Miss Riggs arrives in Paris

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Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s what Miss Riggs wrote in her diary the day after leaving London.

Tuesday, 26 January 1869
Arrived in Paris at 5pm – all took an omnibus to Cook’s Tourist Hotel the London & New York – proprietor Monsieur Chardon – he had once an hotel at Milan. Charge 7/- per day all included. Table d’hote at 6 – salon small – left a dress with Madame Chardon.

She set off yesterday from London Bridge train station at 5.30pm and almost exactly 24 hours later she has arrived in Paris. Last year I had to travel from London to Paris at too short notice to get a ticket on the Eurostar train. Instead I had to go by coach down to the south coast of England, transfer to the rail freight service, then back on to the road at Calais and onwards to Paris. It took ten hours, so for Miss Riggs’ party to make the same journey in under a day – remember, this is 150 years earlier – seems pretty good going.

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The postcard above shows her hotel, the London & New York, which stands across from the Gare St Lazare – although, obviously, with a street full of motor cars this image must date from about 50 years after Miss Riggs’ visit. I say the hotel “stands” because it’s still there today, although no longer looking anywhere near as grand.

More tomorrow.

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Happy anniversary, Miss Riggs

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Late afternoon of 25 January 1869, Miss Riggs, of Hampstead in north London, left her home and made her way across the city to London Bridge station. There, she met up with eleven others and, together, the party caught the 6:45pm train for Newhaven on the coast, where they boarded a ferry for Dieppe in France.

So begins my book On the Nile. Did you catch the significance of that date? It is exactly 150 years ago today. And the significance of Miss Riggs’s journey is that one of the eleven fellow travellers she met at London Bridge was Thomas Cook – the Thomas Cook – and their destination together was Egypt. This was the very first organized trip to Egypt led by Cook. Within just a few years, the name of Thomas Cook would come to dominate tourism in Egypt, and continue to do so for the best part of a century.

Thomas Cook entered the excursion business in 1841 with a short train trip in the English Midlands. For a few years, trips to the north of Britain were the mainstay of his business, but in 1851 there was money to be made ferrying tourists down to London for the Great Exhibition, the first of the World’s Fairs that were to become so popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. He made his first forays across the English Channel to mainland Europe in 1855 and, in 1861, led his first proper trip to Paris. In June 1863, he took his first party to Switzerland, pushing on into Italy in July 1864, and crossing the Atlantic to America in the spring of 1866.

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A man of deeply religious convictions, it’s no surprise that Cook would eventually turn his attention to Egypt and neighbouring Palestine. In autumn 1868 he set out solo for Constantinople, Beirut, Jaffa, Alexandria and Cairo to investigate transport arrangements, assess hotels, and estimate costs. He judged that the region was suitable for Western tour parties and advertised just such an expedition in the Cook company newsletter.

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Which brings us back to Miss Riggs, who, along with her fellow travellers, had responded to Cook’s advertisements and signed up for his historic inaugural trip. The reason I single her out is that she kept a detailed diary of the historic trip. Her pocket notebook [above] crammed with spiky script, complete with ruled footnotes and marginal additions, survives until today in the Cook company archives and I got to spend time examining it a few years ago. She documents her journey day by day. At one point I hoped to celebrate the anniversary of her journey by following in her footsteps but unfortunately that has not been possible. Nevertheless, over the coming weeks I am going to keep readers of this blog abreast of her progress in a series of posts. Tomorrow we reach Paris.

Thank you to Paul Smith of the Thomas Cook archives for the diary scans.

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Egyptian Museum original drawings

From the online archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the original watercolour designs for Cairo’s Egyptian Museum by French architect Marcel-Lazare Dourgnon – also responsible for the Egyptian pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, which I blogged about a couple of months back (here). Click to enlarge.

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Vintage Cairo from the BnF

Ryder Kouba, a colleague working at AUC, recently pointed me to the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I wish I had known about it when I was putting together Grand Hotels. It has some excellent vintage images of Cairo and Egypt that I would have loved to have included in the book. Malish, maybe if we do a second, updated edition. Meanwhile, see if you can identify the places below – captions at the end.

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The pics are Emad ed-Din Street; the main entrance of the Savoy Hotel on Qasr el-Nil Street; Boulaq Bridge, looking toward Zamalek, since replaced by the 26th of July Flyover; the Heliopolis Palace Hotel under construction (now the presidential palace); Shepheard’s Hotel, burned down in 1952; Ataba Square, looking west; Bab al-Hadid Station, now Ramses Square; Opera Square; Rondpont Suleiman Pasha, now Midan Talaat Harb, dominated by the Savoy Hotel; the Hotel d’ Angleterre, next to the Hashamayim synagogue on what’s now Adly Street; Shepheard’s street-side terrace; rue Suleiman Pasha, now Talaat Harb; the Boulaq bridge.

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Sing it with Stella

From The Sphinx in 1939/40, a series of soldierly song-themed ads for Egypt’s very own Stella beer.

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For an enthusiastic appreciation of Stella and its history visit the Photorientalist site.

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A Christmas Sphinx

Back in August I wrote a post about the Cairo early 20th-century society weekly The Sphinx. I was excited because I had just discovered ten or so issues of it in the newspaper archives of the British Library. Well, I’m just back from Cairo where I have been working in the archives of the American University and what did I find there but almost a whole run of the paper in bound volumes from 1902 to 1947. The project I was working on (of which more at a future date) didn’t allow me to spend much time reading the Sphinxes but I did take plenty of photos of articles, graphics and pages. I’ll be posting some of this material in the coming weeks but to start off with here’s the complete issue from exactly one hundred years ago this week.

As you’ll see (click to enlarge the images), the pages contain many familiar names, including Miss Devonshire, who used to give tours of Islamic architecture to soldiers and whose book Rambles in Cairo was a bestseller for the Egyptian publishing house of Schindler. There is also an obituary for Lord Edward Cecil, whose entertaining The Leisure of an Egyptian Official was published posthumously in 1921, and, under Social and Personal, a brief mention of Governor-General Sir Lee Stack, who six years later would be assassinated while being driven through Cairo. Note also the ad for land and villas for sale in Maadi, marketed as ‘A country resort for summer and winter’.

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The art of Susan Weeks

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Poking around in the archives of the American University in Cairo the other week I came across a box labeled “Susan Weeks”. Susan was the wife of Egyptologist Kent Weeks, rediscoverer of the KV 5 tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Susan worked with Kent as part of the Theban Mapping Project, for which she was ceramics expert, registrar, headquarters supervisor, project archivist and chief architect until her tragically premature death in December 2009. The box contained some of her pencil and ink sketches and watercolours. If you’ve ever seen a copy of Kent’s book The Lost Tomb, then you will have seen Susan’s sketches, one of which heads each chapter. Unfortunately, the reproductions in the book are not very good – not in the paperback, anyway – so to see the original pieces is a thrill. Plus the book is in black and white and doesn’t have any colour pieces. Below is a selection of some of the work from the archive, only two of which feature in the book. It’s just a small sampling, pieces I particularly liked, and there is much, much more. It’s a shame the work is so little seen. Maybe one day we’ll get to see it published in a book.

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Classic Egyptian Movies

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AUC Press has a fantastic new book coming out late October called Classic Egyptian Movies, subtitled 101 Must-see Films. It’s a translation (by Sarah Enany) of a book first published in Arabic by film critic Sameh Fathy, in which he picks out his personal landmarks of Egyptian cinema. It’s interesting to see what makes the cut and what doesn’t. The bulk of the films are from the 1950s and ’60s, with only one film from the 21st century. There’s lots of Youssef Chahine, but even more Salah Abu Seif. Farid Shawqi is the actor who appears most, while Souad Hosni is the most represented actress. Each of the films gets a write-up arguing the case for its greatness, complemented by a full cast list and other credits. Best of all, each film is illustrated by its original poster and a film still. It makes for a gloriously colourful and visually rich book, which comes in a neat, compact format. The stylish design is by Gadi Farfour, who was also responsible for Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile looking so great. (Full disclosure: I had the enjoyable job of editing Sarah’s translation.)

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The Sphinx, society paper and bar

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Cairo has had dozens of English-language newspapers over the last century and a half – I co-founded one myself – and hats off to the Egyptian Gazette, which is the only one that has gone the distance, published (continuously, I think) since 1880. The one that fascinates me, however, is a publication called The Sphinx. Part of the fascination is because it is so rare. It was published weekly from December 1892 until at least 1947, so it lasted for over fifty years. Yet I’ve only ever been able to find a handful of surviving copies, all of which are held by the British Library. From the copies I’ve seen, it’s not a newspaper, it’s a cut-rate Tatler, filled with society news and gossip, write ups of garden parties at the ‘Residence’, that sort of thing.

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Of much more interest than the writing (sample: ‘Oh! One could write reams on the top-hats of Cairo’) are the ads that pack the pages. Each issue is like a directory of fashionable businesses. For instance, the intriguing ad above for the Lipton’s Tea Rooms, which a story inside describes as being entered from Emad el-Din Street, near the Rond Pont Suares. It is supposed to have a garden with two circular domed summer houses and is being designed by St John Diamont, architect of the AUC’s Ewart Hall. I’m guessing this is what became Groppi’s garden café.

The founder of The Sphinx was an Anglophile American named David Garrick Longworth. Born in Addison, Ohio in 1853, as a young man Longworth worked as a booster for Barnum, whipping up publicity for his shows. He went into business for himself and travelled widely in Africa, where he continued to employ his talents for promotion: on one occasion in Cape Town he hired an army of locals to march, laden with white rocks, up Table Mountain, where he had the stones arranged to spell out ‘Take Liver Pills’. He arrived in Cairo in October 1892, a man in a hurry to make a splash, and launched The Sphinx a little over a month later. He remained at the helm of the paper only until 1894, at which point he moved on to Nairobi, where he founded another journal. He later surfaced in London as an agent for the Uganda State Railways.

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Longworth was described – in his own paper – as being a ‘regular Bohemian’ and in addition to The Sphinx he ran a theatrical troupe and operated a bar-nightclub, also called The Sphinx, which was on rue Fuad (present-day 26th of July Street), which flourished in the 1890s. I know nothing else about the bar, except it was famous/infamous enough to feature on postcards (above).

Meanwhile, Longworth’s wife spent three years sculpting a scale plaster model of the actual Sphinx, ten feet long and three feet high, which she exhibited in Paris in 1903, and which was subsequently bought by the Field Museum of Chicago, Mrs Longworth’s hometown. Mr Longworth died in London in January 1928. If anybody knows anything more about this intriguing character, his newspaper or bar, please get in touch.

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Ingrid and the sphinx

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Following on from previous posts of glamorous women hanging out with the sphinxes on London’s Embankment (here and here), here’s a fabulous publicity shot of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, taken to promote the movie Indiscreet (1958). Courtesy of @JohnJJohnson

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