journey included a steamship across the Atlantic, stage coach across the USA to the westcoast, paddle steamer to Japan and an overland trip across China and India. Posters and advertisements depicted the more exciting places that the tour would visit eg Cook’s Excursionist and Home and Foreign Tourist Advertiser. Guide books were sold in their shops, chockablock with details about booking, transport, hotels, tourist sites, health care, diet, dress and financial arrangements. Most travel needs could be found as well.
British tourists visiting Giza
Thomas Cook retired in 1879. While Thomas had maintained the grand view, John was innovative and understood that no detail was too small in the travel industry. At a time when popular tourism had been frowned upon, Thomas had struggled to make it acceptable, while John (after 1865) strove to make it respectable. They had succeeded in making travel easier, cheaper and safer for millions of people via what we would now call The Package Tour.
There was no problem in changing the management over to John Mason Cook and HIS sons. John had an ability to organise on a large scale, so he set about transforming his father’s business into a global name. Thomas died in 1892, his legacy for travel around the world assured.
Thomas Cook building in Leicester, built in 1894
Built as a memorial to The Man himself, the 3-storey Thomas Cook Building in Leicester (photo above) was designed by Joseph Goddard with carved archways that are separated by small stone balconies and columns. The four stone friezes depict four of Cook's significant trips between 1841-91.