If you’re asked who established the travel industry in the United Kingdom there’s only one person comes to mind - Thomas Cook. His empire which takes people to anywhere a plane will land is still going today.
He’s buried in the top corner of Welford Cemetery which overlooks Leicester City. There’s a section where the rich wanted their affluence displayed in the form of a notable headstone but, strangely, Thomas isn’t buried there despite being wealthy. I assumed he must be religious, humble or both in wanting to be buried along one of the power corridors.
He was born in Derbyshire and suffered a hard childhood - at 5 years old his dad had died and by 10 he was working as a gardener for a penny a day (to help feed his family.) As a teenage he worked for a printing company in Loughborough, printing mainly religious pamphlets. This was in line with his strict Baptist upbringing.
Aged 18 he became a preacher and toured the region as a village evangelist. He handed out thousands of pamphlets and occasionally working as a cabinet maker to earn money. Aged 20 he became a Baptist minister.
One day he was walking from Market Harborough to Leicester to attend a meeting of the Temperance Society when an idea came to him. Somehow he needed to get 540 temperance campaigners from Leicester Campbell Street railway station to a rally in Loughborough, eleven miles away. He was 33 and this spurred his travel business that we know now.
Money was taken, profit was made. Ten years later his company was transporting thousands of visitors to the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London. Aged 47 he started transporting folk overseas for the first time - across the channel to The Paris Exhibition of 1855. The company sprouted quickly and within two years he was arranging holidays all over Europe. Aged 77 his steamers monopolised of Nile River passenger traffic.
In his final years his eyesight was failing. He contracted dysentery and died the following year aged 83. His son John continued the business. What would Thomas think now if he knew the Thomas Cook Group turns over £7.8 billion/annum and employs 22,000 people?
He’s buried here with his wife and their daughter. Life wasn’t all piles of profit and pleasure. Being a wealthy family the family had a new gas heating system installed in their home on London Road, Leicester. Apparently it had been used only three times when their daughter Annie was found drowned in the bath aged 35. Rumours abounded of suicide as her dad had forbade her to marry a man who worked for the company. We’ll never know if this is true (she’d told a friend she’d fainted in the bath previously) but Thomas noted the heater was lit and bathroom smelt horribly. The coroner concluded the bathroom was so hot and smelly Annie probably fainted then drowned.
The last line is true – he did bring travel to millions…