An archive of business and travel history with national and international significance is to be preserved and secured for the future in the county, after the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland was selected as the new permanent home of the Thomas Cook archive collection.
The Record Office, which is run by Leicestershire County Council in partnership with Leicester City Council and Rutland County Council, was awarded the honour of housing the internationally significant collection following a bidding process organised by the Business Archives Council and Crisis Management Team for business archives in liaison with the Official Receiver.
The entire Thomas Cook archive, which encompasses records from the earliest days of package travel right up to the modern day, is now being transferred to the Record Office in Wigston.
The huge collection is made up of thousands of individual items, including minute books and staff records, posters, travel guides and timetables. It also features 60,000 photographic images and souvenirs from Thomas Cook’s 178-year history, including glass and china, uniforms through the ages and even a model of a Nile steamer.
The archive will be the single largest collection at the Record Office, which has six miles of shelving representing 1,000 years of the history of Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.
The Thomas Cook collection will be thoroughly catalogued by Record Office staff, before being made available to the public.
Senior Archivist at Leicestershire County Council, Robin Jenkins, said: “This is an internationally significant archive relating to a company which began in Leicester and was operated from there in its formative years. We already house an important Thomas Cook collection relating to both the man and his business.
“We see the collection as ‘coming home’ to Leicestershire and we will be delighted to look after it here and promote its use. The collection also fits closely with other local businesses which often originated during the 19th century and have an international reputation – such as Wolsey, Symington and Ladybird Books.”
Leicestershire County Council Leader, Nick Rushton, said: “I am delighted that the Record Office has been chosen as the permanent home for this important collection. The bid was a success because of the strong local links with Thomas Cook, as well as because the Record Office has an excellent reputation for innovative outreach work and the promotion of its collections.
“The fact that the Thomas Cook archive will be housed at the Record Office will preserve it for future generations, as well as providing a valuable resource to the people of Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.”
Leicester City Mayor Peter Soulsby added: “Thomas Cook is one of Leicester’s best-known sons, and his pioneering work, which essentially invented the package holiday, means his name became known worldwide. It’s very fitting that this fascinating archive of the company’s history is housed in Leicestershire, so close to where his ground-breaking work in the holiday industry took place.”
Vice President of the Business Archives Council, Alison Turton, said: “‘The deposit of the Thomas Cook archive with the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland is a landmark achievement. It demonstrates the vital importance of archivists and academics working together with insolvency practitioners to ensure the survival and accessibility of business archives of national importance.”
Professor in History and Strategy at the University of Bristol, Stephanie Decker, who was the independent academic advisor on the selection panel, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Thomas Cook archive has been saved and will be housed in the region where the company began. The archive has local to global relevance and is highly important to anyone interested in the history of travel and leisure.”
Items from the Thomas Cook Archive. Images courtesy and copyright of Leicestershire County Council.
Thomas Cook founded his travel company in Leicester and ran his first excursion from there to Loughborough in 1841. The company grew rapidly and by 1855 was running continental tours, opening a London office in 1865. Thomas Cook is credited with inventing the package tour and bringing affordable travel to ordinary people. In 1878, Cook himself retired to Leicester, where he died in 1892. The company he founded became a household name with global reach. It finally ceased trading in September 2019 and a permanent home was sought for its archive.
The bidding for the Thomas Cook archive was supported by Leicestershire County, Leicester City and Rutland County Councils, Leicester and DeMontfort Universities, the East Midlands Oral History Archive and the Media Archive for Central England.
For further information, please see Leicestershire County Council’s Frequently Asked Questions document.
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Text is by permission of Leicestershire County Council.