Spotlight On … the bag from Beyrouth.

Spotlight On … the bag from Beyrouth.

Written by Dr. Graham Lampard.

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Vintage Leather Travelling Bags – the height of luxury.

One of our ‘unknown’ objects is a Vintage Leather Gladstone Travelling Bag with a number of labels stuck on to the leather. The travelling case, made from dark brown hide, is in the form of a large Gladstone Bag. It is one of a series of travel related cases the Museum of Leather Craft possesses. John Waterer was a luggage designer, so the collection of luggage is vast, ranging from big trunks, that were taken on the ‘Grand Tour’ to items designed by Waterer for the coming Jet Age in the 1950s.

The label on the bag is partially rubbed but clearly states ‘Hotel Metropole, Beyruth, Syrie’.

Now, as readers will know Beyruth, or Beirut to give it the English spelling, is the Capital of Lebanon, so why does it say “Syrie”?. A bit of research revealed that In 1888, Beirut was made capital of a vilayet (governorate) in Syria.

For the Traveller, Cook’s Guide describes the town thus:

“Beyrout [sic] is the principal commercial town of Syria, and is strangely different from any other. Bankers abound; there are Consulates of all the principal countries in the world. Almost everything that can be purchased in a European city may be purchased in Beyrout, and souvenirs of Arab work may be bought to advantage. At the hotels, vendors of photographs, worked slippers, and other things, are persistent in their endeavours to effect a sale; but the traveller will do better, as a rule, to make a bargain at the shops. There are several Physicians, English, American, etc., resident in the city. Good sea baths may be obtained near to the Hotel d’ Orient, and all the luxuries of the barber’s establishment may be enjoyed at any of the barber’s shops in Frank Street. There are many

pleasant ways of spending time in Beyrout, if the traveller is detained here for a steamer. Pleasant excursions may be made in the environs. Horses and carriages may be hired, although there is not a great diversity of drives. The bathing and fishing in the bay are excellent, and the German and Swiss Club is plentifully supplied with newspapers, as is also the International Club, which has been established recently. Beyrout is beautifully situated on a promontory, which extends for about three miles into the Mediterranean. The shore line is indented with fine rocks and cliffs, and rising behind them undulations upon undulations, and in the background the gigantic range of Lebanon. The population has increased within the past few years, and is said to exceed at the present time 80,000. The climate is pleasant, and vegetation luxuriant; the palm-tree flourishes, and flowers bloom everywhere in abundance. Cook’s Palestine & Syria, 1891.

So, it seems the unknown traveller who owned this travelling bag visited Syria at the turn of the last century. The city became a centre of missionary activity that spawned educational institutions, such as the American University of Beirut. Provided with water from a British company and gas from a French one, silk exports to Europe came to dominate the local economy. After French engineers established a modern harbour in 1894 and a rail link across Lebanon to Damascus and Aleppo in 1907, much of the trade was carried by French ships to Marseille.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, Beirut, along with the rest of Lebanon, was placed under the French Mandate. Lebanon achieved independence in 1943, and Beirut became the capital city.

So, perhaps they were a missionary, a silk trader or simply a ‘Cook’s’ Traveller who decided to keep a souvenir of their travels.

This travelling bag is just one example of the countless treasures in the National Leather Collection! To learn more about the collection, visit our homepage. All support is greatly appreciated, so please visit our support page to find out how you can get involved.

We are trying to raise £5,000 on JustGiving to open our museum to the public. To read more about our fundraising campaign, please visit our page here.