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Thomas Cook - The Temperance Traveller

Portrait of Thomas Cook

2016 marks the 175th anniversary of, what is acknowledged to be, the first ever pleasure "excursion", organised by staunch Temperance supporter Thomas Cook.

On the 5th July 1841, Thomas Cook organised, with the Midland Railway, to convey over 500 Temperance supporters the 11 1/2 miles from Leicester to Loughborough to attend a Temperance demonstration.

The trip caused great excitement and was the first time that many had sat in a railway carriage - and all for a shilling.

This is believed to be the first publically advertised excursion train in England and marked a turning point in the life of Thomas Cook and an important development in British society effectively creating the travel and leisure industry.

Cook had previously been a cabinet maker, wood turner and Baptist preacher. Cook's idea for developing excursions had come to him as a spark of inspiration -

"a thought flashed through my brain - what a glorious thing it would be if the newly developed powers of railways and locomotion could be made subservient to the promotion of Temperance". His gave up the profession of wood tuning and started a business as a publisher, publishing a magazine "The Excurtionist" and numerous other Temperance publications under the imprint of the Midland Temperance Press.

The first Temperance society in Leicester has been formed in 1836 and together with others formed in nearby towns , the South Midlands Temperance Association was launched. Initially based in Market Harborough, in 1841 the Association moved to Leicester under the direction of Cook.

As his Temperance work grew so did his travel business. Before long Cook was publishing popular guidebooks and arranging successful excursions, firstly in Britain and then expanding into Europe. Many of the trips were personally led by Cook himself.

In 1851 as the Great Exhibition captured the minds of the British public, Cook organised trips that took over 150,000 people from Leicester to Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.

in 1853 Cook was responsible for the building of the Temperance Hall on Granby Street in Leicester. Cook made his home next door which was also used as a tourist office and a Temperance Hotel. He also established a string of Temperance Coffee Houses throughout the town.

Leicester Temperance Hall with Cook's Hotel to the right.

Thomas Cook died in 1892 having devoted much of his life to improving the lives of others and bringing pleasure to millions through the joy of travel.

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