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Thomas Hughes (1822-1896)

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy


HUGHES, THOMAS (1822-1896) was an English lawyer and author, second son of John Hughes of Donnington Priory, editor of The Boscohel Tracts (1830), was born at Uffrngton, Berks, on the 20th of October 1822.

In February 1834 he went to Rugby School, to be under Dr Arnold, a contemporary of his father at Oriel. He rose steadily to the sixth form, where he came into contact with the headmaster whom he afterwards idealized; but he excelled rather in sports than in scholarship, and his school career culminated in a cricket match at Lords.


In 1842 he proceeded to Oriel, Oxford, and graduated B.A. in 1845.


He was called to the bar in 1848, became Q.C. in 1869, a bencher in 1870, and was appointed to a county court judgeship in the Chester district in July 1882. While at Lincolns Inn became under the dominating influence of his life, that of Frederick Denison Maurice.

In 1848 he joined the Christian Socialists, under Maurices banner, among his closest allies being Charles Kingsley.

In January 1854 he was one of the original promoters of the Working Mens College in Great Ormond Street, and whether he was speaking on sanitation, sparring or singing his favorite ditty of Little Billee, his work there continued one of his chief interests to the end of his life.

After Maurices death he held the principalship of the college. His Manliness of Christ (1879) grew out of a Bible class which he held there. Hughes had been influenced mentally by Arnold, Carlyle, Thackeray, Lowell and Maurice, and had developed into a liberal churchman, extremely religious, with strong socialistic leanings; but the substratum was still and ever the manly country squire of old-fashioned, sport-loving England.

The Author

In 1848 Hughes had married Frances, niece of Richard Ford, of Spanish Handbook fame. They settled in 1853 at Wimbledon, and there was written his famous story, Tom Browns School-Days, by an Old Boy (dedicated to Mrs Arnold of Fox Howe), which came out in April 1857.

It is probably impossible to depict the schoolboy in his natural state and in a realistic manner; it is extremely difficult to portray him at all in such a way as to interest the adult. Yet this last has certainly been achieved twice in English literature by Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby, and by Hughes in Torn Brown. In both cases interest is concentrated upon the master, in the first a demon, in the second a demigod. Tom Brown did a great deal to fix the English concept of what a public school should be.

Hughes also wrote The Scouring of the White Horse (1859) 1, Tom Brown at Oxford (1861), Religio laici (1868), Life of Alfred the Great (1869) and the Memoir of a Brother. The brother was George Hughes, who was in the main the original Tom Brown, just as Dean Stanley was in the main the original of Arthur.


In Parliament, where he sat for Lambeth (1865-1868), and for Frome (1868-1874), he reproduced some of the traits of Colonel Newcome. Hughes was an energetic supporter of the claims of the working classes, and introduced a trades union Bill which, however, only reached its second reading. Of Mr Gladstones home rule policy he was an uncompromising opponent.


Thrice he visited America and received a warm welcome, less as a propagandist of social reform than as a friend of Lowell and of the North, and an author.

In 1879, in a sanguine humour worthy of Mark Tapley, he planned a cooperative settlement, Rugby, in Tennessee, over which he lost money.

Hughes died at Brighton, on 22nd March 1896. He was English of the English, a typical broad-churchman, full of muscular Christianity, straightforward and unsuspicious to a fault, yet attaching a somewhat exorbitant value to earnestness a favorite expression of Doctor Arnold. (T. Su.)

His daughter, Lilian, perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. His other daughter, Mary, was a well known Poor Law guardian and volunteer visitor to the local Poor Law infirmary and children's home.

Notes .

1. The Uffington White Horse is a prehistoric figure cut out on the hillside, exposing the natural chalk beneath the grass. It needs frequent cleaning (or "scouring") to keep it white and to avoid the build-up of a turf. There is some evidence that in prehistoric times a number of layers of compacted chalk were laid down. Today the responsibility for the horse's upkeep is taken by the National Trust, owners of the site, but before their ownership the village people took on the job. And with what relish they did so, using the scouring as a good excuse for fun and games.



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