Lucy Lethbridge Tourists – Should You Have Stayed Home?

Chaos at ports, strike threats, lost luggage, pandemic-related paperwork, and flight cancellations—traveling on vacation can be stressful these days. But as Lucy Lethbridge shows Touristswe Brits can’t help ourselves.

Other books tell the history of tourism. There was a bestseller by Alain de Botton The art of travel (2002), a philosophical perspective on travel for pleasure, and more recently Overbooked (2013) by former New York Times correspondent Elizabeth Becker, who has extensively researched the tourism industry.

This book deals with the much narrower subject of British excursionists and their peculiar and often strange quirks and needs from the early 19th century to the 1970s. If that sounds niche, it’s not. Like other well-researched social history books on the same topic, such as Lizzie Collingham Sponge cake or Mark Kurlanskyi saltit quickly points to broader sociological truths and customs.

Lethbridge had previously dabbled in the intricacies of British society and class snobbery. Her previous book, Servantsgave voice to the domestic staff, largely ignored by history, and c Touristsrather than focusing on famous or prominent British travellers, the spotlight shines on the general public, ‘vagrants’ and tourists, where they went, what they did and who inspired or facilitated their journeys.

The book begins with panoramas and dioramas, visual spectacles that for many became an opportunity to see “the globe in a nutshell.” William Bullock’s Egyptian Hall, opened in 1812, was a “Pharaoh’s temple on Piccadilly” where, for a penny, the audience traveling in armchairs could purchase a simulated experience.

Things really took off thanks to the colorful offerings of the great showman Albert Smith, a founding member of the Alpine Club, an eccentric hack and “inveterate deflator of snobbery and pretension,” whose hand-painted sets, embellished with decorators and 3D effects, sold out. exits in the 1850s. This annoyed high-ranking souls such as the critic and Victorian scholar John Ruskin, who believed that Smith’s Alpine-in-a-box experience distorted sacred landscapes. But the profits reflected the fascination of the general public, with Smith’s Mont Blanc show making “£30,000 (over a million today) in ticket sales” at the box office in its six years of running.

Tourists it’s a traveling story of Brits on holiday abroad and at home, and Lethbridge does as good a picture-book Victorian as it does a caravan club of stalwart mobile home owners. In the 1950s, as we learned, several factors contributed to the huge caravanning boom of that decade. New to the market were chemical toilets with “Elsan blue water color with Jeyes Fluid”, a revival of folk singing, Pakamac raincoats (which “surpassed the gun in 1971 with the introduction of the cagoule with its important and roomy front pocket”). and then the launch of Camping Gaz methylated spirits cookers in 1956. These details, as enjoyable to nerds as they are to Mac users themselves, are what make the book such a pleasure to read.

What also becomes apparent are the similarities between tourist behavior then and now. Just as there is today’s “dark tourism” and disgusting YouTubers traveling to conflict zones, as far back as 1919 the Daily Express reported that the Belgian city of Ypres had “visitors trying to feel the thrill of a horror they did not experience.” . The 1853 edition of Murray’s Guide to Naples contains a grim suggestion to “visit the burial of a beggar in one of the 366 deep pits in the Campo Santo Nuovo.”

All this reminds one of the leagues of Western tourists with cameras at the burial sites on the Ganges that can be seen today. And just as we have Instagram filters, the Victorians had their own interesting accessory, the Claude glass, where, upon arriving at a spot of beauty, sightseers would turn their backs to the landscape, holding a plano-convex mirror that reflected a simplified, tinted version of the scenery.

The 18th-century clergyman Reverend William Gilpin, remembered for his relentless pursuit of the “picturesque,” encouraged the idea that a landscape is a destination, something to be ultimately put into a scrapbook. For Gilpin, Claude glass gave nature a pleasant and softened tone.

Critics believed that such aesthetic consumption “reduced the world’s great sights to little bubbles of artificial sensation,” which could be said of selfie art and social media in general. But as Lethbridge says about vacation souvenirs, “who would believe your travel stories if you didn’t have something amazing to show them?”

Tourists: How the English went abroad to find themselves Lucy Lethbridge, Bloomsbury £20, 320 pages

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