Thursday, 22 September 2011

Archaeology and Thomas Cook

The first regular tourist destination of Thomas Cook travel agency was Ashby-de-la-Zouch and its ruin of a castle. Whereas the company of this famous son of Leicester was born out of one railway trip to a temperance rally, the fame of the ruins is based on the success of one book, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. The publication of this book in 1819 secured the place of the Ashby castle on the tourist trail that is unthreatened still today. English Heritage owns the castle ruins and organizes jostling events such as depicted in the book regularly – although these are much more good-humoured.

The tourists flocked to Ashby even before Thomas Cook started his business but tourism preserved these ruin to the future generations and the success of the tours guaranteed it. Without a continued interest in the castle and the town itself – which even today is not without plenty of charm – the bricks and stones from the ruins would have disappeared to local building works as materials. The ruins meant then and even today business and like all over the world tourism guarantees the relevance of both archaeology and heritage. Perhaps the so-called heritage industry could have been supported to some extent as an educational activity but without people queuing up to see the pyramids or Pompeii and being happy to pay for the privilege, there would be much less preservation.

The ruins of the Ashby castle and their draw among the paying visitors guaranteed a go-ahead of all sorts of programmes and initiatives. The Ivanhoe Baths used the salt spring water from near-by Moira that could not succeed on its own as a spa destination next to a colliery. In 1822 the baths opened and were a relative success until the end of that century but did not rival Bath or Lemington Spa. The ruins of the Baths were demolished in the 1960s and present the different destinies of past and modern ruins, both in their way related to or benefitting from Ivanhoe, fictional events and Thomas Cook.

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