COOK, THOMAS (1808–1892), tourist agent, was born at Melbourne, Derbyshire, on 22 Nov. 1808. His father died when he was four years old; he left school at ten, and was employed in the gardens of the Melbourne estate and helped his mother, whose only child he was, to eke out her earnings from a small village shop. Having a strong desire to better himself, he became the apprentice of his uncle, John Pegg, who was a wood-turner. After his apprenticeship he went to Loughborough in Leicestershire, where he was employed by Joseph Winks, a printer, and publisher of books for the General Baptist Association. Cook's religious training led him to become an active member of the Association of Baptists, and in 1828 he was appointed bible reader and missionary in Rutland. In 1829 he traversed 2,692 miles on missionary duty, 2,106 of them on foot.
Cook married the daughter of a Rutland farmer named Mason in 1832, taking up his abode in Market Harborough, and beginning business as a wood-turner, with the intention of acting as a missionary also. When Father Mathew passed from Ireland into England as an apostle of temperance, Cook became one of his converts, and his zeal in the cause led to his appointment as secretary to the Market Harborough branch of the South Midland Temperance Association. In 1840 he founded the 'Children's Temperance Magazine,' the first English publication of the kind. A gathering of members of the temperance society and their friends was appointed to be held in 1841 at Mr. W. Paget's park in Loughborough. It occurred to Cook that the Midland railway between that place and Leicester might be utilised for carrying passengers to the gathering, and he arranged with Mr. J. F. Bell, the secretary, for running a special train. On 5 July 1841 this train, being the first publicly advertised excursion train in England, carried 570 passengers from Leicester to Loughborough and back for a shilling. Owing to the success of the venture Cook was requested to plan and conduct excursions of members of temperance societies and Sunday-school children during the summer months of 1842, 1843, and 1844.
Cook's business of wood-turning had to be given up. Removing to Leicester, he continued to print and publish books there. In 1845 he made the organising of excursions a regular occupation, arranging with the Midland railway for a percentage upon the tickets sold. One of the first pleasure trips under this condition was made from Leicester to Liverpool on 4 Aug. 1845, a 'handbook of the trip' being compiled by Cook, who visited beforehand the places at which stoppages were to be made, and he arranged with hotel-keepers for housing the pleasure seekers. Afterwards Cook issued the coupons for hotel expenses which are now familiar to travellers. An excursion to Scotland was next undertaken, 350 persons journeying from Leicester to Glasgow and back for a guinea each. They went by rail to Manchester and Fleetwood, and by steamer from Fleetwood to Ardrossan. At Glasgow they were welcomed with salutes from cannon and music from bands, while both there and in Edinburgh they were publicly entertained. The publisher William Chambers (1800–1883) [q. v.] delivered an address of welcome to the Scottish capital, which was afterwards published with the title ' The Strangers' Visit to Edinburgh.'
Soon afterwards Cook issued a monthly magazine called 'The Excursionist.' He wrote in 1850: 'I had become so thoroughly imbued with the tourist spirit that I began to contemplate foreign trips, including the continent of Europe, the United States, and the eastern lands of the Bible.' In 1865 he crossed the Atlantic, issuing beforehand a circular letter to the editors of the press in the United States, and Canada, wherein he said, 'Editors of, and contributors to, many of the principal journals of England and Scotland have generally regarded my work as appertaining to the great class of agencies for the advancement of Human Progress, and to their generous aid I have been indebted for much of the success which has crowned my exertions' (The Business of Travel, pp. 42-7).
Cook's only son, John Mason (see below), became his partner in 1864, and next year (in 1865) the head office was removed from Leicester to London, owing to the rapid growth of the tourist business. While hundreds of persons visited the continent under Cook's guidance and enjoyed themselves, others objected to the new industry, and Charles Lever writing as 'Cornelius O'Dowd,' said that the parties of tourists under Cook's care were convicts whom the Australian colonies refused to receive, and were sent to Italy by the English government to be gradually dropped in each Italian city. The Italians did not understand that the statement was a joke, and Cook appealed to Lord Clarendon, then foreign secretary, for redress, receiving in return the sympathy, which was all that could be given (ib. pp. 151-7).
In 1872 Cook started on a tour round the world, recording his impressions in letters