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By Jill Hamilton
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Jill Hamilton
All rights reserved.
Religion, Railways and Respectability
The prejudices which ignorance has engendered are broken by the roar of a train and the whistle of the engine awakens thousands from the slumber of ages ...
Thomas Cook, Handbook to Scotland, 1846
Tourism is now among the world's largest industries, but little is known about its greatest pioneer, Thomas Cook, the father of tourism. He revolutionised travel, invented package holidays and brought mobility to the masses. The sex, alcohol, overspending, indolent leisure and extravagance that are now associated with much of the holiday industry would horrify him. Few know of his preoccupation with God, Rome and the Holy Land, or of his determination to improve the lot of the working classes, let alone his abhorrence of beer houses, pubs and gin palaces. In the nineteenth century no priest, or minister, did more than this diminutive former preacher to shape Protestant attitudes to Palestine. By opening up Palestine to tourism, Cook deliberately offered the British people a way to reconnect with their religious roots. From 1869 onwards he brought the largest number of British to the Holy Land since the Crusader armies and private parties of pilgrims in the Middle Ages.
In 1976 a BBC documentary on Cook asked the question, 'But what made him do it? This strait-laced provincial missionary – what drove him on? What fired his abundant energy?' The following chapters attempt to give fresh insights into Cook – and, so that he, too, can have his voice, extracts from his voluminous writings are included in the appendix. His life gives a vivid picture of the influence of Nonconformity in England in the nineteenth century and the way it helped the slow march to a fairer society and democracy. Success for Cook was integrated with the collective power of the Nonconformists, many of whose ancestors had suffered the rack, the dungeon and the scaffold both during and after the Reformation.
Cook's near-forty-year career was full of leaps and contradictions, but he himself changed little. He never lost his Derbyshire accent, his fidgetiness or the habit of walking with his hands thrust into his pockets. Sometimes, when listening, he put his hands together and twirled his thumbs over one another. One writer described Cook in Paris 'answering questions and swallowing coffee with a rapid dexterity worthy of a Chinese juggler'. Another writer, the Archbishop of Canterbury's sister, described him in 1871 as 'a home-staying, retired tradesman'. Failings in etiquette and his 'northerness' were compensated by his foresight, patience and the ability of a stage entertainer to hold a crowd and impart excitement.
Cook always felt that God was on his side. All his life he retained the traits of many Baptists – that is, a horror of self-indulgence, debts of any sort or extravagance. Faith sustained him when he was attacked in the press by upper-class critics trying to stem the tide of travellers to 'their' resorts. Ever resourceful, Cook actually prospered from their condemnation. When his 'hordes' began pouring into the tourist destinations of the more affluent, Cook looked to faraway places to find untrammelled havens. So, while more tourists went to places like Morecambe, Blackpool and Ramsgate, the middle classes were exploring the Continent and Middle East – with Cook.
Cook was impelled by religion. Devotion to God, prayer and the Bible fired his imagination and provided him with his daily strength. He also drew inspiration from two other features of the Victorian era – railways and respectability. Scope came from the spreading of the railways. Integrity came from Temperance, which epitomised the ideals of self-control and self-denial and fitted in with nineteenth-century prudery and decorum. To these can be added resolution and reliability. Finally, there was music. Often bands with drums and trumpets beat out rousing tunes on his excursions.
Cook's life was no fairy-tale rags to riches story of a man rising effortlessly from obscurity. In his case, nights filled with letter-writing, accounts and editing frequently followed days of sustained effort. Even when short of sleep, he often had to reverse mishaps, but somehow he coped with the misadventures of travel – missed connections, broken-down trains, fierce storms at sea, hotels with double bookings and lost luggage. When things went wrong Cook relied on the ethos of self-help so characteristic of the nineteenth century and religious stoicism. But his ability to remain unruffled meant that he could have prearranged trips to see stampeding elephants. Whether facing insurgent warfare or the perils of the Swiss Alps, customers felt safe.
His assets in the travel business were his career as a printer and his marketing skills combined with rigorous self-discipline, attention to detail and an ability to coordinate transport and ground arrangements. Sophisticated marketing, whether persuading people of the evils of alcohol or the advantages of taking a train trip, was at the forefront of all his businesses. With his own printing presses and the help of just a few apprentices, he could quickly turn out stacks of cheap-to-produce leaflets, posters and flyers. Today, marketing is a subject in the curriculum of universities, but Cook acquired his know-how first by selling cabbages, turnips and other vegetables at Derby market, then by learning how to attract converts when earning his living proselytising for the Baptists, and he finally perfected his skills during his near twenty years as a publisher of Temperance literature. He made sure that newspapers and leaflets heightened the anticipation about coming excursions, and that destinations were made more fascinating by guidebooks and itineraries with potted histories.
Cook's dazzling progress coincided with the most action-packed period of parliamentary change in England. He started out as an itinerant Baptist lay preacher at the age of nineteen in 1828, the year of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. His time as a self-employed cabinet-maker began in the year of the Great Reform Act, which extended the franchise to all 'ten-pound householders'. He reached his goal of escorting trips to the Holy Land the year after the much-awaited passage of the second Reform Bill of 1867, which was also the golden moment of Nonconformity and Evangelicalism in English politics. Politics may sound a far cry from Cook sending thousands of holidaymakers off to criss-cross the earth's surface, but much reform, like Cook's early trips, was driven by the same ascendancy of religious ferment.
A leading anti-Corn Law campaigner, Cook promoted 'the poor man's bread', the Big Loaf and aid to the starving. He enjoyed the struggle in the 1840s tremendously. Born eight years into the beginning of the century and dying eight years before its end, he spanned the nineteenth century and was typical of those who were entrenched in Nonconformist religion. At a time when reform was a key political slogan, Cook was one of the voices in the large groups of Nonconformist Liberals who cried out for education, the disestablishment of the Church of England, an end to church tithes and Free Trade.
While religion gave Cook drive and purpose, the Bible was the wellspring of his life, and, after he had taken the Pledge at the age of twenty-four in 1833, Temperance was the catalyst. Cut-price package tourism became a social mission. Because travel freed people and widened their social circles, he wanted to help the poor to 'go beyond', get out of their rut, escape the confines of their own homes and fleetingly forget the dreariness of their lives by awakening their minds. Most people in his village seldom travelled further than thirty miles at the most, yet Cook took his name to the ends of the earth, turning it into one of the most easily recognised trademarks in the world. The phrase 'Cook's Tour' entered the English language. He made both scenic beauty and history, combined with trouble-free travelling, a saleable commodity.
The following chapters, while unveiling a little-known side of this 'pioneer of convenient travel', give an idea of the extraordinary extent to which religion, then one of the driving forces of the age, dominated the lives and politics of so many. The contribution of Nonconformity in the nineteenth century, together with the mutual support given by its members, was enormous. Apart from Joseph Paxton, nearly every helping hand extended to Cook in his first fifty years belonged to a Nonconformist.
Three of the destinations which Cook promoted with such fervour were well known because of the Bible: the Nile, so associated with Moses; the Jordan, which had become synonymous with Jesus; and the Tiber, which witnessed the expansion of the Christian Church. It was almost as if there was an invisible triangle connecting the three rivers which became part of his adult life. Five of Cook's most profound religious moments were near rivers and waterways. The first was when he was seventeen, when, near the River Trent in Derbyshire, he was plunged in the baptism bath in the Baptist Chapel in Melbourne, near his home. His second was at the age of thirty-five on the edge of the Grand Union Canal. His third was in 1869 while escorting the first package tour of English tourists to the Middle East, when he immersed himself in the Jordan in Palestine in the heart of the Holy Land where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. The fourth was the Nile, where he promoted trips as a tourist destination and explored places immortalised by Moses and Tutankhamen, and the fifth was setting up the first Baptist mission in history in Rome near the banks of the Tiber. Here he followed in the footsteps of Peter and Paul, who had made Rome into the cradle of Christianity.
It took Cook four careers and sixty years – as a carpenter, a printer, a preacher and a travel organiser – before he stood on the edges of the Jordan. By then this man, who had failed to acquire the finer arts of riding or ballroom dancing and who could not speak more than a few phrases in Arabic, could serenely lead a caravan of baggage camels, horses and donkeys, make himself heard and understood above all the noise and commotion, and, with only the help of men who knew no clocks and whose hours and minutes were regulated by the sun, the moon and the stars, get his tours to run with European punctuality.CHAPTER 2
A Nonconformist Childhood
Hedges so thick they seemed prehistoric had grown tall to shelter men and animals from the ferocious winter weather whose winds often blew low through the pretty little Domesday village of Melbourne, seven-and-a-half miles south-east from Derby, south-west of the Pennines. In 1807, winter arrived hastily after the long days of summer. There was snow in November. It melted away, but, as usual, from late November to early March, life was hard and there were few luxuries. Owning a pig was one of them. Happiness for labourers could often be measured by how many they owned. When a man could not find enough for his family to eat, the pig would be sold. The money helped pay off debts and bought shoes, clothing and perhaps, in the spring, piglets and hens. Most labourers had a decent potato patch. Leeks, parsnips, turnips, cabbages, beans, peas, spinach, rhubarb, parsley, lavender, rosemary and other herbs were lovingly tended. There were usually a few apple and plum trees. Many men, permanently in debt, relied on pigs, extra harvest earnings and income from their wives' looms to make ends meet.
Nearly every dwelling had its loom. For centuries wool had been spun in farmhouses and village homes by women and children, but now the wool went directly to the huge newly built woollen mills just a little smaller than the large new sawmills. Beyond them was the land which yielded wheat, barley, fodder, turnips and the seemingly ever-damp grass for the flocks of sheep. Cared for by shepherds with their crooks and guarded by Border collies, they were the real wealth. Everywhere, the hedges, more than any building, gave a feeling of permanence and of man's unending struggle with the elements. Many had been grown to enclose open fields, commons and waste land and to absorb it into both farms and estates. Between 1750 and 1830 approximately 6.8 million acres in England were brought into private cultivation as a result of Enclosure Acts. The soil was rich, renowned for its market gardens, yet scarcity coexisted with earthly abundance. Abject, hopeless poverty contrasted with the lives of the gentry and aristocracy.
Forebears of many labourers and tradesmen had been living near and around the area before the Civil War, before the Norman Conquest, back to the times when the Celts worshipped pagan gods, in circles of stones under the stars.
Horseshoes and little silver balls spelt out the names and date on the wedding cake, which was waiting to be cut. Soon the couple would come up the hill from the church past the tall holly hedges. The wedding of John Cook, a 22-year-old labourer, to Elizabeth Perkins was taking place at the parish church of St Michael. John Cook's family had lived in Melbourne for at least four generations. After the Marriage Act of 1753, marriage ceremonies could be performed only by clergymen of the Church of England, or by Quakers and Jews. Apart from the religious humiliation of having to marry in the church they defied, Nonconformists had the hardship of paying fees to the Anglican minister. Elizabeth had not been taught to write, so she had to mark the wedding register with a cross. If the family tree in the Cook archives is accurate, she was just over twenty. It gives a date of 1788, but no source. As John Cook had hesitated about entering the state of matrimony, her spinsterhood was underscored by her two younger sisters who had married earlier, becoming Ann Pegg and Alice Beresford.
After the wedding in the icy church in February 1808, just as the daffodils and early irises were pushing through the earth, the happy pair did not move in with John Cook's parents, William and Mary Cook, as was often customary, but rented the narrow picturesque tumbledown cottage at 9 Quick Close, on the highest crest of the hill of the village. If it had fallen down, it would not have been missed. In such cottages, the earth floors at the back 'heaved' in winter. From the street there was a panoramic view, but the house caught the winds and gales, which hissed rain down the chimney, rattled shutters and banged doors. It was a stiff climb up from the curving High Street with its pubs, chapels, shops, millers, brewers, maltsters, boot makers, grocers, butchers, bakers, blacksmith and flour dressers and dealers, though not as steep as the climb up from Melbourne Hall on flat ground near the lake.
Nine months after the wedding, on 22 November 1808, Thomas, the only child of the marriage, was born with a sturdy body and short legs that would remain spindly all his life. The birth was noted in the blank leaf between the Old and New Testament in the old family Bible which Elizabeth, as the eldest child, had inherited. Due to her lack of schooling, the words were penned in the neat hand of a stranger: 'On the 22nd day of November, 1808, at five o'clock in the morning, Thomas Cook was born in Melbourne.' As if to give symmetry to the pattern in his life, his birth coincided with the exhibition in London of the first steam locomotive and open carriage on rails by Richard Trevithick, the Cornish mining engineer, inventor of the steam engine. Thomas's birth also coincided with another in Paris, that of Louis Napoleon (who would become Napoleon III), the son of Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, Louis, and Josephine's daughter, Hortense. The activities of Louis Napoleon would impact on Thomas's life, as would those of William Gladstone, who was born the following year, and of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was born the year before Thomas.
War formed a backdrop to Thomas's childhood. With the exception of the period of the Peace of Amiens in 1803, the British had been waging war against the French since 1793. Thomas's birth was at the height of Britain's long era of war, in the year that Wellington's soldiers began their fight against Napoleon Bonaparte's Grande Armée in the Peninsular War in Spain, the year that Napoleon – branded in English villages as 'Boney' the ogre – had reached his zenith.
The war brought an exotic touch to daily life in remote and inaccessible Melbourne. A proportion of the 122,000 French prisoners of war were interned in the neighbouring town of Ashbyde-la-Zouch. With them came the sound of foreign tongues, the exoticism of the Continent and the constant reminder of the threat of invasion, something which had not been felt in England since the Spanish Armada. When Thomas was born, about 460,000 men had enrolled as volunteers in the home militia, including the volunteer infantry first raised in Derbyshire during 1803. As in the rest of Britain, each able-bodied man was trained in his spare time ready to defend hearth, home and country if invaded. In Melbourne, while there had been much improvisation with weapons, the brass band was so well equipped that there could have been rivalry about who was to beat the drum. At the slightest excuse it struck up a tune, creating such an impression on young Thomas that he later used bands to give gaiety and style to his early tours.
Excerpted from Thomas Cook by Jill Hamilton. Copyright © 2013 Jill Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
One Religion, Railways and Respectability,
Two A Nonconformist Childhood,
Three The Protestant Ethic,
Four A Spade! A Rake! A Hoe!,
Five A Long Way from the River Jordan,
Six Lay Preacher,
Seven Another New Career,
Eight A New Life in an Old Town,
Nine Total Abstinence,
Ten 'Excursions Unite Man to Man, and Man to God',
Eleven Leicester: Printer of Guides and Temperance Hymn Books,
Twelve 1845: The Commercial Trips, Liverpool, North Wales and Scotland,
Fourteen Corn Laws: 'Give Us Our Daily Bread',
Fifteen Bankruptcy and Backwards,
Sixteen 1848: Knowing Your Place in Society and Respecting Your Betters,
Seventeen The Great Exhibition,
Eighteen Paxton, Prince Albert and the Great Exhibition,
Nineteen Building Houses,
Twenty-one The Second and Third Decades,
Twenty-two A Leap in the Dark,
Twenty-three America at Last!,
Twenty-four For 'All the People!',
Twenty-five The Holy Land,
Twenty-six Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Twenty-seven The Opening of the Suez Canal,
Twenty-eight Paris: War, 1870,
Twenty-nine Around the World,
Thirty-two 'My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?',
Appendix: Three Cook Letters,