Book review: Hints to Lady Travellers by Lillias Campbell Davidson

Never eat a railway ham sandwich and avoid pastry like the plague.

Sunday, 24th April 2011, 7:00 am

Sound advice? It certainly was over 120 years ago when Lillias Campbell Davidson was putting together her invaluable and revolutionary little book, Hints to Lady Travellers.

As a commercial author, Campbell Davidson never missed a trick and women of the late Victorian era, eager to break beyond the domestic confines of their home, lapped up her opinionated travel advice with all the enthusiasm of liberated prisoners.

It was the first practical women-only manual on the pleasures – and trials – of travel and appeared just as Britain was experiencing a period of extraordinary growth not only in modes of transport but also in opportunities for the middle classes to journey overseas.

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The publication of delightful excerpts from the book, which first hit the shelves in 1889, comes courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society and offers a fascinating and entertaining insight into the nature of travel for women over a century ago.

From transporting one’s own portable bath and getting to grips with the ‘science’ of boarding-house life, to hailing a cab and avoiding chills when cycling, Campbell Davidson’s down-to-earth compendium fed a growing female appetite for adventure.

Of course, travelling wasn’t all fun and excitement. As well as the usual problems with luggage, bookings, accommodation and packing, there were also more obscure hazards like bags of soiled linen, cups of tea which could have ‘fatal results’ and four-wheeler London cabs with their ‘antiquated flavour’ and ‘broken-down hacks’.

And using public transport could bring out the worst in people. ‘Travel,’ noted the wise Campbell Davidson, ‘is certainly the true touchstone of character’.

With more than a touch of asperity, she declares: ‘It really is extraordinary to see the way in which people, well bred in all the other affairs of life, will fight for the best places, disregard each other’s comfort, and evince a firm determination to consult no-one’s wishes but their own.’

Ladies’ maids fared little better when it came to easing the travails of travel, the majority of them being dismissed by Campbell Davidson as ‘weak and impotent things’ who were ‘generally helpless in the moment of action, and worse than useless in an emergency’.

The use of archive material from the original book and offbeat anecdotes from pioneering Victorian female travellers like Gertrude Bell and Isabella Bird makes Hints to Lady Travellers an eye-opening and quirky journey into the past.

The perfect gift for bemused travellers and avid history fans.

(Elliott & Thompson Limited, hardback, £6.99)