The Descent of Hughes

'Their name must ever be respectable. They exhibited virtues from which human esteem is as inseparable as the shadow from the substance - a severe adherence to principles, an uncompromising sincerity, individual disinterestedness and consistency.'

Thomas Hughes (1822-1896)

Although best-known as the author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays', Thomas Hughes' greatest contribution was undoubtedly to the cause of the emancipation of the industrial working classes of Victorian Britain. His opinions were radical but firmly rooted in his Christian faith and loyalty to Queen and Country. He was an exponent of what came to be described as 'muscular Christianity' involving a Christian commitment to health and manliness (that is 'uprightness of character'); it was not a description that Hughes favoured.

Thomas Hughes was born in 1822, the second son of John (1790-1857) and Margaret (1797-1887) Hughes of the Manor House, Uffington, Berkshire and later Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire. He was educated at Rugby (1834-1842) and Oriel College, Oxford (1842-1844) and then trained for the bar at Lincoln's Inn (1845-1846). He married Frances ('Fanny') Ford (1826-1901) in 1847 and was called to the bar in that year. In 1848 he joined with Rev. Frederick Maurice (1805-1872) and Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) to found the Christian Socialist Movement. In the same year they started a paper called 'Politics for the People' and in 1850 Hughes helped to set up the Society for Promoting Working Men's Associations. He was one of the early influences behind the formation of the Trade Union Movement of which he later became, as a barrister and QC (appointed 1869), a trusted legal expert and political adviser. In 1854 the night classes that the Christian Socialists had been holding led to the formation of the Working Men's College, of which Thomas Hughes was principal from 1873 to 1883. He was actively involved in the Co-operative Congress and the Co-operative Wholesale Society. He was a Member of Parliament for Lambeth (1865-1868) and then Frome (1868 to 1874), where he represented the working class interest, and was appointed a County Court Judge for Chester in 1882. Towards the end of his life he drew apart from the Trade Union Movement and by 1892 had come to the conclusion that the Conservatives had done more for social legislation than the Liberals. He died in Brighton in 1896 and was buried in Woodvale Cemetery, Brighton on 25 March 1896.

Thomas Hughes was no armchair socialist and he travelled widely and worked tirelessly for the cause of humanity and social justice. Later in life he spent a large part of his own resources (rather more than he could afford) in setting up a settlement in Rugby, Tennessee, a project in which he never lost faith despite many hardships and which still survives today. Mack and Armytage say in their 1952 biography of Thomas Hughes that 'In pursuing these goals, Tom Hughes exhibited a staunchness that often approached the heroic. Behind his gaiety and easy friendliness was a tenacity that never for a second slackened its grip on the purposes he set for himself. Here his very deficiencies came to his aid. Out of blind faith he drew strength, and out of a refusal to look too steadily into the abyss he plucked courage. Life could not touch him: one failure was but the springboard for another hope. All through his life he strove passionately and ardently for those things in which he believed, deterred neither by the prejudices of the class to which he belonged nor by the strength of the forces arrayed against him. And in the end persistence sometimes won what love and good-fellowship alone could not have accomplished. Were Tom alive today he would still know which way to head, and would be trudging straight down the road that leads there, perhaps drawing with him some of the faint of heart. It would be good to have him with us.'

More information: 'Thomas Hughes' by Edward. C. Mack & W. H. G. Armytage, published by Ernest Benn Ltd, London in 1952; DNB.


Mary ('May') Hughes (1860-1941)

Mary Hughes was born on 29th February 1860 at 80 Park Street in Mayfair, London. She was the youngest daughter of Thomas Hughes (1822-1896), author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays', whose character and Christian Socialist ideals determined her course in life. She was fond of recalling an incident which occurred when she was 9 years old and which she regarded as the most important moment in her life. 'I was sitting on a little stool by the fire nursing my doll. The stool had its summer dress on, white chintz covered with large red roses, and so cold to the touch! Presently Father came in and said, "Hello, Mary! What are you doing? Nursing a doll? Why, I've just seen a little girl, no older than you, with three babies to look after!" And away went Father with a twinkle in his blue eyes to find Mother, leaving me feeling quite at the bottom of the class while the girl with three babies and the less advantage was easily at the top.' This awoke her desire to share the life of the disadvantaged.

At the age of 23 Mary left home to become housekeeper for her uncle John Hughes, who was Vicar of Longcot near Uffington in Berkshire. In 1888 she travelled to Palestine and in 1892 joined the local Board of Guardians, who were responsible for the running of the local Workhouse. Mary was struck how the Board of Guardians could sit down after a heavy dinner and discuss cutting the bread ration for the Workhouse inmates. She kept her own counsel for a time and concentrated on visiting the Workhouse and getting to know the inmates. Then she dropped her bombshell by asking that the paupers be allowed to drink tea twice a day instead of once. This caused a huge row that went on for months but Mary got her way in the end. At the workhouse she was greeted with tears of gratitude, not for what she had achieved but simply because she had shown that someone cared.

In 1895 her uncle died and Mary went to live with her sister Lily, wife of the Rev. Ernest Carter, in Whitechapel, London. In 1896 her father died and she resolved to carry on his work. She joined the Board of Guardians for Stepney and started looking for homeless people in the streets, talking to them and trying to find them somewhere to stay. Hospital visiting took up much of her time and she used to sing, tell stories and even dance to entertain the patients. As a Guardian, she was also responsible for a Children's Home where every child got a birthday card from her on the right day - often the only one they got. She would talk to anyone in the streets and although people must have thought her mad she gradually won their friendship and respect.

In 1912 the Rev. Ernest Carter and his wife, Lily, were drowned in the Titanic disaster. Characteristically, Lily had refused a place in the last lifeboat and stayed on board the ship; she drowned with her husband. Without their companionship Mary became careless of herself, she wore the same clothes for years and lived on a vegetarian diet which consisted largely of tea, margarine, onions, bread, cabbage and cocoa without milk. In 1915 Mary went to live with friends, Muriel and Doris Lester, on the top floor of Kingsley Hall, Bow, a temperance pub which served no alcohol, and in 1917 she moved into a council flat at 40 Blackwall Buildings, Fulborne Street, Whitechapel. At the end of the First World War, Mary became a Labour councillor for Stepney and was made a Justice of the Peace. She also became a Quaker at this time. She was faithful in her attendance at council and committee meetings and, as a magistrate, it was not unknown for her to pay the fine imposed on an offender. One Councillor said that 'Her sincerity burned like a flame that nothing can extinguish.' Nonetheless, her main concern continued to be providing direct help to the poor and needy and her door was always open. After the General Strike of 1926 she became disillusioned with the Labour Party and became a Communist, although she prophesied disaster for Communism if it did not embrace Christianity. She acquired the nickname of 'Comrade'.

It was in 1926 that Mary Hughes, by contributing the necessary funds to a trust, acquired a notorious old public house, the 'Earl Grey' at 71 Vallance Road, Whitechapel, which she turned into a rest and refuge for those needing some shelter and respite from the world, until they felt strong enough to cope with life. She called it 'The Dewdrop Inn: For Education and Joy' (a pun on 'Do Drop In') and it was to become the great work of her life. Mary lived at the refuge with a small band of helpers, who she called the 'Dewdrop Inndians'. Mary slept in a tiny room near the front door on a sort of padded bench, which she often gave up for the night to some homeless woman. She would even go without food if this was necessary and more than once ended up in hospital with bronchitis from sleeping on the cold stone floor. Her contact with the poor and needy meant that she was often verminous. It took some time to persuade her to install a bath in the building, since she was used to using the public baths nearby. A reporter who visited her in 1936 wrote that 'She lives as if Christ were in the house next door. Since 1914 she has worn no hat or gloves. She sleeps on a board. She writes only postcards because they save 1/2d. Her food is bread, cheese and tea - and if someone else is hungry she doesn't eat at all.'

Through the 20's and 30's she was passionately involved with the problems of the unemployed and she took part in a number of marches and rallies. In 1931 when 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. Hardly a word was said but 'each had recognised the quality of the other's life'.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Mary refused to move from the Dewdrop Inn though that area of London was a prime target for bombing. By now she was frail and weak. In early 1941 she began to fail and was taken to St. Peter's Hospital nearby, where she died on 2nd April. In her will she wrote 'You may recall the longing of we Hughes (who feel rather like the receivers of stolen goods) that this effort may ever be for education and joy at the least noticed, the least well-off people's comfort.' For 30 years she had had no new clothes, no holiday and no proper bed.

The strength of Mary's conviction lay in her belief that Christ was the friend of the poor and meant us to be the same. A Government minister of the time said of her that she was 'the one woman of her time who literally believes the teachings of Christ and is fine enough in character to strive to live her ideals.' When a passage about her life was being considered for Christian Faith and Practice, an objection was made to her being described as 'sometimes verminous'. However, the words were accepted when someone declared "Her lice were her glory!"

George Lansbury, himself a much-loved figure in the East End, said of her: 'Our frail humanity only produces a Mary Hughes once in a century.'

Plaque at the Dewdrop Inn, 71 Vallance Road, Whitechapel, London.

'Hughes Mansion', close by the Dewdrop Inn and named after Mary's father was destroyed during the last V2 rocket attack on London in the Second World War on 27th March 1945. 133 people were killed.

More information: 'Mary Hughes' by Rosa Hobhouse, published by Rockliff, London in 1949; 'Mary Hughes' by Hugh Pyper, published by the Quaker Home Service in 1985; DNB; 'Stone Upon Stone' by M.Osborn.


Dorothea Hughes (1891-1952)

'She was a veritable patron saint to the loving people in the Island [Jamaica] and they looked to her to solve all their troubles. Her memory will live long among them, and it is not too much to think that her name will become a legend.' - Rose T. Briggs

'Hers was a vivid and vital personality, coupled with an enormous sincerity and earnestness. Yet she never lost the whimsical sense of humor which was so characteristic of her. She would look at one with her head cocked quizzically on one side, her nose wrinkled ever so slightly and her brown eyes full of mischief and amusement. Then would come forth a remark or comment such as no one but she could possibly think of: - sometimes exasperating, often very shrewd, but always original. She brought zest and tenacity to the many forms of public service which she undertook as she grew older. Her inheritance and early training taught her to look on some sort of work for the good of others as an obvious and natural duty. Her own nature made it one of the absorbing and exciting interests in her life.' - Rose T. Briggs

Dorothea Hughes was born on 13th September 1891 in Milton, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of William Hastings Hughes (1833-1909), younger brother of Thomas Hughes, author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays', and Sarah Forbes (1853-1917), his second wife. Dorothea was educated at Milton Academy and Radcliffe College and then trained as a nurse at one of the New York Hospitals. In 1917 her mother died and the Milton house was closed. Dorothea worked as a nurse in a hospital in Washington in the latter years of the First World War and it was during this period that she became a Quaker. In 1929 she married David Simmons (1889-1960), a planter, and moved to his plantation at Castle Daly, Jamaica, which was to be her home for the rest of her life.

Dorothea became aware of Poland's needs through a Polish couple she met in Boston, who sent her an appeal for help in developing nursing services. In 1920 Dorothea offered $10,000 a year for three years to be used for a nursing school in Poland. This resulted in the foundation of the Warsaw School. In fact, Dorothea continued to support the school financially until 1928. The school became the pride of the Red Cross Nursing Service and in 1931 a prominent American nurse paid the school a high tribute when she said that the best example of American ideals in nursing education was to be found in Warsaw rather than the United States. Over time the Polish Ministry of Health established several other practical training centres. The school operated throughout the Second World War. Dorothea Hughes took a personal interest in the school and corresponded with the director about its staffing and other problems. She also funded the setting up of a Farm-School-Orphanage and was later awarded the highest decoration that the country gives to a foreigner and civilian.

In 1923 or 1924 Dorothea went to Greece to join the volunteer staff at the American Farm School at Salonica, a Quaker establishment. The Farm School was in the midst of the tragic drama of 1922/23* and the arrival of more than a million refugees in Greece from Asia Minor. The poverty and disease were appalling. Dorothea used her nursing skills to help alleviate the suffering. She travelled through the villages in the area, either walking, on horseback or on a mule, scrubbing, cleaning and nursing the sick, bathing them and feeding them. At this time Dorothea lived in a house called the 'Ark' because it housed so many sorts and conditions of people and animals that she had taken in. Dorothea became one of the most enthusiastic and inspiring teachers at the Farm School, she wrote a practical textbook on arithmetic, helped with the boys' recreation by taking them on hikes in the vicinity, organised theatricals and substituted for the nurse in the Infirmary when required. She tried to alleviate the apathetic hopelessness felt by many people with practical solutions, including cottage industries designed to help families add to their income.

Dorothea took her experience with her back to Jamaica where she bought a property and established Jamaica's first co-operative farming enterprise, called Friends' Town. Nonetheless, Dorothea saw that only education would bring about basic, permanent change and it was in this field that she concentrated her major efforts and scored her greatest success. The establishment of Friends' College in 1931 led to Friends' Craft Industries, where, for the first time, people from all over the Caribbean could be trained in the proper and artistic use of local materials. It was here that literacy classes were established, where the only public health work in Jamaica was done and where social workers were first trained. A Nursery School established for the children of the poor was to remain the only one on the island for many years.

By these methods Dorothea tried to encourage a concept of service to the community and of respect for all, regardless of class and race. She did not live to see her dreams come to fruition but she realised that strong plants need long growth and she was content to sow the seeds. Dorothea Hughes died at Castle Daly on 26th November 1952. She had no children.

In 'Dorothea Hughes Simmons - A Biography' it is said of her that 'Dorothea was a consistent person. In her personal life she was plain to the point of austerity. Although she inherited a fortune she spent practically none of it on herself. She lived completely simply, usually travelled second class, dressed inconspicuously and made no concessions to current fashions. It was deeds, not words, which counted with her; she abominated sham and hypocrisy and never indulged in uplift talk. She may never have talked about her religion, but she lived a life of devotion to others, a life of self-sacrifice and cheerfulness.'

More Information: 'A Fringe of Blue' by J. N. Loch, published by J. Murray in 1968. Also 'Dorothea Hughes Simmons - A Biography' by the Education Committee, Jamaica Yearly Meeting of Friends, published by Knox Educational Services Ltd, Spalding, Jamaica.

*The Second Greco-Turkish War 1921-1922

The second war occurred after World War I, when the Greeks attempted to extend their territory beyond eastern Thrace (in Europe) and the district of Smyrna (Izmir; in Anatolia). These territories had been assigned to them by the Treaty of Sèvres, Aug. 10, 1920, which was imposed upon the weak Ottoman government. In January 1921 the Greek army, despite its lack of equipment and its unprotected supply lines, launched an offensive in Anatolia against the nationalist Turks, who had defied the Ottoman government and would not recognize its treaty. Although repulsed in April, the Greeks renewed their attack in July and advanced beyond the Afyonkarahisar-Eskisehir railway line toward Ankara. The Turks, however, commanded by the nationalist leader Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Atatürk), defeated them at the Sakarya River (Aug. 24-Sept. 16, 1921). A year later the Turks assumed control of Smyrna (September 1922) and drove the Greeks out of Anatolia. In Greece the war was followed by a successful military coup against the monarchy. The Treaty of Lausanne, concluded on July 24, 1923, obliged Greece to return eastern Thrace and the islands of Imbros and Tenedos to Turkey, as well as to give up its claim to Smyrna. The two belligerents also agreed to exchange their Greek and Turkish minority populations. 


'The sweetest face I ever saw. Masses of golden hair, bright as a young child's, shaded the delicate, transparent features.'

View a larger version of the image here.

Jane ('Jeanie') Hughes (1828-1877)

Jane Elizabeth Hughes ('Jeanie' pronounced 'Janey') was born on 10th December 1828, the only daughter of John (1790-1857) and Margaret (1797-1887) Hughes of the Manor House, Uffington, Berkshire and later Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire, and sister of Thomas Hughes, author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays'. As the daughter of a minor country squire she was raised largely at home in a quiet rural atmosphere centred round family, friends and neighbours. The home life of the Hughes family has been immortalised in the early chapters of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays'.

In 1848 Jeanie married Nassau John Senior (1822-1891), only son of Nassau William Senior (1790-1864), the noted political economist and close friend of her father. The couple spent the early days of their married life at her father-in-law's house in Hyde Park Gate, London, where Jeanie met many, if not most, of the leading religious, political and cultural figures of the day. Over time Jeanie was to develop friendships with some of her most eminent contemporaries, including Florence Nightingale, George Eliot, Tennyson, George Frederick Watts, Julia Margaret Cameron, Octavia Hill and many others. She was painted by both Watts and Millais and photographed by Cameron. She was a noted singer and her voice was used to test the acoustics of the new Albert Hall. Later the couple moved to Elm House, Lavender Hill, Battersea (later demolished to provide the site of the new town hall), then a semi-rural area. Lady Ritchie (Annie Thackeray) wrote of Elm House in 'From the Porch' (1913) that 'Stately and charming people used to assemble at Elm House. It is an odd saying that people of a certain stamp attract each other. It was a really remarkable assemblage of accomplished and beautiful women who were in the habit of coming there, that home so bare, so simple yet so luxurious.'

Although Jeanie moved in Society, she would not have thought of herself in such terms at all. In fact, the family faced some severe financial struggles and, at one time, Jeanie gave singing lessons to supplement the family income. Unlike her brother Tom she was not by nature a fighter of great causes, she was too involved with the personal happiness and alleviation of the suffering of those around her; her way was to try for 'practical beauty in life as far as in her lay, and happiness and deliverance from evil for others'. Nonetheless, she was deeply concerned, like many women in her position, at the appalling hardship and deprivation caused by the industrial revolution and she was particularly concerned about urban poverty and the suffering of young children, especially girls.

Jeanie was actively involved in a number of charitable undertakings and during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) was a tireless worker for the Red Cross, whose medal she received. She founded the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants, a scheme which 'had results of a most wide-reaching and beneficial kind, and the girls of England owe an incalculable debt to the unceasing toil and loving forethought of Mrs. Nassau Senior'. In 1873 she became the first female civil servant when she was appointed by James Stansfield (1820-1898), President of the Local Government Board, as Assistant Inspector (and later Inspector) of Workhouses. She wrote an official report on pauper schools ('Report by Mrs. Senior on Pauper Schools', January 1874) which was critical of the existing arrangements. Her report caused a public furore with a lengthy (and, on her opponents' side, a very ungentlemanly) battle with the vested interests in the 'workhouse establishment', carried out largely through the letters columns of the The Times. Jeanie bravely (and politely) stood her ground but she had to resign as a result of ill-health in December 1874. Jeanie went to recuperate at a cottage at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight (which she described as 'the gate of heaven') where she had the pleasure of the company of Tennyson, Watts, Cameron and other friends. To quote an article written by Walter Money shortly after her death:

'Now there came a little more strength and the return to London with some resumption of work. But it was too much. She fell asleep on the 24th March, 1877. As one writes of her,

'Surely a more beautiful life has scarcely ever been lived. Its very brevity seems almost in keeping. It was a concentration of sweetness and beauty which could, one would fancy, hardly have lasted longer than those 49 short years.'

If any lady of the 19th century, in England or abroad, could have been allowed to put in a claim for the credit of not having lived in vain, that woman, we honestly believe, was Mrs. Nassau Senior.'

Jane Elizabeth Senior

In Memoriam

Not for the bright face we shall see no more,
Not for the sweet voice we no more shall hear;
Not for the heart with kindness brimming o'er,
Large charity, and sympathy sincere.

These are not things that ask a public pen
To blazon its memorial o'er her name;
But, that in public work she wrought with men,
And faced their frowns, and over-lived their blame.

Yet never swerved a hair's breadth from the line
Of woman's softness, gentleness and grace;
But brought from these an influence to refine
Rough tasks and squalid, and there leave its trace.

Honour to him* who in a sneering age,
Braved quip and carp and cavil, and proclaimed
A woman's fitness pauper needs to gauge,-
In purpose strong, in purity unshamed.

For paupers too have sex: the workhouse walls
Hold mothers, maidens, and girl-babes, on whom
A woman's eye with woman's insight falls,
Sees its own ways for sunlight to their gloom.

And so this noble and brave lady turned
From glad life, luxury and thronging friends
That hung on her sweet voice, and only yearned
To guide her holy work to useful ends.

But Death to Life begrudged her, striking down
The task unfinished from her willing hands,
Leaving to women yet to come the crown
Of her left life's-work, that for others stands.

Then lay and leave her in her quiet grave,
Where the sun shines undimmed, the rain falls clear,
And birches bend, and deodoras wave
Evergreen arms of welcome o'er her bier.

Published in 'Punch' in 1877.

*James Stansfield, President of the Local Government Board

On Jeanie Senior's death, Watts wrote a letter, in what can only be described as a fit of anger, to his particularly sexist patron, Charles Rickards (1812-1886); 'I have lost a friend who could never be replaced even if I had a long life before me, one in whom I had unbounded confidence, never shaken in the course of friendship very rare during 26 years, Mrs. Nassau Senior, whom I dare say you remember talking about with me, who was called by a friend of yours "That Woman". I think when you read the biography of "That Woman", for it is one that will be written, that very few canonized saints so well deserved glorification, for all that makes human nature admirable, lovable, & estimable, she had very few equals indeed, & I am certain no superior, it is not too much to say that children yet unborn will have cause to rue this comparative early death.'

More information: 'Memoir of Jane Elizabeth Senior' by Dorothea Hughes, published in 1916; DNB. There is also a forthcoming biography of Jane Hughes to be published in 2007.


Henry Hughes by his sister Jeanie.

Henry Hughes (1836-1862)

Henry Hughes was the second youngest son of John (1790-1857) and Margaret (1797-1887) Hughes of the Manor House, Uffington, Berkshire and later Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire and brother of Thomas Hughes, author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays'. Leslie Stephen, his tutor in college, wrote the following many years after Henry's death:

'Long years ago I knew a young man at college; he was so far from being intellectually eminent that he had great difficulty in passing his examinations; he died from the effects of an accident within a very short time after leaving university, and hardly any one would now remember his name. He had not the smallest impression that there was anything remarkable about himself and he looked up to his teachers and more brilliant companions with a loyal admiration which would have made him wonder that they should ever take notice of him. And yet I often thought then, and I believe, in looking back, that I thought rightly, that he was of more real use to his contemporaries than any one of the persons to whose influence they would most naturally refer as having affected their development. The secret was a very simple one. Without any special intellectual capacity, he somehow represented with singular completeness a beautiful moral type. He possessed the "simple faith miscalled simplicity" and was so absolutely unselfish, so conspicuously pure in his whole life and conduct, so unsuspicious of evil in others, so sweet and loyal in his nature, that to know him was to have before one's eyes an embodiment of some of the most lovable and really admirable qualities that a human being can possess... [His companions] might affect to ridicule, but it was impossible that even ridicule should not be of the kindly sort; blended and tempered with something that was more like awe - profound respect, at least, for the beauty of soul that underlay the humble exterior.'

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