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Thomas Hughes by Sir Thomas Brock (at Rugby School). [Click on thumbnail for larger image.]

Thomas Hughes, the son of a clergyman, was born in Uffington, and educated at Thomas Arnold's Rugby School, which he made internationally famous in Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), after which he entered Oriel College, Oxford, where two other famous graduates of Rugby — Matthew Arnold and Arthur Hugh Clough — had fellowships. Unusual for a man of his class, upbringing, and education, Hughes strongly sympathized with the Chartists and later became a firm advocate of labor unions at a time when most members of the middle and upper classes considered them illegal terrorist organizations. According to the historian Llewellyn Woodward, he also played an important role in the creation of Christian Socialism:

The failure of the chartists and the breach between the popular movements and the established church had impressed a small group of men, of whom Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hughes, and F. D. Maurice were the leading figures. These men thought that the chartist programme was not unreasonable. The set about making chartists into Christians and Christians into social reformers. . . . Maurice and Hughes began a new experiment by opening an adult school in a rough slum district in London; in 1854 Maurice and his friends established the Working men's College. They avoided the mistakes of the mechanics' institutes, and tried to educate as well as inform their students [about Christianity]. [495-96]

Hughes, the embodiment of the Arnold's Rugby ideal of public service, became a Member of Parliament in 1865 and a Queen's Counsel four years later, also serving between 1872 and 1883 as the principal of the Workingman's College at which Ruskin and others taught. He chaired the first Cooperative Congress in 1869 and became a county court judge in 1882.

Hughes is best remembered today for Tom Brown's Schooldays, which, in Mrs. Oliphant's words, introduced "the ideal young man of Victorian romance, the fine athlete, moderately good scholar, and honest, frank, muscular, and humble-minded gentleman." But he also wrote travel memoirs, such as The scouring of the White Horse (1859), political manuals, works of religion (The Manliness of Christ, c. 1880), and a biography of Alfred the Great (1893).


Winterbottom, Derek. Thomas Hughes, Thomas Arnold, Tom Brown and the English Public Schools. Isle of Man: Alondra Books, 2022. Freely available for reading on the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/winterbottom-thomas-hughes/mode/1up

Woodward, Sir Llewellyn. The Age of Reform, 1815-1870. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

Created 28 June 2006

Bibliographical item added 30 September 2023