Mary Vivian Hughes
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The daughter of a London stockbroker, she was born Mary Thomas and passed most of her childhood in Canonbury, under the watchful eyes of four older brothers. Her father, a modestly successful stockbroker, was discovered dead on a train line in 1879. His death remains a mystery. She attended the North London Collegiate School and a Cambridge teachers' training college, and was later awarded her BA in London.
As head of the training department at Bedford College from 1892 until 1897, she played an important role in expanding and rationalizing the teacher training curriculum. Molly Thomas married barrister-at-law Arthur Hughes (1857–1918) from Garneddwen in 1897, after an engagement of nearly ten years; they had one daughter and three sons. After her husband's death, she returned to work as an educational inspector. Her first book, About England, was published in 1927. She died in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1956.
Hughes is best known for a series of four lively memoirs, A London Child of the 1870s, A London Girl of the 1880s, A London Home in the 1890s, and A London Family Between the Wars. Hughes's stated purpose in these books is "to show that Victorian children did not have such a dull time as is usually supposed." Her books are a valuable source on women's education and women's work in the late Victorian period; in particular, A London Girl of the 1880s provides an unparalleled portrait of life in a Victorian women's college. Some of Hughes's books are illustrated by her own drawings and her brother Charles's paintings.
Molly's portrait and those of her children were featured in a recent local history, The Cuffley Story (ISBN 0-9549508-0-1) published by Tewin Orchard in 2005, (see tewinorchard.co.uk) which also features many of the superb watercolours produced by her son Vivian when they lived in the village, just to the north of London. When Molly moved to Tolmers Road in Cuffley with her three sons in 1920, Vivian started to paint the village farms and countryside with enthusiasm. Their home was half of Herbert and Maud Gray's cottage, number 58, and Molly featured the family in her account of the Cuffley years in 'A London Family Between the Wars'. Cuffley had become famous for the fall of the first German airship (SL 11) on British soil, shot down by RFC Captain William Leefe Robinson VC. Her son Arthur remained a lifelong friend of the young Gray family, Joan and Jack, who had been photographed on the wreckage of the airship. He gave Vivian's watercolours to Joan when he retired and they are a special feature of The Cuffley Story. The book was written by the established local historian Patricia Klijn with Michael Clark, who inherited the pictures from his mother and prepared a catalogue as an appendix in the book covering all the known Cuffley and Northaw Parish works. Molly was camera-shy and the three pictures of her in the book are the only ones traced by the authors. Jack Gray, who was the 'little boy next door' to her in his childhood, described her writings as 'just simple accounts of her family, experiences, and observations of life, which, because they are so well written, are timeless, fascinating and will be enjoyed for all time. They just keep you reading. She was an outstanding person.'
- The King of Kings (1903)
- [With M.M. Penstone] The story of Christ's first missioners: biographical lessons on the acts of the apostles intended for use with scholars between the ages of eleven and fourteen nd (1910), National Society's Depository.
- About England (1927)
- America's England (1930)
- London at Home (1931)
- City Saints (1932)
- A London Child of the 1870s (1934) (Republished in 2005 by Persephone Books)
- Vivians (1935)
- A London Girl of the 1880s (1936)
- A London Home in the 1890s (1937)
- A London Family Between the Wars (1940)
- From Baptism to Holy Communion: Lessons on the Church Catechism (1951)