Thomas Hughes

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Thomas Hughes
Thomas Hughes in The Law Gazette, ca. 1893
Born (1822-10-20)20 October 1822
Uffington, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), England
Died 22 March 1896(1896-03-22) (aged 73)
Brighton, East Sussex, England
Occupation Lawyer, Writer
Nationality English
Period 19th century
Genres Children's Literature

Thomas Hughes (20 October 1822 – 22 March 1896) was an English lawyer and author. He is most famous for his novel Tom Brown's School Days (1857), a semi-autobiographical work set at Rugby School, which Hughes had attended. It had a lesser-known sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford (1861).


Hughes was the second son of John Hughes, editor of the Boscobel Tracts (1830). Thomas Hughes was born in Uffington, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). He had six brothers, and one sister, Jane 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 Dr 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 Arnold was afterwards idealised 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.[1] In 1842 he went on to Oriel College, Oxford, and graduated B.A. in 1845. At Oxford, he played cricket for the university team in the annual University Match against Cambridge University, also at Lord's, and a match that is still now regarded as first-class cricket.[2] 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 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.[3] In January 1854 he was one of the founders of the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street, and was the College's principal from 1872 to 1883.[4] He was a prominent figure in the anti-opium movement, and a member of the Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade.[5]

In 1880, he acquired the ownership of Franklin W. Smith's Plateau City and 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 School Days, which was published in April 1857.

Statue of Thomas Hughes at Rugby School

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, was a well known Poor Law guardian and volunteer visitor to the local Poor Law infirmary and children's home.

A statue of Hughes (pictured) stands outside Rugby School Library. It has been observed that although the sculptor has meticulously crafted a row of buttons on the right hand side of the statue's jacket, there are no corresponding buttonholes on the left hand side. Local folklore has it that when this omission was pointed out to the sculptor, a known perfectionist who suffered from depression, he was so dismayed that he was driven to commit suicide. This is untrue. The sculptor was Thomas Brock, the statue was unveiled in 1899,[6] and Brock died of natural causes in 1922.




  • Religio Laici (1861)
  • A Layman's Faith (1868)
  • Alfred the Great (1870)
  • Memoir of a Brother (1873)
  • The Old Church; What Shall We Do With It? (1878)
  • The Manliness of Christ (1879)
  • True Manliness (1880)
  • Rugby Tennessee (1881)
  • Memoir of Daniel Macmillan (1882)
  • G.T.T. Gone to Texas (1884)
  • Notes for Boys (1885)
  • Life and Times of Peter Cooper (1886)
  • James Fraser Second Bishop of Manchester (1887)
  • David Livingstone (1889)
  • Vacation Rambles (1895)
  • Early Memories for the Children (1899)


  1. ^ "Scorecard: Marylebone Cricket Club v Rugby School". 18 June 1840. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Scorecard: Oxford University v Cambridge University". 9 June 1842. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Congress Presidents 1869–2002, February 2002, retrieved 18 October 2007 
  4. ^ J. F. C. Harrison ,A History of the Working Men's College (1854–1954), Routledge Kegan Paul, 1954
  5. ^ Kathleen L. Lodwick (1996). Crusaders Against Opium: Protestant Missionaries in China, 1874-1917. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 55–66. ISBN 978-0-8131-1924-3. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Public sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull By George Thomas Noszlopy, page 28-29
  • This entry incorporates some public-domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica but has been heavily edited.
  • The Aftermath with Autobiography of the Author (John Bedford Leno published by Reeves & Turner, London, 1892)

Further reading[edit]

  • Kidd, Bruce (2006). "Muscular Christianity and Value-centred Sport: the Legacy of Tom Brown in Canada". International Journal of the History of Sport 23 (5): 701–713. doi:10.1080/09523360600673096. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Frederick Doulton
James Clarke Lawrence
Member of Parliament for Lambeth
With: Frederick Doulton
Succeeded by
William McArthur
James Clarke Lawrence
Preceded by
Sir Henry Rawlinson, Bt.
Member of Parliament for Frome
Succeeded by
Henry Lopes