Hints to Lady Travellers

I associate libraries with serendipity. You may think it an odd statement to make, but let me explain… When focused on a specific topic, you may spot (quite by chance) something else that leads you down a tangential path you hadn’t initially intended to follow. Often these tangents prove to be quite a fascinating and it is well worth veering off the path for a short meander. When I was recently in the British Library researching women’s travel accounts to Greece, the book that led me astray was a substantial tome offering advice for women travellers in the late 19th century. It appealed to me on different levels – women travellers, Victorian social perceptions and food related trivia.

Hints to Lady Travellers Abroad and at Home
by Lillias Campbell Davidson
London: Iliffe and Son 1889

The author, Lillias Campbell Davidson (1853-1934), was a British writer and staunch advocate for women’s rights. Travel, it is often pointed out, was one way that a woman at this time could exert her independence and move beyond the domestic sphere. Davidson did travel, but not to Greece. The advice in this book, she states, had evolved out of personal experience and observation. She was also a keen cyclist. In 1892, she founded the Lady Cyclists’ Association in London, possibly the first women’s only cycling club. The club was designed to encourage tours and social gatherings for women cyclists. Davidson’s Handbook for Lady Cyclists (1896), along with Hints to Lady Travellers (1889), comprised some of her non-fiction publications, but the bulk of her work was fictional – books and serialised stories.

Public Domain image from Wikipedia.

Hints to Lady Travellers was written in brief sections covering a huge variety of topics. They occur in the form of short notes in no discernable order, but can roughly be grouped into topics. Practical topics include various conveyances such as the bike, train, omnibus and steamship. Other sections dealt with what to expect at different types of lodgings that range from hostels to spas (“hydropathic establishments”). Plus, there is a section devoted to the Door Wedge and the benefit of packing your own wedge for security at lodgings. Dress advice was primarily common sense – plain and hard wearing. Davidson also waxed eloquently on acquiring the newfangled button hook for ease of fastening and unfastening boot buttons. Toiletries listed detailed items to pack in one’s sponge bag, including a quantity of pure glycerine and cotton gloves to alleviate the bane of a lady’s travel – chapped face and hands. Other items used for packing – trunks, portmanteaux, knapsacks, holdalls, soiled linen bags, etc. – received their own individual sections.

Scattered throughout these detailed pieces of advice and lists of things to pack are sections dealing with behaviour. Under the heading of Accidents, Davidson believes that the lady traveller should comport herself with quiet fortitude. In the case of a sinking ship, calmly tie on the life belt under your arms and not at your waist unless you wish to be found feet up in the water. As for the section on Fellow Travellers, she has quite a bit more to say. Travel, she states, brings out people’s characteristics to a marked extent. A sharp rebuke for rudeness and breaches of etiquette (such as bad language and smoking in carriages not dedicated to that pastime) is sufficient. Note that Davidson assumes this rude behaviour and breaches of etiquette are generally caused my men. As for impertinent or obtrusive attentions (by men again) against a lady’s person, prevention is the best method. As a advocate for women’s rights, Davidson shocked me when she said that more often than not, it is the lady’s fault for attracting attention. She states that comporting herself with dignity should be a sufficient deterrent in most cases. Davidson, however, cites a true, albeit extreme exception. On rare occasions when a lady should find herself alone with a violent homicidal maniac (male), call the guard (train) or captain (steamship). Last, but not least, to counter the minor irritation of loud babies, she suggests that authorities might consider a separate carriage for them and “their guardians”.

Interesting though these other sections were, I was particularly drawn to those that dealt with food, some dealing specifically in types of food recommended while travelling and others with useful portable gadgetry revolving around food and drink. Food, for the most part, should be sustaining and plain. Fruit and raw vegetables should be avoided. Soups are recommended as nourishing, particularly when travelling in colder months. For a quick pick-me-up, she recommends travelling with a supply of coca tablets. This latter reminded me of another odd book I ran across a while ago which was a 1893 marketing pamphlet for the French beverage Vin Moriani, a tonic of wine and coca extract, that included celebrity endorsements and recommendations by prominent medical practitioners. It provides a potent reminder that not only did Victorians have different social mores, but their food fads and medical advice were also a variance with our modern views!

The section on Packed Sandwiches recommended that they be made from fresh bread minus crust with a thin layer of meat and not the doorstops with thick slabs of meat that are produced for men’s shooting parties. Well fitting Sandwich Boxes (another section) were recommended – a beautiful silver example of which you can see in the image below to the right. More sections dealt with Water (advising the use of charcoal filters), Flasks and Collapsable Cups with caps – the latter you can see in the image below to the left, a special silver plated one aimed at cyclists.

The following two utensils described below come from the 1844 edition of the Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy by Thomas Webster and Mrs Parker in a section on portable cooking utensils. The first is a device known as the Etna for which Davidson devotes a whole section. An Etna (named after the volcano) is a device of a metal conical cup attached to a metal saucer. The liquid to be heated is poured into the cup and alcohol is poured into the saucer. The alcohol is lit which proceeds to warm the water. The one below sports a detachable handle for packing. Davidson states unequivocally that “no lady traveller should be without these truly indispensable articles”.

The next is a Rumford tea kettle – complete with an inner core in which the alcohol fuel would be burned, heating the water held in the outer casing. Davidson does not remark on this specific kettle, but discusses what she calls a “Home Comfort” – a tea kettle attached to a heating unit below, much like a primitive camp stove.

In the section under Tea, not only should you bring your own supply of tea, but a so-called Russian or Singapore teapot is considered useful. She describes these as boxes padded with straw in which a tall ceramic teapot sits with its spout sticking through – like a kind of a primitive thermos.

I’m glad I meandered down the path with Hints to Lady Travellers. I learned a few things and spent a pleasant hour or so paging through looking for interesting pieces of advice before heading back to my Greek travellers.

* * *

On the way back to my hotel after a long day in the library being sidetracked by Hints to Lady Travellers, I was mulling over Davidson’s contradictory ideas of female etiquette and the freedom to travel, I spotted this:

Serendipity again, and appropriate since the day was 6 February – that day in 1918 when Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act that would allow women in the UK the right to vote.



  1. there have been some wonderfully intrepid female travellers over the years, haven’t there? i love that collapsible cup, and i want one of those silver sandwich boxes:-) Very odd that she thought women were to blame for men being pigs. How marvellous to have spent some time in the British Library! cheers sherry


    • The collapsable cup and sandwich box images came from antique sites which I converted to “sketch” mode using an image app. I really loved that collapsable cup! And , yes I agree with you – women should never be blamed for men’s bad behaviour.


  2. Oh dear, only last week I was chided by a friend for bringing what this book describes as ‘shooting party’ style sandwiches on a picnic! My friend’s sandwiches were dainty crust less triangles mine on the other hand were what I would call rustic farmhouse style!


  3. Such a fascinating topic, isn’t it?

    Cynthia Bertelsen, author of “A Hastiness of Cooks”: A Practical Handbook for Use in Deciphering the Mysteries of Historic Recipes and Cookbooks


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