How to Travel for FreeOn May 20, 2020 by Elyse
Travel has been around as long as we’ve had legs to walk on, but in the days before budget airlines and AirBnB, what was an impoverished, wannabe globetrotter to do?
Glad you asked. If you’ve read Beginner’s Guide to Travel Writing, you’re ready for John Henry Richardson’s master class on maximizing your sightseeing while minimizing your costs.
Over three weeks in 1905, “that promising young man” traveled across England as a locomotive inspector, entirely at the expense of the London and North Western Railway. Sounds like a dream job, right?
There was just one teeny, tiny, I-hesitate-to-even-mention-it problem: Richardson wasn’t actually a locomotive inspector. However, he didn’t let that minor technicality stop him from successfully impersonating one and taking advantage of all the perks.
And now, you, too, can learn the tricks of the trade and plan your own post-lockdown, budget-friendly tour!
Fine print: Second Glance History is not liable for any claims, damages, losses, expenses or costs resulting directly or indirectly from the following really terrible advice. Consult your (probably extinct) travel agent for more information.
All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.– Mark Twain
Richardson took these words of wisdom to heart. One night at the London Road station in Manchester:
He went up to an engine driver and demanded to be taken on the locomotive, but the driver refused. . .
Our spirited hero, however, didn’t take “no” for an answer.
. . . and Richardson got in with the guard and journeyed to Stockport.– The Evening Express, September 7, 1905
As someone whose voice still quavers when ordering coffee, I can only envy that level of self-assurance.
Go where and when the wind takes you.
When traveling on someone else’s dime, you can’t afford to be picky—literally.
On his cross-country jaunt, Richardson reportedly visited many exotic locales, including Manchester, Liverpool, Euston, Buxton and Stalybridge. However, his connections weren’t always direct or convenient.
[While in Stockport, he] alighted and afterwards mounted the engine of a midnight train to [Editor’s note: Georgia?] Huddersfield, telling the driver that he was an inspector from the locomotive works at Crewe. He left Huddersfield and remained on the platform until 2.10 a.m., when he got on to the engine of another train and rode to Leeds.– The Evening Express, September 7, 1905
If you’re fortunate enough to be able to sleep on moving vehicles, don’t forget to pack a neck pillow.
Learn all you can.
Richardson may not have been hired as a locomotive inspector, but that didn’t stop him from expertly performing the duties.
[Richardson] took every advantage of his assumed name to view the sights of the county free of charge, and to become cognizant of the inner workings of the company. He has travelled from Liverpool and Manchester to London and back on the footplates of engines, and several drivers have been completely taken aback at the extraordinary knowledge the man possessed of engineering.
On one occasion (says a Crewe correspondent) he brought the driver of a London express off his engine and ordered him to examine several intricate parts of the locomotive before allowing it to proceed. On another occasion he threatened to discharge a driver because his engine was not spotlessly clean. He has also ordered drivers to pull certain parts of their engines to pieces in order to satisfy his wonderful curiosity.– The Evening Express, September 7, 1905
Richardson was certainly no free rider. Who knows what could have happened had he allowed that express train to chug along to London without inspection? He may have saved lives.
Trust in the kindness of strangers.
There was no shortage of good Samaritans willing to help an industrious employee of the London and North Western Railway.
On the strength of [Richardson’s] statement that he was an inspector on the line the station master at Stalbridge had lent the man a sovereign, and a barmaid at the same station had lent him [10 shillings]. At Buxton he borrowed a mackintosh from the locomotive foreman, and sold it in Manchester for [10 shillings].– The Evening Express, September 7, 1905
I never said you had to be a good Samaritan.
Some of his fellow travelers were even more generous—and a tad smitten with the dashing young man in uniform.
He was keeping company with a lady, and it was said he had obtained possession of her ring by saying he was going to buy her an engagement ring. He secured a silk handkerchief from her on the plea that he was going to London that night to drive the Royal Mail to Scotland, and wished to keep his collar clean. From the mother he obtained the loan of her gold watch.– The Evening Express, September 15, 1905
Never underestimate the importance of a clean collar. Unfortunately, Richardson didn’t leave notes on how he coaxed the mother to part with her gold watch. You’ll have to improvise.
Everyone really is out to get you.
[Richardson] was on Tuesday night seen by a detective of the London and North-Western Railway at the London-road station, Manchester. . . [After arriving in Leeds, he] was accosted by the inspector who had been shadowing him from Manchester.– The Evening Express, September 15, 1905
In your travels, keep an eye out for deerstalker hats, Inverness capes and magnifying glasses. Be suspicious of anyone who looks like:
Alas, all good things—including expense-paid vacations—must come to an end.
Richardson repeated to [the detective] that he was a locomotive inspector, but he had left his passes at home. At the police-station he said, “The game is up. I will tell the truth.”– The Evening Express, September 15, 1905
After Richardson was arrested in Leeds, he pleaded guilty to traveling on the railway with intent to defraud. He was fined 40 shillings and costs and then disappeared from the historical record.
I like to think that rather than descend further into a life of crime like another young delinquent we’ve met, he took a page from Leonardo DiCaprio, er, Frank Abagnale, Jr. Perhaps he went on to work for the London and North Western Railway—for real this time—and became the finest locomotive inspector it ever had.
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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