Thomas Cook was born in Melbourne, Derbyshire, in 1808, the son of John Cook and Elizabeth Perkins. He was only four years old when his father died in 1812 and later that year, his mother married James Smithard. When his step-father died in 1818, Thomas was taken out of school to supplement the family’s income by working for a local market gardener. Later, he became an apprentice to his uncle as a wood-turner and cabinet-maker. Both men were heavy drinkers and this influenced Thomas in later life. In 1824, Thomas was baptised at the General Baptist Chapel, Melbourne, by Joseph Foulkes Winks and when Winks left Melbourne for Loughborough in 1826, setting up a printing business, Thomas followed him not long afterwards and for a short time learnt the printing trade.
Thomas returned to Melbourne in 1828 and became a missionary for the Baptist church and it was during his travels, preaching the Word, he met Marianne Mason, the daughter of a farmer, in Barrowden, Rutland. Marianne was a teacher at the local Baptist Sunday School and shared Thomas’ non-conformist faith. As Baptist funds ran out, Thomas had to turn to his earlier trade of wood-turning and cabinet-making to earn a living and moved to Market Harborough, Leicestershire, in 1832. Thomas and Marianne were married at St Peter’s Church, Barrowden, Rutland, in 1833 and set up home in Adam and Eve, Market Harborough. Their first child, John Mason Cook, was born in 1834. Whilst living in Market Harborough, Thomas became a member of the Baptist Church on Coventry Road which is still in existence today. Influenced by the experience of his early life, Thomas signed the Temperance pledge in 1833 and in 1836 became the first secretary of the Temperance society in Market Harborough. (William Symington, of Symington’s Corsets, became the first president of the society but more about him in a later post.) Although Thomas was an enthusiastic supporter of the Temperance cause, there were many locals who were not and Thomas was attacked in the street and the window of his home was smashed.