Henry Gaze ranks alongside Thomas Cook as a pioneer in the commercial travel business. Gaze was born in London on 5 April 1825, the eldest son of Henry and Mary Gaze (nee Mary Hawkins Tuckett) who had been married at St Botolph's Church in Aldersgate on 15 June 1824. Henry Gaze senior was a boot and shoemaker of 155 Cheapside in the City of London. A brief foray into ironfounding in 1841/2, when he entered into partnership with the patentee John Onions to run the Fountain Foundry in Bermondsey, ended in the criminal courts as Onions was charged with issuing fraudulent bills of exchange on the company (trading as Henry Gaze and Co).

Henry Gaze junior was set up as a boot and shoemaker in Southampton in November 1844, taking over from Joseph Strachan at 164 High Street on the latter's retirement. Henry was not yet 20 years old. The nominal proprietor was probably his father for the original advertisement in the Hampshire Advertiser, 16 November 1844 emphasised the "practical experience" of the new owner, "having carried on a superior business in Cheapside for more than 20 years". However from the early days the business was under the immediate direction of the son. Trade directories between 1847 (published December 1846) and 1851 list the premises under Henry Gaze junior.

The business was run with enterprise and panache. Arrangements were made with the Paris bootmakers Gerville and Co and Sempron et Fils for the direct importation of "their highly esteemed wellington boots for dress and walking", and for "a constant supply of Renault's unrivalled Satin and other French shoes" (Hampshire Advertiser, December 1846). Gaze was appointed Bootmaker to Queen Victoria on 26 July 1850: "specially appointed by Warrant of the Duchess of Sutherland". He was the first to introduce the Sutherland Boot - as worn by the Duchess, thought by some to be the most beautiful woman in the world - into Southampton. Five years later he received, through Count Walewski the French Foreign Minister, the appointment of Fourisseur de sa Majeste l'Empereur: bootmaker to Emperor Napoleon III (Hampshire Advertiser, 2 June 1855). He was the inventor of Gaze's gutta percha insoles and a licensee for the 'Soccopedes Elasticus' (a half boot) patented by Mrs Charlotte Smith in 1849. The 1851 census records a workforce of 18 at 164 High Street. By the time of the next census he has moved to 183 High Street, three doors below Bar Gate. In 1855 he published Hints on the feet and their coverings, with illustrations; together with a chapter on corns, their cause and cure. A "tradesman's book" according to the Hampshire Advertiser, 9 June 1855, "calculated to put money in the purse of the author by obtaining golden or silver opinions of all sorts of people". But nevertheless "a right honest and well written one", touching on the structure of the feet ("this most complex and wonderful production of creative wisdom and power"), the form of the boot and shoe, deformities, corns and bunions, the ablution of the feet, stockings, boot trees and cleaning patent leather. This outwardly artisan beginning came to haunt Gaze as his career diversified. An unsympathetic reference in the Morning Star to his origins as a boot and shoemaker, seen by Gaze as an attempt to hold him up to public derision, brought forth an impassioned reply: "It is true I belong to that fraternity, but it is my ambition to stand at the head of my trade in the district where I am placed" (quoted in Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser 29 August 1863).

Henry Gaze fits into that tight circle of influence which both symbolized and promoted Southampton's cultural and economic progress in the middle years of the nineteenth century: Congregationalist in religion, Liberal in politics, advocating mutual improvement and internationalist in outlook. His arrival in the town coincided almost to the month with the opening of Albion Congregational Chapel in St Mary's Street (15 September 1844) as a breakaway from Above Bar Chapel. Gaze was to become a deacon of Albion Chapel. He voted Liberal/radical in parliamentary elections in 1852 and 1865, and in 1856/7 was on the election committee of the Liberal candidate Thomas Weguelin. A founder member of the Foster Society in 1848 - named after the essayist John Foster and dedicated to "the investigation of truth on social, moral, political and religious questions" (Hampshire Independent, 12 July 1851) - Gaze allowed the use of a room in his house for their weekly winter meetings. He was presented in July 1851 by the society's president William Goddard Lankester (a fellow Liberal and member of Albion Chapel) with a 10-volume set of the complete poetical works of Lord Byron, a touchstone of radicalism.

We have already seen the extent of Gaze's involvement with the leading Parisian boot and shoemakers. This increased after his appointment as Imperial Bootmaker. The following year saw the establishment in Southampton of a French depot for "two of the largest Paris houses in the trade" (Hampshire Advertiser, 28 June 1856). Gaze was at the same time visiting Paris and Brussels on a regular basis to obtain the latest styles to ensure that "no imitations or unfashionable goods, such as are sent to the London Warehouses, are offered to his customers". Visits to the continent were not solely for business purposes. In the summer of 1858 he made a tour of the Alps, covering nearly 2000 miles in 17 days. He was accompanied by Ebenezer Daniel Williams, son of a borough alderman, second clerk in Southampton Post Office and, with Gaze, a member of the Albion Chapel (sometime deacon and chapel secretary), politically Liberal and doyen (secretary, later president) of the Foster Society. The family friendship endured until Ebenezer's death in 1899. A fellow Congregationalist, James Bennett Baseley, was also - in Gaze's words - one who "himself has trodden the Alps". He had moved from London in 1859, aged about 22 years, to take over the outfitting business of Richard Dyer Ellyett at 165 High Street (next door to Gaze's first shop). Baseley was to become deacon, secretary and treasurer of Albion Chapel. He was a Liberal in politics. A guide to Switzerland written by Gaze in 1861 (see below) recommended potential tourists to the Alps to buy their knapsacks - made to Gaze's pattern - from Baseley. Religion, politics and commerce were easily combined in early Victorian Southampton.

Although a newcomer to the town, Henry Gaze allied himself with those who believed that the preservation of Southampton's past was not only a civic obligation but was also an essential prerequisite of the town's future greatness. A campaign that was given contemporary resonance by the growing threat to the town walls from decay and demolition. Gaze's specific contribution was through occasional lectures before the Athenaeum Society (March 1857: 'Old Southampton') and the Polytechnic Institution (November 1860: 'Southampton, our good old days, in days of yore' and February 1867: 'Southampton in ye olden times'). The Polytechnic lectures were show-stoppers. Held in the largest venues in the town (the Royal Victoria Rooms and Hartley Hall respectively), the packed and enthusiastic audiences included the mayor, town clerk, members of the corporation and the principal tradesmen of the town. The Victoria Rooms lecture had as its backdrop a panorama designed by Philip Brannon and executed by W Burgess, a scenic artist from London. Atmospheric music was supplied by a harmonium situated behind the platform. Gaze was allowed unprecedented access to the town records, even given permission to remove the most sacred icons of the town - the complete range of charters from King John to Charles I, the six maces, the loving-cup, the sword of justice - from the Audit House for display at the lectures. Similarly prestigious artifacts were lent in 1867 by the Reverend Edmund Kell (a collection of bones and pottery fragments found in March 1856 in St Mary's Road, thought then to be the ancient site of Southampton) and Steuart MacNaughten, owner of Bitterne Manor and president of Southampton Athenaeum (Roman remains from Clausentum). In 1860 Gaze exhibited the family and pocket bible formerly belonging to the Reverend Isaac Watts. Shortly afterwards Gaze was elected a fellow of the British Archaeological Association. In August 1861 he was elected a vice-president of the Polytechnic Institution.

The tour to Switzerland in 1858 was a prelude to the work for which Henry Gaze became nationally famous. It provided material for illustrated lectures at Southampton Athenaeum (March 1859: 'Notes of a tour among the Alps of Switzerland and Savoy') and Southampton Polytechnic Institute (December 1859). Both were precursors to his Polytechnic lectures on Southampton's history: graphic entertainments, delivered "in a free conversational style" (Hampshire Advertiser, 10 December 1859) in front of a panoramic backcloth painted by W Burgess and accompanied by vocal and instrumental music, models and a tall figure representing one of the monks of St Bernard.

More significantly the tour provided the basis for the first in a series of continental guidebooks that were to revolutionize the way in which continental travel was perceived. Switzerland: how to see it for ten guineas, written "by one who has done it" and published in the summer of 1861 by W Kent and Co of London was followed by Paris: how to see it for five guineas [1863], Holland and Belgium: how to see them for seven guineas [1864] and North Italy and Venetia: how to see them for fifteen guineas [1864]. In an age when it rained guidebooks, these were aimed at a specific market. They provided clear and uncluttered directions to the "hurried" class of traveller intent on cramming in as many of the key sights as possible. He borrowed the idea of a star system, by which the true highlights could be indicated, from Baedeker's guides. Gaze's volumes were given the same size and format as the guides published by John Murray and his readers were advised to ask their booksellers to bind both together so that his formed a kind of surrogate table of contents to Murray's more elaborate work (Peter Francois, "If it's 1815, this must be Belgium: the origins of the modern travel guide", Book history, volume 15, 2012).

It was a short step into the excursion business itself. The first experiment - designed to test the validity of ‘doing' Paris in seven days for 5 guineas - were two first-class excursions to the French capital from Exeter via Southampton, Havre and Rouen, leaving Southampton docks on 29 September and 2 October 1865. It was an all-inclusive price irrespective of whether excursionists travelled from Exeter or from any of the intervening stations on the London and South Western Railway's line, completed only five years earlier. The cross-channel journey was by the railway company's steamers. The price included travel expenses, hotel accommodation, pier and dock dues, stewards' fees, the personal services of Henry Gaze and "his very intelligent wife" throughout and a trip to Versailles. 183 High Street was now the 'Continental Guide Office'. The pilot was a success. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 18 October 1865 reported a total of about 50 on the excursion, a figure that would have been greater had more notice been given. The Hampshire Independent - a Southampton paper wedded to the Liberal nonconformist cause - was ecstatic that "another strand [had been added] to the cable by which the nations are being daily drawn into closer bonds of union and fraternity" (16 September 1865).

A full programme was initiated in 1866, commencing with an Easter trip to Paris in March. The routine excursion trade to continental Europe grew exponentially. Gaze became Southampton manager of the London and South Western Railway Company's excursions to the continent. He was employed in 1868 in a similar role by the London and North Western Railway Company. He sold tickets to independent tourists and led special trips under his personal supervision. His range of services were publicized in Gaze's Tourist Gazette, issued ten times a year. The workload was so great that by June 1869 he established a London office at 163 Strand. The following year he left Southampton.

The more exotic also featured in Gaze's itinerary. On 6 February 1868 a party under his supervision left Southampton docks for a breathtaking 10-week trip to Egypt and the Holy Land. The scheduled itinerary incorporated Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Damascus, Cairo and the Pyramids, with short stays in Alexandria, Athens and Constantinople. Sea passes were to be made using French, Austrian, Italian and Russian mail packets. The party was to be accompanied as a specialist guide by the Reverend John Thomas Bannister LL.D, Baptist minister, experienced oriental traveller and author of a raft of works explaining the “sacred geography and history” of the Holy Land and the extent to which the present condition of places mentioned in Scripture fulfilled biblical prophecy. The journey itself - reported in a series of ad hoc dispatches in the English press - was a melange of excitement and adventure: hurtling down the Mont Cenis pass on sledges drawn by mules at breakneck speed (the railway over the pass was temporarily suspended, adding nearly 20 guineas to Gaze's expenses); meeting the stationmaster at Psar-el-Shalet on the line to Cairo who spoke English with a strong Hampshire brogue and turned out to be a Southampton gentleman named Tindal; dining at the Grand Cairo Hotel with the Duke and Duchess of St Albans and experiencing a small earthquake whilst in the city; singing "God save the Queen" with great fervour whilst riding on donkeys to the Pyramids; entering Jerusalem on a cavalcade of horses; camping in the desert, listening to distant wolves and hyenas; and given military escort to reach remote sacred sites. Two further tours were organized in the next twelve months.

It was part of Gaze's supreme skills as a publicist that the excitement was not restricted to those who personally experienced the tour. For two nights in November 1869 Gaze filled the Victoria Rooms in Southampton with an illustrated entertainment: "Up and down the Holy Land; or Palestine as it is, and its people as they are". Reserved seats were 5 shillings each. An illustrated proscenium - executed by W Burgess again - covered between 3000 and 4000 feet of canvass. It contained four panels, representing a cafe, a barber's shop, a private dwelling and an Oriental merchant's store. Over twenty "living personations" represented figures from a Nubian slave to a dancing Dervish and a Bedouin Arab. There was vocal and instrumental music, with Henry's son William Edwin presiding at the harmonium. Expense was clearly not a factor. The Hampshire Advertiser, 27 November 1869 called it "one of the best [entertainments] ever witnessed in this town". The whole was packed up and dispatched, like a travelling theatrical performance, to the Clarendon Assembly Rooms, Oxford in April 1870.

Henry Gaze was married on 13 April 1847, at St Vedast's Church in the City of London, to Jane Cocker, daughter of Henry Cocker, described as gentleman in the parish registers. They had five children, all born in Southampton. Alfred Henry (born 1848) took over the boot and shoemaking business at 183 High Street (later at 143 High Street) on his father's move to London in 1870. He became an elementary class teacher at Albion Chapel. Admitted a partner in the travel business in 1872, he soon afterwards left Southampton. Alfred, now a deacon of Westbourne Park Baptist Chapel under the pastorate of the Reverend John Clifford, one of the greatest preachers of the age, was a pallbearer at E D Williams's funeral in February 1899, William Edwin (born 1850) became a partner in the travel firm on 1 January 1891. He had previously been a member of Albion Chapel choir, and was a solo performer of songs at local concerts. Mary Jane (born c.1852) and Emily Florence (born c.1856) were both members of Albion Chapel Sunday School, one of them ('Miss Gaze') being listed in 1872 as a teacher of the Middle Grade scripture classes. Mary Jane attended the funeral of E D Williams. She was described as "one of the dearest friends of the deceased" (Southampton Times, 18 February 1899). Henry Ernest (born 1861) was admitted partner to the travel business on the same day as William Edwin. Henry Gaze died on 3 May 1894, aged 69 years, at Oakhurst, Ravenscourt Park in Hammersmith after a week's illness. His personal estate at probate was worth £4,207. The tourist business was continued by his two elder sons, but ended in bankruptcy in 1903. Henry's widow, Jane, died in Fulham in 1893. She was 71 years old.

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