Thomas Cook on Fleet Street

If you’re ever sat in traffic at the end of Fleet Street, look up just before Ludgate Circus and you’ll spot a set of intriguing cherubs on the side of a building.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

Today 107-111 Fleet Street is known as Ludgate House but it was once the offices of Thomas Cook, a businessman, travel agent and creator of the ‘package’ tour industry.

History of Thomas Cook

Born in 1808 in Derbyshire, in his 20s he became a fervent Baptist missionary. As a keen supporter of the temperance movement he began to arrange group visits for his fellow campaigners to various rallies.

Thomas Cook, Public Domain

With the advent of the railways he was able to coordinate huge numbers of people attending events around the country, organising 485 people to travel from Leicester to Loughborough in 1841.

10 years later for the Great Exhibition in London, he organised the travel for 150,000 people to see the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park and from there he branched out overseas.

In 1865 Thomas Cook bought his first high street shop and office on Fleet Street.

The first Thomas Cook headquarters

As well as arranging the logistics of travel they sold things like guide books, luggage, walking boots and other travel essentials.

Here is a more recent image of the same view, note the same attractive clock bottom left.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

Here’s a close up of the Ludgate House Clock, I like how it also seems to be surmounted by a miniature globe!

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

History of Ludgate House

With business booming Cook expanded his Fleet Street offices in 1906.

The growth can be seen when comparing the 1890 OS Map below (I’ve highlighted in yellow the first headquarters).

OS Map c.1890s – layersoflondon.org

Then you can see how Ludgate House expanded along Fleet Street in the 1940s OS map below.

OS Map c.1940s – layersoflondon.org

It’s in the early 20th century that the building acquired some lovely decoration, namely a series of panels with characterful cherubs.

Some adopt poses from classical mythology. We have a Hermes/Mercury figure with a winged helmet below (he was the God’s messenger).

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

And another one clutching a selection of Zeus’ lightning bolts which he’s surely too young to be handling!

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

Others in the frieze are essentially tiny travel agents. This group are plotting the distance of your journey.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

This trio are swapping tips on how to plan the most effective itinerary.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

Lastly, the one below looks a bit tired after a hard days work of consulting a map.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

At the top of the building a cluster of yet more cherubs crown the dome.

They are all bent over, wings spread because they used to carry a globe with a ship on top.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

An extraordinary image survives showing its construction but I was unable to find an exact date of the picture. 

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

It seems in-keeping with the company’s tagline “A Cook’s tickets bring the world to you” and you can see a poster of a uniformed gentlemen holding the world, à la Atlas, here

Interestingly, the globe and ship are a similar design to another former Thomas Cook office at 125 Pall Mall, built c.1912. Today it’s the Kazakhstan Embassy.

Image credit: Public Domain

Other decoration includes an attractive line of faces representing the different parts of the world where Thomas Cook offered tours.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

Their exaggerated features must’ve seemed very exotic to an Edwardian audience but feel rather odd today as they gaze down on the diverse mix of tourists and office workers who walk along Fleet Street everyday.

Thomas Cook on Fleet Street | Look Up London

Thomas Cook retired in 1878, leaving the business to his son, John who had joined as a partner around 1871. At its height, Thomas Cook had 600 outlets across the UK and revolutionised package travel around the world.

Thomas Cook was sold in 2007 then collapsed in 2019. However it was resurrected as a online-only travel agent which is still in business today.

So have a look next time you’re walking along Fleet Street and admire the busy cherubs planning adventures around the globe.


Related Blog Post

On the Limehouse Cut (London’s first canal!) You can see the surviving remnants of Spratt’s dog biscuit factory, now renovated into flats. Read more about its history here.

Spratts Dog Biscuit factory

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