Packing the Essentials!: Preparing to Travel in the 18th Century.

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. 

Image from Wikimedia Commons – Thomas Rowlandson, An Artist Travelling in Wales

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. 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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. 

18th-century oak travelling case – Image from Wikimedia Commons

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. 

18th-century French travelling ‘necessaire’ kit – Image Wikimedia Commons

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!

Health and the Habitual Traveller in the 19th Century

Recently I’ve been contributing to a new series of stories, drawing on the archives of Lloyds’ Register – a fantastic archive, with a wealth of sources on many aspects of maritime, but also broader social, history. The full series can be found here: https://hec.lrfoundation.org.uk/whats-on/stories/

Part of my remit for the series of posts was to delve into the photographic archive of Lloyds’ surveyors…with some magnificent beards on show. But it also got me thinking about some of the issues involved in health and travel. With their permission I’m sharing one of the posts, about advice for travellers from Victorian physicians. 

Today we are able to travel potentially thousands of miles in a single day, in a comfortable seat, served a meal, and hopefully arriving in good shape ready for a holiday or a business meeting. But as we explored in other posts, the surveyors of Lloyds’ Register were often required to undertake a great deal of travel in the course of their work, and sometimes over long distances. In the course of their work, were they putting themselves and their health in danger?

Many medical practitioners thought so. In the 19th century, travelling, especially often, could be risky, uncomfortable and, as some argued, even dangerous to health. A range of books were becoming available aimed at the growing numbers of travellers, warning them of the potential dangers that could await them on a long journey if they did not take necessary precautions.

One example from 1883, The Book of Health gives a useful insight into the sorts of attitudes that medical practitioners held about travel. The book contained a detailed section by the University College Hospital physician J. Russell Reynolds titled ‘Travelling: its influence upon health’.  Here Reynolds was keen to set out different circumstances in which travel (which he defined as ‘all that is involved in locomotion’!) and how tey could be negotiated in order to make it as easy and painless as possible.

James Pollard – ‘The Louth-London Royal Mail, Travelling by Train from Peterborough East’ – Image from Wikimedia Commons/Google Art Project

One of the first issues he dealt with was the length of the journey. Shorter and infrequent journeys, he argued, were usually fine, and ‘travelling in moderation is a matter of utter indifference to the majority of people’. But if an individual was ‘utterly unaccustomed’ to traveling by road, rail, horse or boat, any number of ‘peculiar effects’ might be experienced, which might be painful, distressing or even dangerous. These could range from fatigue and muscle ache, to complete exhaustion, particularly if the only distance an individual was accustomed to was between their ‘bed, chair and chimney corner’.

If they weren’t used to it, the short sea voyage from Folkestone to France could be an ordeal and ‘a thing to be dreaded’. Long trips on crowded trains or bumpy carriages brought all manner of miseries, leaving people feeling giddy, looking pale and ‘disturbed for hours or days afterwards’ by the experience.

Image Copyright Wellcome Trust

But there were a second group of travellers, such as the Lloyds’ surveyors, for whom regular travel was part of their working life. As such, they faced different challenges. One was, argued Reynolds, simply the ‘dull monotony’ of regular journeys, which could make the traveller feel listless, tired and longing for a rest, not to mention the many petty annoyances caused by other travellers…something the modern commuter can sympathise with! Another was the issue of trying to focus on working and reading whilst on a journey, which ‘neither improves the brain or the mind’. The regular traveller was argued to often neglect food and diet, at the expense of his health, but worse still was the ‘fidgety anxiety and unrest’ caused by the journey.

Indeed, the ‘compulsory journeys’ of the commercial traveller, undertaken for business and not pleasure, were viewed as worst of all since the traveller had no control over his trip, and was simply forced to head off to far flung territories at the whims of his employer. This, said Reynolds, could only be injurious to his health and state of mind!

Once underway, or arrived at their destination, the unwary traveller faced different challenges, most notably the change of air, climate and food, each of which had the potential to leave them with a ‘tired brain and a disordered stomach’. Whilst ‘something really wholesome and palatable’ might be obtained in larger towns in Europe, ‘stale, hard cheese, some musty bread and sour beer’ was a constant hazard, and a heavy midday meal was ‘a terrible burden to the Englishman’! All manner of local diseases, to which the English traveller had no resistance, lurked in food, water and the environment, putting them at risk.

But it wasn’t all bad news, and there were also many potential health benefits. In fact, regular sea travellers were perhaps the best placed to enjoy them since going by sea was seen as the most beneficial. A long sea voyage, for example, might give the traveller a welcome escape from an unhealthy city environment, and an opportunity to rest. Whilst journeys by carriage or rail might be shorter, they were also potentially more uncomfortable, shorter and involved added stresses such as meeting connections, and less opportunity to relax, eat and read the newspaper. A journey by boat, however, promised long days out of reach of letter and newspaper, routine without monotony, and the restorative benefits of sea air.