Sue Young Histories

Thomas Hughes 1822 – 1896

June 13, 2010

Thomas Hughes 1822 – 1896 was an English lawyer and author, Queen’s Counsel, Liberal MP for Lambeth, first President of the Co-operative Congress in 1869, one of the founders of the Working Men’s College, and the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Thomas Hughes was an ardent sponsor of homeopathy, and he attended dinners in support of the London Homeopathic Hospital in 1865, leading the toast to the President, Vice President and Patrons of the London Homeopathic Hospital, and especially to Robert Grosvenor 1st Baron Ebury,

Thomas Hughes sister Jane Elizabeth Nassau Senior was married to Nassau John Senior, the son of Nassau William Senior (who together with his wife Jeanie Senior were patients of James Manby Gully, and staunch advocates of homeopathy. In his book Historical and Philosophical Essays, Nassau William Senior leads his reader in a stout defense of homeopathy),

Thomas Hughes was the second son of John Hughes, editor of the _Boscobel Tracts_Uffington (1830). Thomas Hughes was born in , Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). He had six brothers, and one sister, Jane Elizabeth Nassau Senior who later became Britain’s first female civil servant.

At the age of eight he was sent to Twyford School, a preparatory public school near Winchester, where he remained until the age of eleven.

In February 1834 he went to Rugby School, which was then under Thomas Arnold, a contemporary of his father at Oriel College, Oxford, and the most influential British schoolmaster of the 19th century.

Though never a member of the sixth form, his impressions of the headmaster were intensely reverent, and Thomas Arnold was afterwards idealized as the perfect schoolmaster in Hughes’s novel.

Hughes excelled at sports rather than in scholarship, and his school career culminated in a cricket match at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

In 1842 he went on to Oriel College, Oxford, and graduated B.A. in

  1. He was called to the bar in 1848, became Queen’s Counsel in 1869 and a bencher in 1870, and was appointed to a county court judgeship in the Chester district in July 1882.

Hughes was elected to Parliament as a Liberal for Lambeth (1865–68), and for Frome (1868–74).

An avid social reformer, he became interested in the Christian socialism movement led by Frederick Denison Maurice, which he had joined in 1848. He was involved in the formation of some early trade unions and helped finance the printing of Liberal publications, as well as acting as the first President of the Co-operative Congress in 1869 and serving on the Co-operative Central Board.

In January 1854 he was one of the founders of the Working Men’s College in Great Ormond Street.

In 1880 he founded a settlement in America — Rugby, Tennessee — which was designed as an experiment in utopian living for the younger sons of the English gentry, although this later proved largely unsuccessful. While his original intent was unsuccessful, Rugby still exists and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

In 1847, Hughes was called to the bar, and married Frances Ford. They settled in 1853 at Wimbledon and while living there Hughes wrote his famous story, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which was published in April 1857.

Hughes also wrote The Scouring of the White Horse (1859), Tom Brown at Oxford (1861), Religio Laici (1868), Life of Alfred the Great (1869) and the Memoir of a Brother.

His brother was George Hughes, whom the character of Tom Brown was based upon.

Hughes died in 1896 aged 73, at Brighton, of heart failure; and is buried there.

His daughter, Lilian, perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

His other daughter, Mary Hughes 1860 - 1941 (an astonishing woman - In 1931 when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was visiting Britain for the Commonwealth conference, he insisted on meeting Mary. When they met, they clasped hands, looked at each other and burst out laughing), was a well known Poor Law guardian and volunteer visitor to the local Poor Law infirmary and children’s home.

A statue of Thomas Hughes stands outside Rugby School Library.