Regulations for issuing UK passports were not formulated until 1846. In fact, before the First World War it was not compulsory for a British person travelling abroad to have a passport. Passports issued to British-born subjects could be used for a single journey and any subsequent journey only if countersigned afresh by the ministers or consuls of the countries which the holder intended to visit. Possession of a passport, however, was confined largely to merchants and diplomats, and the vast majority of those travelling overseas had no formal document. That was until 30 November 1915 when an Order in Council was issued to amend the Defence of the Realm and insisted that ‘A person coming from or intending to proceed to any place out of the United Kingdom as a passenger shall not, without the special permission of a Secretary of State, land or embark at any port in the United Kingdom unless he has in his possession a valid passport issued to him not more than two years previously, by or on behalf of the Government of the country of which he is a subject or a citizen …’.

The National Archives has an extensive but incomplete collection of passport applications, licences to pass beyond the seas and entry books of passes issued by the Secretaries of State.

Below is the 1853 passport of Reverend John Cholmeley from our Special Collections which includes details and stamps from thirteen trips all over Europe, including France, Italy and Austria.

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