Wednesday, 3 April 2013


A to Z Challenge – travels round Leicester with my camera No 3.

We’ve had an exceptionally cold spring this year and for many that means jetting off somewhere warm for Easter. With this in mind today’s post is about the pioneering excursionist Thomas Cook, father of the package holiday.

In 1841 Cook, a devout baptist and temperance campaigner then living in Market Harborough, had the idea of commissioning a special train to take 570 temperance members from Leicester’s Campbell Street Railway Station to a temperance rally in Loughborough (a distance of 11 miles) on the newly extended Midland railway. Return tickets cost one shilling (5p) and included a lunch of bread and ham.

Cook wasn’t the first to organise excursions but he was the first to realise the size of the potential market and it was Cook more than anyone else who opened up travel to the middle classes. After organising several successful not for profit trips, Cook, now living in Leicester, established his tourism business in 1845. His first profit making excursion was to Liverpool from Leicester, Nottingham and Derby, taking in Caernarfon and Snowdonia. 

In 1862 Cook’s business was hard hit by the refusal of the Scottish railway companies to issue any more group tickets for his tours north of the border. However he was able to take advantage of new rail links to transport tourists to the continent.

As the firm grew Cook, with his son John, moved their head office to London and by 1872 Thomas Cook and Son were offering Round the World Tours for 200 guineas (£210). Cook retired to Leicester in 1878. He died in 1892 and is buried in Leicester’s Welford Road Cemetery.

Top left: Bronze Statue of Thomas Cook outside Leicester Railway Station by James Walter Butler, erected in 1994. Although he appears to have forgotten his hat, he does have an umbrella.

Top right: former Thomas Cook Building in Gallowtree Gate, 1894. Architects, Goddard, Paget & Goddard and below it a detail of relief panels displaying the company name.

Bottom four pictures show bronzed terracotta reliefs on the front of the building depicting four Thomas Cook milestones:

1841 – the first excursion to Loughborough. Note the open carriages.
1851 – excursions to the Great Exhibition. The Crystal Palace can be seen on the left of the relief. Cook transported over 165,000 people to exhibition in Hyde Park.
1884 – a commission by the British Government to transport troops and supplies up the Nile. 
1891 – Queen Victoria’s Golden Jublilee, a train steams towards the Forth Railway Bridge which had been opened the previous year. 

Cook’s deeply held religious principles stayed with him throughout his life and he became a great philanthropist working tirelessly for the Baptist church, the temperance movement and various other charities. In 1853 he built a Temperance Hall in Granby Street. It remained an important entertainment venue for many years eventually becoming a cinema. Next door Cook built a Temperance Hotel which also incorporated his home. The Temperance Hall was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by an office block. The Temperance Hotel is still standing, but despite a vociferous campaign to save it, permission has been granted to demolish it to make way for an office block. 

A forlorn looking Temperance Hotel with its plaque commemorating Cook.


  1. as a baptist, i found this very interesting!!

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      As a young man Cook became an itinerant village missionary, preaching, distributing tract and setting up Sunday schools throughout the South Midland counties.

  2. As a traveler, fascinating too!