Ladies on the loose
BORN in Brooklyn, New York, in 1854, Lillias Campbell Davidson, driving force behind Britain’s Lady Cyclists’ Association, also wrote numerous fiction and nonfiction books including the 19th-century equivalent of a selfhelp guide titled Hints to Lady Travellers: At Home and Abroad.
Aimed to be ‘‘useful to women of all means and conditions’’, it was published by Iliffe & Son in 1889 at a time when daytrippers took trains, Thomas Cook pioneered the package deal and Karl Baedeker the travel guide.
Improved safety in ‘‘exotic lands’’ and a desire ‘‘to travel for travel’s sake’’ resulted in more women travelling the roads less taken and writing enthusiastically about their experiences.
While Baedeker’s Handbook for Travellers provided insights to a country or city, Campbell Davidson wrote from her experiences and observations as a lady traveller, covering subjects as diverse as ladies carriages and seabathing and offering advice of the ilk of ‘‘beware the railway station ham sandwich’’. Chapter headings included Foot warmers and Teapots.
A dozen decades later some topics may seem terribly old-fashioned but many continue to ring true. Take packing, for example, and her amazement that ‘‘there are some people so curiously constituted as actually to enjoy this ghastly preparation for the journey’’, and to the discovery ‘‘at the very last available second that all one’s most cherished possessions have been left out of the trunks, which have been carefully locked and strapped, and are ready for instant departure’’.
Hand luggage, often a dilemma in the size and weight department, is described by Campbell Davidson as ‘‘all those smaller articles of the bag class which accompany the lady traveller, and contain all her trifling needfuls for the way’’. London luxury emporium Asprey and Sons offered a classic option for a tenner. ‘‘Specially fitted up for ladies with writing and work materials’’, the carrier also included personal essentials such as silvertopped scent bottles and ivory glove stretchers. Less likely to be part of today’s travelling entourage would be a lady’s maid.
Those who have travelled with a reluctant partner and recalcitrant teenagers, however, would no doubt relate to Campbell Davidson’s description of chaps as ‘‘weak and impotent things in travelling . . . they are generally . . . worse than useless in an emergency’’.
Fast forward from a seemingly less deadline-driven era to a 21st-century airport at, say, 6am. One can only imagine what the response would be to assorted trunks and bearers arriving at the automated check-in kiosk. How would security officers view hand luggage stuffed with assorted liquids, products made from endangered species, and sharp objects?
In the final paragraph of Hints to Lady Travellers Campbell Davidson wrote: ‘‘If, by my endeavours, I have in any way assisted my sisters in their wanderings, or encouraged a single woman to join the path of travellers by land or sea, I shall feel that I have achieved the object of my labours.’’