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Category: Inventors, Industrialists and Innovators

Thomas Cook and the World’s First Package Tour

At last, the sun is out, the days are warmer and longer, and the holiday season beckons. Nothing raises my spirits so much as a packed suitcase, and the prospect of a journey. Ideally an eager lover should meet me at an exotic train station or airport, but a local guide with my name spelled out on a handheld sign will do. Indeed, I will happily descend into the bowels of an unknown metro or abandon myself to the hustling taxi drivers who swarm like locusts awaiting disorientated travellers. The destination and the transport do not even have to be glamorous: bags in the back of the car, the bossy lady from Google Maps issuing terse directions as I miss the correct exit from the roundabout for the third time, I will advance on the most unprepossessing of English towns, firm in my conviction that there are at least Ten Interesting Things to See in any previously unexplored location. Hearing me say this, a friend once challenged me with her hometown of Middlesbrough; honestly, it could not have been easier.

No surprise then that one of my heroes is Thomas Cook (1808-1892), the man who established the world’s first package tour. Born in Derbyshire, he moved to Leicester in his twenties and established a business as a bookseller and printer. He joined the Temperance Movement and organised his first excursion in 1841, hiring a train and carriages from the newly established Midlands Counties Railway to transport temperance campaigners from Leicester to a rally in Loughborough. Four hundred and eighty-five people made the round trip of twenty-two miles in third class open tub cars. They paid one shilling each which also covered the cost of a meal and the services of the band which accompanied them. Over the next four summers Thomas Cook coordinated similar expeditions to Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, and Liverpool for members of Temperance Societies and Sunday Schools.

In 1846, expanding to include trips for the general public, he inaugurated his first tour of Scotland, a little blighted by the absence of restaurant and lavatory facilities on the train. Then followed tours of Wales and Ireland. Joseph Paxton, the architect of the Crystal Palace, encouraged him to arrange day trips from Yorkshire and the Midlands to the Great Exhibition in London, and in the course of 1851 he transported 150,000 people to the event in Hyde Park.

Cook opened his Temperance Hall and Hotel in Leicester in 1853. The hotel incorporated his tourism office and his family accommodation. The Temperance Hall offered entertainment to rival the ubiquitous public houses, with concerts, lectures, magic lantern shows and readings, the latter on occasion performed by Charles Dickens.

In 1855 came the first excursion abroad with a “grand circular tour” through Belgium, Germany, and France. Cook negotiated reduced rates and customised schedules with railway companies in return for block bookings. He provided a package of travel, accommodation, and food, personally planning the routes and escorting the trips.

By 1868 Cook had introduced “hotel coupons” which independent travellers could exchange for meals and accommodation at any hotel on “Cook’s List”. In 1874 came “circular notes”, a popular form of traveller’s cheque, the first ones specifically exchangeable for Italian lira at a predetermined rate.

Having brought mass tourism to Italy, for which present day Venice may not thank him, he moved on to America where his “circular tickets” facilitated travel on 4,000 miles of railways.

Cook’s travel office began to sell guidebooks, luggage, telescopes, and suitable footwear for more ambitious expeditions. By 1869 he had hired two steamers to transport his tourists up the Nile. So popular were these tours that the Nile was dubbed “Cook’s Canal.”

His experimental Round the World Tour of 1872 was so successful that it became an annual event. Cook had taken the Grand Tour out of the hands of the very wealthy, opening the world to an ever-widening demographic.

The Cook family grave lies in Welford Road cemetery, Leicester.

Cook Family grave

It incorporates individual tablets remembering: Cook’s daughter, Annie Elizabeth Cook, who unfortunately died in a bath in 1880 having inhaled poisonous fumes from a water boiler; his wife Marianne Cook, died 1884; and Cook himself who died in 1892.

Annie Elizabeth, Marianne and Thomas Cook

Above the tablets it bears a conventional epitaph from Isaiah 40, 6-8,

“All Flesh is Grass,

The Grass Withereth

The Flower Fadeth

But the Word of our God shall stand Forever.”

All Flesh is Grass

But far more arresting is the lichen covered open book at the foot of the upright stone:

Thomas Cook

Pioneer of Travel, Founder of the

World’s Largest Travel Organisation.

First Excursion

Leicester to Loughborough 1841

Round the World 1872

He Brought Travel to the Millions.

Elsewhere in the cemetery is the grave of John Jason Cook who took over the firm from his father.

John Jason Cook, son of Thomas Cook, who took over the family firm

But as the growth of online booking rendered their high street travel agents redundant, and low-cost airlines undercut their prices, Thomas Cook’s agency went into liquidation in 2019 after 178 years of trading. The repatriation of the 155,000 people on Thomas Cook holidays abroad was described by one newspaper, with technical accuracy but more than an element of hyperbole, as “Britain’s biggest peacetime repatriation.”

RIP Thomas Cook

Yet travel and tourism live on and embracing my suitcase and the spirit of Thomas Cook I am taking a holiday. The blog will be back on 24th of June. And if you have free time over the summer, Leicester, The Birthplace of Tourism, merits a visit… and it has more than Ten Interesting Things to See.

Joseph Tanner and the Sad Demise of the Printing Works

In the churchyard of the twelfth century St. Mary Magdalene in Great Elm, a parish in the hundred of Frome, is a headstone  which had always fascinated me.  The grave of Joseph Tanner, a printer, it urges with wit and self-depreciatory charm,

“Pray Stranger

that the forme be


that’s put to bed with

errors uncorrected.”

Joseph Tanner was, I discovered, the last member of his family to run the firm  of Butler and Tanner, printers in Frome since 1845. William Longford, a chemist, had established a press mainly for his own printing needs, notably medicine labels and advertising leaflets. He was joined a year later by William Butler, and they expanded the business printing labels for nation wide firms including Robinson’s Barley Water. When Longford retired in 1863, Butler united with Joseph Tanner. It is the latter’s descendant, another Joseph Tanner, whose grave lies in Great Elm.

In the nineteenth century, when the previously prosperous wool and cloth trade  declined, Frome diversified, and chief amongst its new industries were metal working and printing. John Webb Singer’s metalworks and Cooper and Tanner’s print works were the new stars and they shone very brightly indeed. Singer’s works included casting the gigantic Boudica which stands beside Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, the figure of Justice on the top of the Old Bailey, and the statue of Alfred the Great in Winchester.

Cooper and Tanner meanwhile became the largest employer in Frome, achieving international renown in the world of book printing. In 1895 they established a four-storey factory with several hundred employees working with thirty-eight new presses to print 13.5 million sheets each year. Their commissions included printing for the publishers Chatto and Windus, and Hodder and Stoughton.

In 1907 their success precipitated a move to a larger factory in Caxton Road. Here their enormous new press nicknamed the “Dreadnought” worked day and night. It could turn out 224 sheets per revolution, though it took five days to make ready for printing. In the 1960s it was joined by the “Bristolian” which ran at a high speed and could print in half tones. For this the ink had to dry quickly and gas burners were introduced. An article in the Independent records encouragingly that “the racing paper hardly ever caught fire.”

Butler and Tanner produced the early Penguin paperbacks for Allen Lane, starting with André Maurois’ Ariel, the very first Penguin book, in 1935. They were responsible for Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Affair at Styles and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. In more recent years they produced The Gentle Author’s London Album(2013) and Bob Mazzer’s Underground (2014).

The Joseph Tanner whose grave lies in Great Elm churchyard joined the family firm in 1948 after studying at the London College of Printing. While there he produced spoof articles for the British Printer magazine, one advocating a process for turning old shoes into printing plates, and another outlining a process for leather plate making by coating a cow in photo-sensitive emulsion and driving it into a disused tunnel with negatives imposed on the coated hide. Light from the ventilated shafts of the tunnel would supposedly develop the image, and the hide could then be removed and fixed for printing. In both cases the technical detail was sufficiently convincing to elicit serious enquiries.

Yet Joseph Tanner was also serious about his trade, and when he retired he left a business, which in 1948 had still been printing from metal type mainly in black and white, at the forefront of modern colour lithography. During his fifty-five years with the company, it became the largest privately owned printer in Europe. The colour presses which he had introduced in the 1980s featured on the television programme Challenge Anneka in the 1990s when a book was set, printed, and bound in 24 hours.

But sadly, the firm ran into financial difficulties. In 2008 Felix Dennis had rescued it from administration at the eleventh hour, enabling it to continue operating until 2014 when, with its lease running out, and planning permission in place for a housing development on the site, it closed for the final time. The company’s map division, now Dennis Maps, continues to produce Ordinance Survey maps. Developers turned the site of the old factory in Caxton Road into a  £45 million housing estate, “The Old Print Works,” where, their advertising boasts, the interior colours of the show homes were, “inspired by the primary colours of Penguin book jackets once produced here.”


The Butler and Tanner Story by Lorraine Johnson, published by Frome Society for Local Study, can be obtained from  the Hunting Raven Bookshop in Frome or from Frome Heritage Museum, which has a wonderful collection of documents and artefacts relating to the industries of Frome.

And for an evocative eulogy of the firm see So Long, Butler and Tanner, May 14, 2014, where the Gentle Author describes a visit to the printing works during its last days to see the pages of his London Album coming off the press: “Everyone who loves books knows the name of Butler and Tanner…” There you will also find some lovely photographs of the old print works and its magnificent machinery.

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