A Journey Through Time – A 17th Century Gap Year

Nine  hours  travelling,  squalid  sleeping  arrangements,  too  much  to  drink  and  money  lost  during  late  night  card  games. Not  a  scene  from  a  20th Century  teenage  gap  year,  but  a  young  person’s  17th Century  Grand  Tour,  in  which  they  would  experience  the  renaissance  period  first  hand.

Pannini-galleria-roma-anticaSome of the sights one might have seen on their Grand Tour!

Source: thegrandtour.it

Despite  the  criticisms  expressed  about   young  people’s  traveling  ambitions  in  their  year  between  A  levels  and University,  the  gap  year  is  not  the  modern  phenomenon  we  consider  it  to  be. Dating  back  to  the  1600s,  the  young  person’s  tour  around  Europe  was  a time  of  personal development,  first  hand  education  and  discovery  away  from  their  responsibilities  back  home. Often  the  lucky  traveler  would  begin  their  journey  from  Dover  to  Calais,  travelling  through  France,  Germany,  Austria  and  Switzerland  before  landing  in  Italy  to  view  the  home  of  the  classics  they  would  have  read  about  in  school.

Sounds Fun – Could Anyone Go?

Sadly not. At  the  start  of  its  existence,  the  Grand  Tour  participants  were  limited  to  wealthy men  travelling  after  their  Oxbridge  days,  in  an  educational  rite  of  passage. In later years, the tour  was  opened  up  to  females. The  author  Elizabeth  Craven  wrote  a  number  of  travelogues  based  on  her  experiences,  and  the  Parminter  cousins  built  their  house  A  La  Ronde  in  Devon   to  showcase  the  treasures  collected  on  their  own  tour.  However,   many  women  were  unable  to  raise  the  funds  necessary  to  support  their  globetrotting ambitions.

A_La_RondeA la Ronde, where the Parminters showcased their treasure trove.

Source: infobritain.co.uk

Why?  Was  It  Expensive?

Yes, very!  Not  only  did  tourists  need  money  to  support  their  traveling  costs,  they  also  needed  additional  funds  to  buy  souvenirs from  the  places  they  visited.  Many  bought  so  much  that  they  were  forced  to  have trunks  sent  back  to  England  filled  with  the  items  they  had  purchased,  including  Piranesi  prints,  small  mosaics  and  books  written  in  various  foreign  languages. A  number  of  these artifacts  can  still  be  seen  in  museums  such  as  the  National  Gallery,  perhaps  longer  lasting legacies  than  the  Facebook  messages  sent  today.

However,  due  to  the  dangerous  travelling  conditions  in  which  roads  were  controlled  by highwayman and  bandits,  most  young  people  did  not  carry  money  with  them  on  their  travels. Instead they  used  paper  credit  to  draw  on  their  families  London  bank  accounts  (almost  like  the  “bank  of  mum  and  dad”  today).  This credit  was  also  required  when  a  traveler  reached  the  wall  to  a  new  city  where  a  bribe  was  needed  to  be  granted  entrance  from  the  guard  on  duty.

So…Parents  Were  Financing  Their  Child’s Education?

Not  quite!  Although  young  tourists  did  visit  cities  of  importance  to  their  classical  studies, often  accompanied  by  teachers  and  tutors,  many  also  took   part  in  a  number  of  other  social  activities. The  drinking,  gambling  and  flirting  that  has  become  synonymous  with  today’s  gap year  experience  was  rife  among  17th  Century  sightseers.

Sounds  Exciting  –  Where  Do  I  Sign Up?

Don’t  be  quite  so  quick  to  get  involved!  Although much  of  the  trip  was  exciting,  enabling  a  young  person  to  discover  areas  which  they  had  previously  only  read  about,  the conditions  were  poor.  Many  inns  were  found  off  the  beaten  track  where  dirty  sheets  and  bedding were common.  Indeed  some  travelers  were  urged  to  take  their  own  cutlery  for  when  those  provided  by  hotels  were  not  suitable!

Another issue was the actual travelling. It  took  5  hours  to  sail  from  Dover  to  Calais  and  most trips  required  long  coach  journeys  between  tourist  attractions.  The weather also increased these journey times. Heavy  rain  caused  flooding  and  snow  created  road  blockages,  resulting in  many  being  away  for  longer  than  originally  intended.

paris_2149387iThe sights of Paris one may have witnessed on their Grand Tour of Europe!

Source: telegraph.co.uk

However, it wasn’t all bad.  Despite  the  terrible  conditions  tourists  did  get  the  opportunity  to  experience  a  new  country  very  different  from  their  own,  sampling  new  food,  including  broccoli  and  parmesan  cheese,  while  also  meeting new  people.

So  next  time  you  hear  someone  who  has  just  finished  their  A  levels  recounting  their  plans to  visit  “Cambodia,  Thailand  and Vietnam”  in  their  year  off,  don’t  dismiss  their  ideas  as  the self  indulgence  of  today’s  youth.  Remember  the  basis  of  the  gap  year  and  perhaps  use  our ancestors  experience  to  warn  them  of  the  potential  dangers  ahead.

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