Appeal to preserve Thomas Cook archive as company ceases trading

By Rosemary Collins, 23 September 2019 - 2:35pm

The travel company’s historically significant archive faces an uncertain future after it entered administration

Thomas Cook closes
Cabin baggage information board stands near closed Thomas Cook check-in desks at Gatwick Airport (Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Efforts are being made to rescue Thomas Cook’s archive after the travel company ceased trading with immediate effect this morning.

The Business Archives Council (BAC) is appealing for historians to testify to the archive’s importance as it seeks a future home for the collection.

At 2am this morning, the Civil Aviation Authority announced that Thomas Cook, which was founded in 1841, had gone into administration after crisis talks to resolve a £1.7bn debt failed, with all flights and bookings cancelled.

Historians on Twitter immediately began questioning what would happen to the archive.

In May, writer Andrew Humphreys posted on his blog, Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel, that Thomas Cook’s archivist Paul Smith had been laid off after 23 years and the archive was being managed by internal marketing staff, putting it at risk of being sold.

A spokesperson for the BAC told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that the council was working to “secure the future” of the “hugely important” archive.

As part of the rescue efforts, Dr Mike Anson, Archives Officer for the Association of Business Historians, is gathering evidence of the archival research value and wider uses of the collection from those who have used it.

If you have testimony to offer, email it to and provide your consent for your name and contact details to be included.

BAC said it would work with Thomas Cook, the Official Receiver responsible for the company’s liquidation, and accountancy firm KPMG LLP, whose staff have been appointed as special managers to the group.

It is also compiling a list of interested repositories to serve as a future home for the archive.

The company was founded in 1841 by Thomas Cook, a Leicestershire cabinet maker and supporter of teetotalism, in order to transport temperance supporters by local train.

It began offering tours to the USA in 1866, and around the world tours from 1872.

The Thomas Cook archive, located on the outskirts of Peterborough, holds a wealth of documents relating to the company’s history, including letters, brochures, posters, legal documents, receipts and passenger lists.

Andrew Humphreys, the author of Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile, told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine: “Given that TC arguably invented modern mass tourism, and pioneered the concept of tourism in many countries, the collection represents an important slice of social and sometimes political history.

"In my area of interest, which is Egypt and the Middle East, Thomas Cook and his son John Mason Cook controlled most of the river traffic on the Nile, making them figures of enormous influence.

"They carried Britain's army to war in the Sudan in the late 19th century, and played a huge role in developing Egypt's modern tourism infrastructure.”

600,000 Thomas Cook passengers are stranded overseas following the firm’s collapse.

The Civil Aviation Authority is in the process of repatriating 150,000 UK citizens in the country’s biggest peacetime repatriation operation in history.

The jobs of 9,000 Thomas Cook employees are also at risk.

The company’s website has closed down and Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine was unable to contact it to ask about the future of the archive.


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