Now that Covid restrictions have finally been lifted, and summer is at least theoretically here – it’s raining outside as I write! – many people are returning to travel and undertaking the holidays that have had to be postponed over the past couple of years. The pandemic aside, international travel has become virtually routine to us today. It’s easy to organise, and generally a comfortable and efficient process. But this hasn’t always been the case.
In the seventeenth century the numbers of travellers embarking on long journeys, and to other countries, was still relatively small. Whilst recent work has shown that early modern people were relatively mobile, often travelling from the countryside to market towns to buy goods, for example, and even sometimes further afield, international travel was generally undertaken by a much smaller group including elites, merchants and traders, diplomats, and the military.
In the eighteenth century, however, the growing popularity of the Grand Tour saw travel to other countries become easier, more accessible, and increasingly desirable. Grand Tourists were a new breed of traveller. Rather than for business, this was travel for pleasure, to be immersed in other cultures, see historic sights, encounter new people…and shop for souvenirs. Since the costs were still beyond the reach of many, this was essentially a road trip for elites, with many destinations across Europe becoming social hubs for young, wealthy British travellers.
Our perhaps romantic idea of the Grand Tour, however, of Grand Tourists sallying forth to evocative Roman ruins or journeying in carriages through the vertiginous, snowy passes of the Alps, overlooks what must have been a logistical and organisational challenge. Today it’s possible to decide one morning to book a flight to a European capital, arrive in time for lunch and a bit of shopping, and be back home for tea! Booking longer holidays, including hotels, meals and transfers is a matter of a few clicks of the mouse button. Once abroad any information or help we need, including instant translations, are readily available on our phones. In the eighteenth century, travel companies did not yet exist, communication across long distances could take days, and your experience along the journey, and at your destination, depended much on who you knew, and what could be arranged in advance.
Recently, I’ve started to become interested in the bit ‘before’ people travelled in this period. How did people prepare for their potentially arduous journeys? What did they take with them, and how did they decide what would be necessary? As any modern traveller knows, trying to decide what to pack for a week away is complicated enough…but a foreign trip in the eighteenth century could last for months.
Help was at hand, however, in the growing market for consumer goods for travellers. As with so many other areas of Georgian life, where there was a trend there was a market. The advertising pages of eighteenth-century newspapers give us a good idea of the sorts of things that were available to those about to embark.
Perhaps one of the first considerations was what to carry everything in? Luckily a range of makers and retailers were beginning to sell travelling cases of all shapes, types and sizes to cater for many different journeys. In 1766 the ‘pocket book maker, stationer and bookseller’ Kearsley of Ludgate Street in London was one of many selling ‘travelling cases’. Nearby, in Leadenhall Street, Nodin and Hould offered officers of the army and navy, and domestic travellers, their range of ‘camp equipage, camp furniture, travelling trunks and cases’, including a light kind for expeditious travelling’. Their advertisement noted that any orders by post would be ‘carefully and expeditiously executed’. As with many other areas of retail too, examples ranged from the utilitarian to the downright posh, with examples made from leather and wood, and sometimes arrayed with ornamental embellishments of gold, silver or pinchbeck – a fashionable and decorative metal alloy.
Along with cases came a wider range of goods aimed at travellers, which included items for personal grooming and ‘toilette’. As I’ve explored in some of my work, the eighteenth century was something of a golden age for fashioning and refining the body, and instruments for personal grooming were desirable as well as functional. For men, the social importance of the shaved face made portable shaving equipment a vital companion to the traveller. Help was at hand from firms such as Jennings in Cheapside, London, who sold pocket cases for travellers, including a razor and sharpening strop. The perfumer Richard Barnard sold specially contrived cases for brushes, powders and razors ‘in a small compass fit for travelling’. In a sense these were the precursor to modern ‘travel-sized’ toiletries. Similar travelling ‘etui’ or ‘toilette’ sets for both women and men were available from many sellers and included small, portable instruments such as tweezers, nail nippers, brushes and combs, sewing needles and other useful objects to help travellers attend to their appearance on the fly.
But sometimes entrepreneurial artisans came up with innovative solutions for uncomfortable or inconvenient travel problems. Some tried to counter the discomfort caused by sitting for long periods on horseback, or in bumpy carriages. The Umbrella maker Mr Clemson of the Strand recommended his ‘oiled linen breeches for travelling’ to, shall we say, ease the passage. Specially made ‘breeches powder’ was ‘clean, preserve and beautify’ but also to freshen up sweaty or smelly trousers after a long journey. In 1766 one Mr Loop, near the Royal Exchange, defied any barber or wig-maker in the country to equal his ‘hollow cork wigs, waterproof, in the Italian taste, for travellers’. Clearly sitting in a soggy wig, as well as bedraggled clothes, on a rough sea crossing was neither an uncommon nor welcome experience.
So, just like today, the eighteenth-century traveller faced similar challenges to those of today. So many things to think about, so many situations to plan for, so much to try and fit in the case…so many things to buy before going on holiday!