Level (click link to browse related records)Collection
TitleThomas Cook Archive
DescriptionAs collection is not yet fully catalogued, we advise researchers to contact us in advance of a visit to the Office. Requests for items from the collection may take longer to retrieve than is usual and responses to remote enquiries may be delayed as we may need longer to locate items in the collection.

Please not that some types of digital media, such as film reels and videos, will be not available for viewing until further notice.

This collection contains references and language relating to sex, race, and other content reflecting attitudes of the period in which it was created. Such views are no longer acceptable and will be upsetting to some researchers. They do not align with the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, nor our parent bodies. Keywords will notify users of content warnings which hold relevance today and are reflective of issues which have recently come to light.

The cataloguing of the collection was made possible through the generous grant received under the 'Archives Revealed' scheme, which was jointly awarded by The National Archives, The Pilgrim Trust and the Wolfson Foundation in 2020. This funding scheme is for archive services to make significant collections accessible that otherwise would be difficult to catalogue using existing resources.


Thomas Cook (1841-1871); Thomas Cook & Son (1871-1924); Thomas Cook & Son Ltd (1924-1974); Thomas Cook Group Ltd. (1974-2001); Thomas Cook AG (2001-2007); Thomas Cook Group Plc (2007-2019); Thomas Cook & Son (Banker) Limited.

Thomas Cook was a pioneering figure in the modern travel industry. Beginning in 1841 with his first excursion from Leicester to Loughborough, Thomas Cook became a household name for international travel. The collection is primarily a business collection of Thomas Cook, but also is a travel archive as it charts the history of transport and holidaymaking from the 19th century onwards.
The collection contains documents relating to Thomas Cook himself (1808 –1892), from the period 1841-1873. On 5 July 1841, Thomas Cook conducted his first excursion from Leicester to Loughborough by rail to a Temperance gathering. The journey was 12 miles, and cost passengers 1 shilling. Cook was an avid supporter of the Temperance Movement, promoting teetotalism and social improvement. This ideology was the motivation for the first excursion: to encourage people to get out of drinking establishments and do something more fulfilling with their time.
Cook’s early tours and excursions were organised on behalf of the local Temperance Society. He was not a businessman, and his early tours were not driven by profit. It was only later on that his tours generated personal profit for Cook, starting in 1845 with a trip to Liverpool from Leicester, Nottingham, and Derby. However, it was in 1846, on a trip to the Scottish Highlands, that Cook’s reputation shifted from being an organiser of local trips to a professional tour manager.
From the mid-1850s onwards, Cook expands his business venture into continental territories. Beginning with the Paris Exhibition in 1855, Cook organised the first package holiday deal which included the tour from Harwich to Antwerp, then on to Brussels, Cologne, Heidelberg, Strasbourg and, finally, to Paris, accommodation, and food.
In the 1860s, he conducts tours to Switzerland, Egypt, American and Italy. Before this time, tourism was relatively unknown in an organised way in both Egypt and Switzerland. The peak of Cook’s ambition was in 1872 – 73. He organised a world tour, visiting America, Japan, China, India and then Egypt, all for £300.
From 1871, the company name changed to Thomas Cook & Son to reflect Cook’s son, John Mason Cook, joining the company. From 1873 onwards, John took a lead in running the business. Unlike this father, John is an avid businessman who saw profit in tourism by promoting the wealthier classes of society to travel with the company. He opened the first Head Office, situated at Ludgate Circus, London. To further the company, he introduced more promotional and informational material such as timetables, guidebooks, and even the early form of travellers cheque, ‘Cook's Circular Note’, in 1874. In 1886, John launched a new fleet of luxurious Nile steamers to appeal to the wealthiest of Victorian society.
Under John’s management, the company flourished, and its reputation cemented. The company were approached by several official bodies from the 1880s onwards:
• the British Government: to help transport General Wolseley’s Army 550 miles up the Nile as part of the Gordon Relief Expedition, 1884-5.
• the Indian Government: to organise pilgrimages to Mecca for people travelling from India as part of the hajj, 1886.
• to organise travel for foreign dignitaries travelling to London for Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees, 1887 and 1897.
• they were appointed the Official Passenger Agent for the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, 1896.
• John was requested to escort the German Kaiser to the Holy Land, 1898.

After John’s death in 1899, his three sons inherited the company. The youngest son, Thomas Albert, was bought out of the company by his two elder siblings: Frank and Ernest. From this period onwards, motorised travel was being popular. This led to huge profits for the company. In 1928, Frank and Ernest retired, ending family ownership of the company. In 1927, the company was purchased by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens, an international sleeping car company, for £3.5 million.
During the war, the Paris headquarters of Wagons-Lits were seized by the Germans in 1940 and the British assets were attained by the Custodian of Enemy Property. In 1942, the company was then sold to Hays Wharf Cartage Company, which was owned by the four major British railway companies. In 1948, the company becomes state-owned under the British Transport Holding Company. For the next 24 years, Thomas Cook is nationally owned, thus some records are held at The National Archives, in Kew.
In 1972, the company was de-nationalised and bought by a consortium made up of Midland Bank, Trust House Forte, and the Automobile Association. Midland Bank acquired sole control of the company in 1977. In the same year, the company shifted the majority of its administrative functions from London to Peterborough. In 1989, Thomas Cook's long-standing agreement with Wagons-Lits concludes. A year later, the company acquires the retail foreign exchange operations of Deak International.
In 1992, Westdeutsche Landesbank, Germany's third largest bank, and the LTU Group, Germany's leading charter airline, buy the Thomas Cook Group from Midland Bank for £200 million. In 1996 Thomas Cook bought short-haul operator Sunworld and European city-breaks tour group Time Off. Three years later the company merged Sunworld, Sunset, Inspirations, Flying Colours, Caledonian Airways into the JMC (John Mason Cook) brand.
In 1999 Thomas Cook merged with Carlson Leisure Group.
In 2001, Thomas Cook is acquired by the German travel company Condor & Neckermann, changing the name to Thomas Cook AG. Thomas Cook AG and MyTravel Group plc merged Thomas Cook Group plc, in 2007. In 2011, Thomas Cook merged its UK retail operations with those of the Co-operative Group and the Midlands Co-operative Society, creating the UK's largest ever chain of travel agents. Four years later, Thomas Cook Group plc announces a new partnership with Chinese investment group: Fosun International Limited.
In 2019, the Royal Bank of Scotland and a range of other banks demanded that Thomas Cook Group PLC find £200 million in funding. Therefore, the company announced in a statement that "it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect." The move triggers the largest ever peacetime repatriation in the history of the United Kingdom.
ExtentApprox. 250 linear metres
Access StatusPART CLOSED
Custodial HistoryThe Thomas Cook Archive was acquired by the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland following a competitive bidding process in December 2019 after the company's collapse
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