Thomas Cook (1808-1892)
Born in Melbourne, Derbyshire, Thomas Cook was employed from the age of 10 firstly as a gardener‘s help for a penny a day and later as a wood turner and then as a printer. Several years later he returned to work as a wood turner by setting up a cabinet-making business first in Barrowden and then in Market Harborough. By this time he was a committed teetotaller and a keen advocate of the temperance movement. Whilst walking fourteen miles to attend a temperance meeting in Leicester one day it suddenly occurred to him that the ideal way to transport people to a temperance fete which was to take place in Loughborough would be to hire a train and take a party of people from Leicester.
Consequently, in 1841 he organised the first passenger train excursion from Leicester’s Campbell Street Station to Loughborough. Everything was organised in advance: Thomas Cook sold tickets at one shilling return and each of the 570 passengers also received a small guide book to the route, written and printed by Cook himself. Entertainment in the form of a brass band was also provided on the journey and tea and buns were served on arrival at the park.
3,000 people gathered to watch the departure of the excursion train and the excursion was deemed such a success that Thomas Cook was in great demand to organise further excursions and as the rail network developed, this ultimately led to Thomas Cook establishing his travel business. Excursions to the seaside became popular and he promoted tours to English spas and seaside resorts. By the 1860s he was organising tours for the better-off clientele all over the continent including Switzerland, France and Italy. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, tourists were able to visit Egypt and the Middle East and in 1872 the first round the world trip took place.
Thomas Cook died in Leicester on 18th July 1892 and thousands of people turned out to attend his funeral. He is buried in Leicester’s Welford Road cemetery.