How Far Have We Travelled in 100 Years?

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

How Far Have We Travelled in 100 Years?


Byline: GILES MILTON

THERE were no aeroplanes, you could catch typhoid in Brighton and Spain's Costa del Sol was still a collection of fishing villages.

If you wanted to go on a motoring holiday, you'd have to wait a generation. In 1900, there were only 230 cars in the whole of Great Britain.

Foreign travel at the end of the last century was a luxury that required time, patience and serious amounts of money. But the world was fast changing and, as the chimes of Big Ben ushered in a new era, many were busily predicting the sort of holidays that people would be taking in the year 2000.

Fly-drives and weekend breaks were not on their lists, and few Victorians believed that long distance travel would catch on. One wit joked that companies would pay their workers to go on holiday, and predicted that England in the new millennium would be so rich that even factory cleaners would be allowed a few days off work.

Others said the middle classes would be able to look forward to '14 days of boisterous delight in Blackpool, where now there are only seven'.

But what these Victorian stargazers could never have imagined was that in the year 2000 the world would have shrunk so small that tourists would be able to fly from London to New York in half the time it took the Victorian packet-steamer to chug down the Thames estuary to Margate.

Nor could they have conceived just how cheap it would be to travel the world. In 1900, a ticket on the steamship to Gibraltar would have swallowed the entire month's salary of a London clerk, while a night in the Hotel Battenberg in Spain cost the princely sum of nine shillings.

Even passports were expensive - almost double the price of a cast-iron kettle.

Although foreign travel was beyond the means of most English families, the country's love affair with sunshine was already flourishing and there had been a staggering rise in the number of people taking off each summer.

Y 1899 some of the very rich were off to the South of France - Nice, Menton and Monte Carlo. But for the vast majority, a holiday meant only one thing: a week of raucous fun at the English seaside.

Resorts such as Blackpool and Brighton were in their heyday and millions of visitors headed to the sea each summer on specially chartered steam trains. Blackpool's tourist authorities had seized on this growing craze and turned the town into a giant theme park, pouring money into evermore crazy attractions. The 1896 iron tower proved so popular that local entrepreneurs decided to build the largest big wheel they could afford. It seemed the ideal gimmick for the new century.

Booking the holiday was a nightmare, for travel agents were few and far between and Victorian families had to reserve hotels, trains and restaurants without the benefit of telephones, faxes and email.

So how, exactly, did they cope in 1900? Which resorts did they choose?

And what holiday essentials did they pack into their portmanteaus?

Meet Mr and Mrs Browne, a respectable young couple who reside in the leafy London suburb of Wimbledon, along with their two daughters, Victoria (named after the Queen) and Alexandra (after the Prince of Wales's wife).

George Browne is - let's say - a clerk in the city, and the new century has dealt him a good hand. An unexpected pay rise has increased his annual salary to a handsome [pounds sterling]150 - the same as a skilled bricklayer - and he has also landed himself a week's annual paid leave.

For the first time in his life, George is planning a family holiday.

As the Brownes tuck into their Sunday dish of roasted mutton and parsnips, they discuss where they should go.

George longs to visit Paris in order to see Rodin's statue The Kiss, which is on display for the first time.

But Elizabeth Browne has other ideas. She has an even more romantic destination in mind - Constantinople, 'one of the few places in Europe for which a passport is required'.

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