Thomas Cook

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.

TCook_bOne day when he was walking to a Temperance meeting in Leicester, he came up with the idea of selling train tickets to a Temperance rally which was to be held at Loughborough, in July 1841.  This was the beginning of Thomas Cook’s travel business.  Later the same year, Thomas Cook and his family moved Leicester, where he worked a printer but also continued to arrange excursions by train.  A daughter, Annie Elizabeth Cook, was born in 1845, at the family home in Kings Street, Leicester.  When the Great Exhibition was held in London in 1851, Thomas Cook was responsible for transporting approximately 165,000 people from the Midlands to see it.  The business expanded into providing tours of Ireland, Switzerland, and even tours of the battlefields of the American Civil War.  Thomas continued to prosper and moved to a large house on London Road.  Thomas’ daughter, Annie Elizabeth Cook, died there in November 1880.  She had drowned in the bath after inhaling fumes from a new gas water heater.  The family were deeply grieved by her death and received hundreds of letters of sympathy.  These letters have been deposited at the Record Office for Leicestershire and Rutland.  Marianne died in 1884 and Thomas died in 1892 at the age of 84.  They are all interred in Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester.
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