Travels in Europe

How about taking a trip to Europe for your summer break? But what would your journey have been like in the days before fast cars or budget airlines. Whilst industrialisation and developments in modes of transport – such as trains and steamers – throughout the nineteenth century made travel easier, journeys would have been a very different prospect from our modern experience.

This week’s blog looks at the accounts of three women between the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, offering a glimpse of travel in the age of horse-drawn carriages, trains, steamers and early motor cars.

Sketch of travel by horse and carriage, 1829 [MS61 Wellington Papers 1/1034/29]

The first traveller is Mary Mee, Viscountess Palmerston. With her husband and children she travelled to continental Europe on various occasions during the late eighteenth century. Her account relates to the visit they made in 1792, beginning with a description of the Channel crossing on the packet boat from England to Calais and then a drive in horse drawn carriage to Boulogne:

“Sunday the 29th of July. We had a very short passage of three hours which appeared to me like three and thirty…. The children were all a little indisposed but they forgot their past sickness when we landed at Calais. We breakfasted and drest and then set off for the Hotel de Ville where we were to appear in person to have our picture taken, that is to have our persons so accurately described that we could not give our passports to anybody else that they might effect their escape. Nothing, however, could be civiler and they detained us as short a time as possible…. During the examination of our baggage and the refitting of our carriage we took a walk and viewed the Duchess of Kingston’s house… We had a pleasant drive to Bologne where we arrived at the renowned Mrs Knowles, time enough to take a walk on the pier…”

[MS62 Broadlands Archives BR11/18/6]

“Searched by the Douaniers on the French frontiers” in Journal of sentimental travels in the southern provinces of France (Ackermann, London, 1821) [Rare Books DC607.7]

Travel documentation and checking of luggage was as much part of the eighteenth-century experience as for the modern traveller. The account by Lady Palmerston emphasising the civility of the process provides a marked contrast to accounts of less scrupulous practices for border crossings, as shown in the Rudolph Ackermann illustration above.

The Paris of Lady Palmerston’s visit was that of the First French Republic created in the aftermath of the revolution.

“The Garde Meuble” from Paris and its historical scenes vol. 1 (London, 1831) [Rare Books DC707]

She begins with a more typical tourist account praising the architecture and the environment: “I am extremely struck with the magnificent buildings in Paris. The fine hotels and gardens with the number of pathed walks and gardens which make a summer pass’d in Paris as pleasant as the country. The clearness of the air from burning only wood is very singular to any body used to the smoke of London…”

The Louvre from Paris and its historical scenes vol. 1 (London, 1831) [Rare Books DC707]

But Lady Palmerston’s description of the city goes beyond an admiration for the sites, and in her comments provide an interesting perspective on the social changes taking place:

“The total absence of everything like a person of fashion or a carriage … is very striking… We went and walked afterwards in the Palais Royal which used to be filled with all kinds of elegant people. It was crowded indeed, but with quite a different description. It’s the gayest place possible and you might pass your life in it and never want anything but what you might find there. All kinds of shops, coffee houses, taverns … dancing, gambling, politicks talking all around you and ladies without number.”

[MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR11/18/6]

Private journal of Elizabeth Waley, 1845 [MS371 A3042/2/4/15]

The second traveller is Elizabeth Waley (1821-84), the only daughter of Solomon Jacob Waley and his wife Rachael Hort. This account records her journey with her parents across Europe and around the Rhine in 1845, utilising, as well as carriages, the relatively new modes of transport – both trains and steamers.

The distance of nearly 50 years did not seem to have improved the experience of the initial part of the journey – that of crossing the Channel. The boat was described as having “pitched about tremendously” with the “women wretchedly provided for … with no stewardess nor any one to attend to them.” Border crossings and formalities at these could still be relatively simple and non bureaucratic. Elizabeth Waley records that when travelling by carriage from Koblenz to Bad Ems “not far from Coblenz a ladle at the end of a long pole was handed out of the window of a little house and we paid a trifling toll at crossing the barrier between Prussia and Nassau”. [MS371 A3042/2/4/15]

The development of the train network in Belgium and in Germany in the 1830s and 1840s meant that train travel from Ostend onwards was relatively straightforward. Crossing the state border though did mean a delay at Verviers to change to Prussian carriages to deal with the differences in the state rail networks.

Their journey included a day visit to Frankfurt by train from Weisbaden in August: this route being part of the new railway line that had been constructed in 1839. Taking in some of the main sites they visited the Römer (City Hall)  and the stock exchange building on the Paulsplatz. This building, which Elizabeth Waley described as “an elegant new building”, was based on the plans of the Frankfurt architect Friedrich Peiper and had opened in 1843.  It had a spacious interior and was designed “in beautiful taste, the floor laid with mosaic patterns in coloured stone and an arched roof painted in arabesque supported by marble columns….”. [MS371 A3042/2/4/15]

Gatehouse at Frankfurt: sketchbook of Emily, Lady Palmerston, 1840s [MS62 Broadlands Archives MB2/H15 p. 21]

In parallel to the development in train networks, the introduction of steam-powered boats to regions such as the Rhine led to the increase in tourism there from the late 1820s. The Waley family in 1845 incorporated the use of steamers in their itinerary and found that these often worked in efficient cooperation with the trains. Elizabeth Waley reported of their return journey in September through Frankfurt that although they were late the Princess Marianne steamer had been “in correspondence with the train and waited for the passengers”.

Old tower at Andernach: sketchbook of Emily, Lady Palmerston, 1840s [MS62 Broadlands Archives MB2/H15]

The final account is from the journal of Sybil Henriques who recorded her visit to Venice in 1911. This journey again at least in part embraced new modes of transport, as the party used first the train to Menton and then drove by car to Milan with the intention of then motoring on to Venice.

“9 April: At 1.30 we started for Venice but nearly never got there as our bus (motor) drove slick into a tram. Smashing of glass from the tram and shock to us and a standstill. All leapt out and into a little Victoria and so to station. In train from 1.30 to 6.30 with hot sunshine pouring on to us and the surrounding country past Brescia, Peschiero at the end of Lake Garda and Verona and Padua. Wonderful towns, but ugly plains between…”

[MS371 A3042/2/4/33]

The Grand Canal, Venice: sketchbook of Julia Waley, 1870s [MS363 A3006/3/5/4]

Sybil Henriques’s account of her trip to Venice records not only the sights that she visited “10 April: Cold and grey but busy sightseeing. St Mark’s in morning. Marvellous mosaics…. After lunch … set off for the Palace of Doges where we saw the most immense rooms I have ever seen and the most immense pictures in them mostly by Tintoretto….” It also shows the impact that tourism, fueled by transport developments, were having the city even then, as she notes that their beautiful view from the balcony over to San Georgio was “rather spoilt today by a large French steamer”. [MS371 A3042/2/4/33] So modern complaints about too many cruise ships travelling to Venice are nothing new!

We wish you a happy journey and a very enjoyable holiday by whatever means you are travelling.

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