A flying trip through 150 years of summer holidays

A flying trip through 150 years of summer holidays

In the beginning...

Today, our hols away are usually an excuse to soak up some sun, explore new places or just to get away from it all back home. But for Thomas Cook back in the 1840s, he decided holidaying was a great way to steer society away from the booze, which he saw as the demon behind the Victorian social problems around him.

Temperance trips, he thought, were the answer, and he soon set up deals with local rail companies that saw tens of thousands of ordinary people to travel for the first time- trips that of course ran solely on tea and no drink in sight!

Although he started off his business in his Leicester home (which was also a temperance hotel), he soon moved to his first high street shop, at 98 Fleet Street, in 1865. There were just five staff in total – Thomas Cook, John Mason Cook (Thomas' son), two assistants and a messenger boy! A far cry from the empire of stores and staff Thomas Cook have exapnded into today!

And his first paying customers? They were typically lower middle class people like school teachers, clergymen and clerks. Among the offers served up to these customers in 1865 were a week in Paris, including 2nd class rail fare, steamboat and full-board hotel accommodation for £3.7s.0d. (£3.35) pp or an Easter weekend in York (Thur-Tue), departing from London, 12s.6d. return rail fare (2nd class) plus 5s-6s per day for full-board accommodation.

What we did on our holidays

Right up until the 1950s, most Brits didn't venture far outside the UK and instead spent their jollies exploring the best of the British Isles, sometimes right on their doorstep. For many of us who remember hols at home, that generally meant soggy fish and chips on Skeggy beach or four nights non-stop rain in a caravan in Southend- character-building stuff but we wouldn't have had it any other way!

For those on a Thomas Cook excursion, holidays were all about "rational recreation" and those early Victorian tourists generally visited many different places while on their trip- with the intention of broadening their horizons. These were "tours" rather than "holidays" and throughout the Edwardian era, brochures advertised "Holiday Tours", which combined leisure and learning. It was only during the interwar period that this idea of holidays as learning experiences gradually became less popular and we started yearning for "sun, sea and sand" holidays, which meant journeying to more exotic climes.

All aboard for the big trip abroad

If you were lucky enough to have a holiday abroad in the 1860s, it was quite likely you'd be packing a beret as you'd probably be heading to France and mainly Paris. Switzerland and Italy were also popular destinations in these early days of travel.

It was only in the 1950s as flights became cheaper than we started to jet off to sunny Spain so that by the mid-1960s it replaced France as the most popular foreign destination for UK holidaymakers.

Countries like West Germany, Austria and Scandinavia were also popular during the 1950s and 1960s, whereas the Seventies and Eighties saw a boom in trips to long-haul destinations such as USA, Canada and the Caribbean. Cyprus, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

Leave the kids at home?

While school trips were promoted from the 1930s onwards, references to family holidays are few and far between before WW2. In the 1950s and 1960s, family holidays start to creep into holiday adverts, but it is not really until the 1980s that children appear all over the covers of Thomas Cook's main "summer sun" brochures.

What to pack?

Forget bikinis and sarongs, holidays from the mid 1800s to around the Fifties were all about getting your glad rags on and dressing up in your "Sunday best". This only began to change in the 1960s as holiday wear got more casual, although the older generation like our grandparents still tended to stick to their long trousers, shirts, and even coats and hats on the beach.

The past, present and future of holiday fashion

It's certainly changed a lot in the last 150 years! And for the future? Fashionista, Natasha Daniels, predicts we'll revisit large hats to protect us from the sun. We'll return to crochet cut-out swim suits and long-linen gowns to cover up. Augmented reality large sunglasses are likely to take off, along with apps and technology to monitor our health on holiday.