hidden europe 14

Travel for the millions: Thomas Cook

by Nicky Gardner


A look at the man who brought travel to the millions: the Victorian temperance campaigner, Thomas Cook.

In the summer of 1891, William Gladstone was holed up at Hawarden Castle, his country estate in North Wales, nursing his health and planning yet another comeback as prime minister of Great Britain and Ireland. A letter arrived at Hawarden, soliciting Gladstone's presence at a London dinner in honour of a company then celebrating fifty years in business. Gladstone's doctor was not inclined to make an exception to the strict rule that prohibited the statesman, already prime minister on three separate occasions, from attending public banquets, so Gladstone never did make it to London's Guildhall to celebrate the achievements of Thomas Cook & Son. Nor, as it happens, did Thomas Cook himself.

It had been a dozen years since Thomas Cook had taken any active part in the company that bore his name, and by the time of the half-centennial dinner in 1891, Thomas' only son, John Mason Cook, was firmly at the helm. Thomas, living in retirement in Leicestershire, had his mind on other matters: past journeys, the temperance movement and an ambitious plan to endow the Derbyshire village of Melbourne with a handsome set of cottages, a bakery, laundry and - most importantly - a mission hall.

Strangely, there is no evidence that Thomas Cook ever really had the travel bug.

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