INEKE POULTNEY EXPLORES THE STORY BEHIND THE STATUE
If I asked you to name the first thing that comes into your head when I mention Thomas Cook you would probably say “Travel Agents”. Known for providing great value package holidays and getaways, many might be surprised that the man himself had strong links with Leicester, and because of this, Thomas Cook has to be one of Leicester’s best kept secrets. There is a statue of him outside the London Road Railway Station – yet no other immediately obvious signs of his connection to the city.
History books will tell you that Mr Cook started the first Organised Coach Tour from Leicester in 1841, which took a group of Temperance Campaigners to Loughborough. By 1872, he was organising worldwide travel.
However, there is more to the Thomas Cook story than meets the eye, and funnily enough, there is actually a building in Leicester which is more closely related to him than even the station statue.
Brought up as a strict Baptist, Mr Cook joined his local Temperance Society, a social movement based on abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and became a preacher and minister. Subsequently, in 1852, he had a Temperance Hall built on Granby Street in Leicester as the departure point for the society’s excursion to Loughborough. Ironically, the Hall was situated between two Public Houses; one of which was shut down as a result of the Temperance Hall’s popularity. A prestigious centre, such dignitaries as Charles Dickens and Mark Twain spoke there and it even opened with a performance of Handel’s “Messiah”.
The Temperance Hall no longer exists but there is one building still standing today that Cook also erected – the Temperance Hotel. The top two floors are the same as the original plans by James Medland, the architect of both the Hall and the Hotel, but the lower floors have been altered to accommodate a shop. In 2010 there was a successful campaign to stop the Temperance Hotel being completely demolished as part of regeneration plans for Leicester City Centre.
Thomas Cook came across strong opposition during his lifetime from the Director of the Theatre Royal, a Mr Charles Harrison, who alleged illegal competition and attempted to force Mr Cook to apply for a licence in order to perform plays. He refused and it is possibly this tenacity in keeping the Temperance Hall open in the face of such severe hostility that paved the way for the later travel agency business which he is more commonly associated with today. We can only guess.