Tag Archives: Thomas Cook

The mystery of Miss Riggs


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day ten.

Wednesday, 3 February
On deck by 8 – rough night, getting more to the open sea in sight of Cerigo – sea the deepest indigo. In the afternoon passed Candia – immense island, seemed almost like the main land; passed Cape Matapan – all queer and very quiet all morning = after dinner brightened up – discussions going on – Dr. Lorn on bishops. All agreed that we were a very harmonious party. At Brindisi all our party were assembled, Mr. Margetts being the last who joined us from Naples. I will insert our list which is now complete. Expected to land at Alexandria tomorrow morning – 850 miles from Brindisi to Alexandria. Arranged this evening that we should all give 3 fr. for servants.

The list of her fellow passengers is inserted on the front pages of her diary.



It reads as follows:

  1. Mr. Dennett | Hotel de Londres, 8 rue St Hyacinthe, Paris
  2. Mrs. Dennett | – –
  3. Henry Newman | Leominster, England
  4. Mrs. H. Newman | – –
  5. Mrs. Rose | Peterbro Villas, Fulham, London, England
  6. Miss Crichton | unknown
  7. Miss Lines | Shillington, Herts., England
  8. Miss Riggs | Hampstead, London, England
  9. J. Dickson, Esq. | Cleethorpes, Grimsby, England
  10. Mrs. Dickson | – –
  11. W.A. Backhouse | Darlington, England
  12. R. Crichton | Skene House, Aberdeen, Scotland
  13. J. Crichton | – –
  14. J. Frith, Esq. | Sheffield, England
  15. J. Luckie | Springfield, Haddington, England
  16. A.E. Webb | Bath, England
  17. John Lorn, M.D. | Darlington, England
  18. B.H. Margetts | Huntingdon, England
  19. D. Samuels | 16 Warrington Terrace, Maida Vale, London
  20. Mrs. Samuels |  – –
  21. J.H. MacDonald | Rock Mansion, Brighton
  22. Mrs. MacDonald  | – –
  23. W. Brewin | Cirencester, England
  24. Mr. D. Witt Hay | Paris
  25. Mrs. Hay | – –
  26. G.P. Beeley | Rochdale, England
  27. Miss Porter | Palace Clogher, Northern Ireland
  28. J. Chalmers | 37 Albyn Place, Aberdeen, Scotland
  29. J. Cookson | 35 Great Avenham Street, Preston, England


When it comes to geography, Miss Riggs uses names that were antiquated even in 1868, so Cerigo is Kythria and Candia is Crete. But who is Miss Riggs? The list of names she supplies in today’s entry offers almost all the information we have on her, which is that she lives in Hampstead, north London. The only clue to knowing more about her comes from Thomas Cook’s own notes on the trip, which were published in the company newsletter later that year. In these he talks about the composition of the tour party, mentioning seven ladies traveling with their husbands, none of which are the unmarried “Miss” Riggs, one lady in the company of her parents, which would be Miss Crichton, and one “attendant upon a lady of the party”—was Miss Riggs a ladies’ maid? Perhaps for Miss Porter with whom she shares a cabin? Or was Miss Porter the maid and Miss Riggs the lady? We don’t know.

One thing to remember, anyone signed up to this first tour to Egypt and Palestine would have to be fairly wealthy. Travel was extremely expensive, not to mention time-consuming. In general, a trip like this was something that could only be undertaken by those who did not need to work year-round to earn money.

Tomorrow our privileged party arrives in Alexandria.

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Passing by Greece


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day nine.

Tuesday, 2 February
Appeared at breakfast at 9 – nearly all the others ready. Afterwards mounted on deck and now sitting – at least the ladies on comfortable cane chairs with arms, where we shall be all day, too rough to walk about on deck and afraid to lose our seats if we move. Six of us all in a row sitting under shelter of skylight to saloon. Passed during the day Corfu, Kephalonia and Zante. 2 porpoises followed us playing most prettily. Table d’hote at 5 – afterwards we came on deck again and some Italians – I imagine professionals, sang from the operas for two hours. Tea at 8, and afterwards I read Lloyd’s Oriental Guide for Egypt in saloon, lamps suspended brightly – went to cabins early.


After the hard slog of eight days of swapping trains and carriages the sail across the Mediterranean sounds blissful – although the Italians sound a nuisance. I have never seen any other reference to a Lloyd’s Oriental Guide but I’m guessing it might be something put out by the German Lloyd’s shipping company, which operated services to Egypt.

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Leaving Europe


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day eight.

For the past two days Miss Riggs and the rest of her Cook-led party have been making their way south down through Italy. On the morning of 30 January they left Turin for Ancona, crossing the plains of Lombardy, and via Foggia arrived at their destination of Brindisi on the southeast coast early on 1 February.


Monday, 1 February
… Could hardly fancy myself so far south as Otranto – the town immense walls, narrow streets; very ancient. Aspect of people dark and Moorish – fine faces. Men with large cloaks and hoods – great concourse of people looking at our crammed omnibus with much surprise. It looked a dangerous place. Could not at first find out hotel; dismounted and then mounted again for the hotel d’Angleterrre on the quay. Rooms sandy floors, not comfortable – glad we had not to sleep here. Mr. Cook left us to go on board our steamer, the Brindisi, to secure our berths. Brindisi 1420 miles from London. We lunched at hotel and then took a stroll around the town and then proceeded to the steamer in little boats; very dark. Set sail at 9 in the evening – Captain Young, and handsome good vessel, cabins opening into the saloon. Mine and Miss Porter’s did not do so, not so comfortable in consequence; very little room for storage in the cabin – mine top berth, but could not have round window open – very close. Deck good – fine evening, bright stars. All stayed on deck some time, all in good spirits notwithstanding the wind seemed up for a breeze.

So the party has now crossed Europe and arrived at the port of Brindisi [pictured above], where, a bit confusingly, they board a steamer also called Brindisi. Miss Riggs mentions Otranto, which is a port just a little way south of Brindisi. I’m not sure why it would be important to her but, being religiously inclined, possibly she knows of the story of the ‘Martyrs of Otranto’, 800 citizens who were beheaded after refusing to convert to Islam when the Ottomans captured the town in 1480.


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A Day in Turin


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day five.

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Friday, 29 January 1869
4 a.m. all very tired and excited, some saying they would never do that pass again
[see yesterday’s entry] – had coffee at our Hotel Trombetta. Went to bed for a few hours – down to breakfast at 10 o’clock – to the Palazza Reale [above], formerly the residence of Charles Albert – now unoccupied; rooms fine, floors inlaid wood – a great deal of gilding – portraits principally of the Savoy family – a chapel attached principally black marble. An old castle the only antiquity in Turin with polygonal tower in the Piazza Castello. Many squares in Turin and Colonnades. Snowing today. Fortunate we are to be on this side of Mont Cenis – had there been more snow could not have passed; what would we have done. Our party make a great increase at this hotel, an amusing set. I am exploding with laughter. At 2 o’clock accompanied Mr. Cook to station to claim our luggage, and all heavy luggage was booked on to Brindisi. Kept our small packages. At hotel eat long pieces of thin rolled paste baked lightly, called Grisli after the makers name.

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Seems odd that a tour group heading for Egypt with a day to kill in Turin wouldn’t visit the city’s Museum of Antiquities. This had one of the world’s finest collections of Egyptian antiquities, including the 5,268 pieces bought from the French consul-general to Egypt Bernadino Drovetti. Too busy, perhaps, having a laugh at the hotel. That’s tour groups for you. I wonder if the snacks she calls Grisli are actually breadsticks, known in Italy as Grissini, and supposedly invented in a small town outside of Turin.

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Crossing the Alps


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day four.


Thursday, 28 January 1869
Stopped at Dijon 3 a.m., took soup. Remained a short time at Macon and Culoz – from thence diverged to Chambery – passed all that beautiful lake by Aix-les-Bains which I saw last year with the Garrets. Getting dark and raining quite approaching the splendid mountains – cleared off by the time we arrived at St. Jean de Maurienne, situated in the mountains before entering the Mont Cenis pass. St. Jean a tolerable sized village. A monastery and nunnery there – nuns walking about.

Our party had increased to 27 in number which made a considerable diference in the railway cars – great delay – extra carriages hauled up and put on. Mr. Cook went on the first carriage. I waited for the last. I was fortunate for the sliding door at the end of the car being open, could command the entire wonderful grand view of the ascent. Wonderful beyond description, the snowy range becoming deeper and deeper, and the shadows and bright lights of the glorious moon. Great excitement and fear owing to the difficulty the engine had in working us up the winding and precipitous incline, sometimes stopping entirely and gasping dreadfully. Fear lest we should all go backwards. One of these stoppages occurred in the tunnel; felt almost suffocated with smoke. On issuing out of the tunnel we arrived at the summit and Mont Cenis was before us, conical in form, the moon full and lovely.


There may have been a very good reason that Thomas Cook waited until 1869 to launch his first guided tour to Egypt. It was only in 1868 that the British completed the missing gap in the rail link connecting Calais on the north coast of France, opposite England, with Brindisi on the heel of Italy, departure point for ships to Alexandria, Egypt. This was the Mont Cenis railway over the Alps. (Why were the British so keen to link England with Egypt? To speed up the mail to India.)

The Mont Cenis Pass Railway was the first mountain railway in the world and had been operating just over six months when the Cook party used it to travel from southeast France to northwest Italy. It would only operate until 1871, after which it was superseded by a new tunnel railway.

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Miss Riggs visits the Louvre


In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day three.

Wednesday, 27 January 1869
Went to the Louvre with Miss Porter – pleased with Murillo’s Holy Family = lost our way, just back in time for table d’hote. Broke blue parasol – had it mended in arcade close by. This hotel a few minutes from the Madeleine through Rue du Havre and Rue Tronchet – hotel in place du Havre. Table d’hote at six – much going on to make our grand start. Several more of our party arrived. Took large omnibus 1 fr. each – and started at 8 for terminus – luggage weighed. Mr Cook guaranteed 60 lb weight, the rest extra. Mine a little over on account of saddle. Left Paris 10.15 –.


Yesterday Miss Riggs arrived in Paris, today she leaves. That’s some tight schedule. But then this is a tour of Egypt and the Holy Land that she signed up for and Paris is just an overnight halt between trains. Happily the hotel is very central (marked in red on the map above), so she does manage a little sightseeing. Below is the Murillo painting that ‘pleased’ her.


I don’t think Miss Riggs and I would get along when it comes to art. As well as being a tyrant on time, the tour leader Mr Thomas Cook is similarly severe when it comes to baggage. His party is allowed just 60lbs per person, which is just under 30kg. That is nothing. Most holidaymakers these days travel with that for a week in Marbella, and Miss Riggs and her colleagues are heading overland across Europe and to Egypt and back, a journey that is advertised to take three months. Although why she would want to drag a saddle with her all that way is a mystery.

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Miss Riggs arrives in Paris


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


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.


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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Adrift on the Nile


There’s been a distinct slowing down on the new-post front on this site of late. Well, there’s good reason for that as I am currently immersed in writing the follow-up to Grand Hotels. The new book is all about the Nile steamers. It’s mainly concerned with the period from the 1860s to the decline of Nile cruising during World War II – although there are a handful of steamers that survive until today and I will be tracking them right up to the present date. As with Grand Hotels, the story will be told using contemporary accounts and journals, accompanied by huge amounts of vintage photography, posters, advertising graphics and other memorabilia. I’m well into the writing and I aim to deliver the book to my publisher, the AUC Press, next summer; it should be in the shops late 2014/early 2015.


In the meantime, if anybody has any information relating to Nile steamers, I’d love to hear from you – you can contact me at andrewhumphreys [at] btinternet.com.

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The Winter Palace and Luxor Hotel: a case of mistaken identity?

The website for the Winter Palace, which I blogged about a couple of posts ago, says the hotel opened in 1886, a date commemorated in the name of the hotel’s high-end French 1886 Restaurant (jacket required, no jeans). What a shame then that the hotel actually opened in 1907. There’s no doubt about it: the Egyptian Gazette of Saturday 19 January 1907 describes the inaugural party that took place with a lunch in the Valley of the Kings followed by congratulatory speeches and the distribution of meat to the gangs of workers who had laboured on the building. The hotel makes its guidebook debut in the 1908 edition of Baedeker’s Egypt, below right (it wasn’t in the previous, 1902, edition, below left).

I don’t know where the disinformation began, but it could have something to do with the Luxor Hotel. This long-forgotten hotel – which still exists, sort of – has the distinction of being the first in the world to be commissioned by Thomas Cook & Son. The English company had begun leading parties of tourists to Egypt in 1870, but once south of Cairo there was nowhere to stay other than the Nile boat they travelled on. This was fine if the visitor was happy with a few days sightseeing before moving on, but increasingly many wanted to spend longer enjoying the hot dry climate of Upper Egypt, which was believed to be good for the health. So it was that an 1878 edition of the Thomas Cook newsletter carried the following notice: ‘For the special accommodation of invalids and others desirous of deriving the full benefit of the Upper Egyptian climate, an hotel or health resort has been established at Luxor’.

The hotel was launched at the start of the 1877-78 season, in other words around November or December of 1877. It was sited just inland of the ancient Luxor Temple, beside which was Cook’s riverboat landing stage. For the Luxor’s second season, the hotel added a new wing, doubling its capacity to about 45 bedrooms. Not long after, it was extended again and in the process completely remodelled to accommodate 120 people, essentially becoming a new hotel. It’s possible this took place in 1886 and this may be where the incorrect date for the Winter Palace – which was built adjacent to the Luxor Hotel – comes from. But I’m just guessing.

The Luxor didn’t remain the only hotel in town for long, but prior to the building of the Winter Palace, it remained the most well known and best run – it also offered cheaper rates for Egyptologists. While serving as chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service (1899-1905), Howard Carter frequently called by for lunch or afternoon tea. Another regular was Edward Frederick Benson, better known as EF Benson, author of the tales of Mapp and Lucia. Benson had a sister called Margaret who was an archaeologist and who, in 1895-97, had a concession to excavate the Temple of Mut at Karnak; brother, Fred, who was also a trained archaeologist with field experience in Greece, came out to help.

The Luxor Hotel was the Benson’s residence and where they spent their evenings playing games of cards and charades. It’s also where Margaret was treated for a near fatal case of pleurisy by the hotel doctor who had to tap the fluid around her lungs – not an operation you’d want carried out in your double with river view even today. Fred later used the hotel as a setting in a novel of the supernatural called The Image in the Sand, published in 1905:

The garden at the Luxor Hotel is a delectable place of palms. Sixty to eighty feet high they stand, slender, slim, and dusky-stemmed, and high up at the top of the trees stretch the glorious fern-like fronds of the foliage beneath which hang the clusters of yellowing dates. Here rises a thicket of bamboos, tremulous and quivering, even on the stillest and most windless nights, and a great cat-headed statue, wrought in black granite, and taken away from the neighbouring temple of Mut in Karnak, looks with steadfast gaze out and beyond over the Eastern horizon, with eyes focussed beyond material range, as if waiting for the dawn of the everlasting day.

The statue he mentions, of the ancient goddesses Sekhmet, was one of a pair (click on the photo above to enlarge and you can see them either side of the entrance), both of which were removed some time ago. The hotel itself, which was not only the first in Luxor but one of the earliest in Egypt, was still admitting guests until as recently as the 1980s. In the intervening century it had undergone great changes but the main façade, which resembles a sort of Indian colonial bungalow, would still be familiar to Fred and Maggie today.

When I visited a couple of months ago the building behind the façade had been gutted and reduced to a shell. This isn’t a demolition, however, but a rebuild. The plan, apparently, is to restore the Luxor Hotel to working order. I saw the skeletal concrete frame of a new garden annexe and a great hole in the ground that will eventually be a swimming pool, although work is currently on a go-slow thanks to the economically uncertain climate. If they ever do finish I’ll be curious to see what date any website gives for the building of the hotel and what they call any new restaurant.

For more on EF Benson in Egypt visit here.

UPDATE: May 2017
This afternoon I visited a retrospective of work by David Hockney at the Tate Britain in London. Among the work exhibited was this sketch:


It is the porch of the Luxor Hotel. I knew that Hockney visited Egypt on a couple of occasions, notably in 1978, which resulted in a book, David Hockney: Egyptian Journeys, (which I’ve never seen) but I didn’t realise he drew any hotels. You might have thought he could have afforded the Winter Palace.


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