Thomas and Mary Hughes Letters

Scope and Content

The collection comprises letters to and from Thomas and Mary Hughes, Thomas is referred to as Hughes and Mary as Miss Hughes [how she was commonly addressed]. Many of the letters from Hughes are to his wife Francs (Fanny), as well as further family letters including letters to his daughter, Mary (May). Some of the letters have additional notes on them in red ink that were made by Miss Mary Hughes. The letters to Miss Hughes consist of letters from her brothers and letters about cases on which she was/had worked, some of the latter are restricted. Also included are some letters to Mrs Francis Hughes.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Hughes was born at Uffington, Berkshire [now Oxfordshire] on 20th October 1822. Hughes was the second of the eight children born to John and Margaret Hughes. His father was an essayist and storyteller, and figures as the squire in Tom Brown's School Days. He was educated at Rugby School (from February 1834) and then Oriel College, Oxford University (1842-1845). At the time of Hughes's schooling Rugby was under Dr Thomas Arnold, a highly influential schoolmaster who Hughes idealised as the perfect teacher in his Tom Brown novels. Hughes excelled at sports, especially cricket, rather than in scholarship and his school career culminated in a cricket match at Lord's Cricket Ground. After completing his Bachelor of Arts at Oxford Hughes was called to the Bar in 1848, became Queen's Counsel in 1869 and a bencher in 1870. As a solicitor he worked for Equity and Law Life Assurance Society, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London in the 1860s. He was appointed to a county court judgeship in the Chester district in July 1882. Hughes was a man of deep social conscience and was horrified by the vice, squalor and poverty he found in London while training as a barrister and anxious to play a part in improving conditions for the poor, he joined the Christian Socialists in around 1848.

The Christian Socialists are Christians who are adherents to socialism and as such believe in a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community. Christian socialists see Christianity and its beliefs as the best way to achieve socialism and vice versa. Social reform is therefore key to their ideology, as it was to Hughes. His interest in reform led Hughes into politics and he was elected to Parliament as a Liberal for Lambeth, London (1865–1868) were he hoped to advocate on the behalf of the working classes, and for Frome, Somerset (1868–1874) having become disillusioned with the corruption in London-based politics. Aside from his political career his socialism also led him to help the formation of some early trade unions and he helped them to gain legal status. Hughes was greatly interested in the education and betterment of workingmen; he was a key member of the Christian Socialists education movement and helped to set up a night school to bring education to the illiterate workers. The success of the classes led to the Working Men's College being established by Charles Kingsley and Hughes in January 1854 on Great Ormond Street, London. Hughes was responsible for sporting activities being developed at the College. His association with the College continued all his life and he became principal from 1873-1883. Hughes's Christianity and socialism also led him to oppose slavery and he was an active member of the anti-slavery Aborigine Protection Society, founded in 1837 and merged with the Anti-slavery Society 1909.

In addition to his interest in socialism and reform Hughes was an advocate of co-operation and was actively involved in the early movement for example, he was President of the Co-operative Congress, London of 1869. He was also on the Board for several societies including, the Congress Board, the Central Co-operative Board (precursor to the Co-operative Union, now called Co-operatives UK) and was involved in establishing a Dress Making Co-operative. He was an advocate of producer co-operation and took part in debates on producer versus consumer co-operation through the 1870s-1880s. Hughes was an outspoken man and his views led him to become disillusioned with the co-operative movement (and trade unionism) as he believed they failed to live up to their own ideals whilst he on the other hand always stuck by them even if they made him unpopular for example, as MP for Lambeth Hughes attempted to introduce legislation against false weights and measures and on public house opening hours, this was not a popular move amongst the small traders and publicans of Lambeth and was one of the reasons he did not re-stand as their MP.

His socialism led to utopianism in later years. In 1880 he founded a settlement in America [Rugby, Tennessee] which was designed as an experiment in utopian living for second sons of the English gentry who often had little money. The settlement was not successful in the long-term as the land proved to be inadequate for self-sufficiency. Hughes thought that manual labour would better these second sons, who were often left little money and expected to join certain career paths such as the army or clergy.

In 1848 Hughes had married Frances (Fanny) Ford (c1826-1910). They settled in 1853 at Wimbledon and whilst living there Hughes wrote his famous story, Tom Brown's Schooldays, which was published in April 1857. His daughter, Lilian [Lily], perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, married 1889, d1912. His other children were; Maurice, d1859; Evie, d1856; James (Jim, nickname Partner) emigrated to USA 1870s, d1874; George (nickname Plump); John (Jack), d1888; Mary (May) Arthur (nickname Pip?); and Caroline (Carrie). He was also close to his nephew, William [Wills] the son of his brother Hastings. Mary Hughes (1860-1941) continued her fathers work after his death, she lived in the East London and took over a former public house and renamed it the Dew Drop Inn: for Education and Joy. Here she took in the destitute and held religious and trade union meetings. See below for further details.

Hughes also wrote The Scouring of the White Horse (1859), Tom Brown at Oxford (1861), Religio Laici (1868), Life of Alfred the Great (1869), Memoir of a Brother(1873), Rugby, Tennessee (1881) and James Fraser, Second Bishop of Manchester(1887). His brother was George Hughes, whom the character of Tom Brown was based upon.

Thomas Hughes died on 22nd March 1896.

Mary Hughes was born at Park Street, Mayfair, London on 29th February 1860 and was Thomas Hughes's youngest child. Educated at home she then moved to Longcot, Berkshire in 1883 to keep house for her uncle, John Hughes, who was a local parson. At Longcot she became a poor law guardian and district councillor and this is where her social conscience was awakened. She was also influenced by her father and aunt, Jane Elizabeth Senior [nee Hughes], [1828-1877], a workhouse and school inspector and philanthropist.

In 1896 she moved to the East End of London and joined her sister, Lilian who was married to the vicar [Henry Carter] of St Jude's Commercial Road, Whitechapel. She became a voluntary parish worker. This work took her into slums, workhouses, doss houses and infirmaries [including ones for people with venereal disease, known as lock wards], in order to try and better the state of these places and share the troubles of the lower classes. From her letters one can see that she often became personally involved in cases. Mary increasingly lived as one of the poor, keeping her diet simple [bread, margarine, little pieces of cheese and rudimentary vegetables], not buying goods such as new clothes that she saw as luxuries, not holidaying or sleeping on mattressed beds and in 1915 moving into the community settlement of Kingsley Hall, Bow. The Hall was an old chapel that was re-decorated and fitted by local volunteers in 1915. It was a 'people's house', where locals including, workmen, factory girls and children came together for worship, study, fun and friendship in order to better their lives.

In 1917 Mary was made a Justice of the Peace for Shoreditch, she specialised in rates and educational cases and was known to commonly cry at the evidence and pay fines for the poor.

Mary referred to herself as a Christian and a communist. She took part in marches of London's unemployed, even when mounted police were in attendance. She was also a pacifist for example, after the German blitz on London (1940) she was appalled by people, especially Christians, who called for retaliation. Christianity was an important factor in Mary's life and what drove her social work. In 1918 she joined the Quakers (Society of Friends) and moved to Blackwall Buildings, Whitechapel in order to become a poor law guardian and volunteer visitor to the local poor law infirmary and children's home. Locally she was known as a benefactor of the poor and local unemployed people would knock on her door seeing if she knew of work. In 1928 Mary moved to a converted pub on Vallance Road, Whitechapel and renamed it the Dew Drop Inn. The purpose of the Inn was to act as a social centre and refuge for the local homeless. Her reputation was well known and in 1931 when Gandhi visited London he asked to meet with her.

Mary Hughes died on 2nd April 1941 in Whitechapel.


The letters are arranged by sender and (where possible) date.

Access Information

National Co-operative Archive Co-operative College Holyoake House Hanover Street Manchester M60 0AS

Some files and items in the collection are restricted until a hundred years after the creation date, due to the personal and sensitive nature of the information contained within. These are; THL/5/4; THL/5/7; THL/5/8; THL/5/9; THL/5/12; THL/5/13; THL/5/16; THL/5/32; THL/5/33. THL/5/4 is restricted for 150 years due to the nature of the information contained within.

THL/4/3/1 have to be researched under closed supervision, and some are restricted entirely but can be digitised on request, due to their extremely delicate nature. Details are listed in the individual descriptions of the letters concerned.

All open materials, can be viewed by previous arrangement, Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm. Contact the Archivist at:

Acquisition Information

The collection was legally deposited with the National Co-operative Archive in October 2005 by The Co-operative College.

Other Finding Aids

No other finding aids are available.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Paper, some delicate items. Especially delicate are THL/4/3 George Hughes to Mary Hughes and special arrangements will be made to view these letters.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Karyn Stuckey, Assistant Archivist at the National Co-operative Archive.

Conditions Governing Use

Items can be reproduced, providing a copyright declaration is completed. For further details please e-mail


None expected.

Related Material

At the National Co-operative Archive:

  • GB 1499 WHB Papers of William Henry Brown [1867-1950]; WHB/1 references to Hughes throughout letters to and from Brown; WHB/1/21:Thomas Hughes's correspondence, 1859– 1887, this subseries contains 47 of Thomas Hughes'; correspondences that were collected by Brown; WHB/2/3: Notes concerning Thomas Hughes; WHB/2/7/2/1: Photographs of Thomas Hughes; WHB/5/2: Thomas Hughes research; and WHB/5/7: Thomas Hughes file, c1845-1930.
  • Congress reports [1869-ongoing].
  • Rugby, Tennessee, Hughes, Thomas, Macmillan and Co. London [1881].
  • Thomas HughesMack, Edward C and Armytage, WHG, Ernest Benn Ltd London [1952].
  • Lecture on the history and object of co-operation, Hughes, Thomas, Central Co-operative Board [1878].
  • "Tom Hughes: man and brother"Summary of Addresses, Lucas, Sir, Charles, Co-operative Union Limited [1913].

Held elsewhere:

  • Thomas Hughes, papers, New York University, Fales Library, USA.
  • Thomas Hughes, papers, Harvard University, Houghton Library, USA.
  • Thomas Hughes, correspondence relating to colony at Rugby, Tennessee, Tennessee State Library and Archive, USA.
  • Thomas Hughes, 1857-70: letters, Huntington Library, UK
  • Thomas Hughes, correspondence, Princeton University Library, USA.
  • Thomas Hughes, 1857-95: letters, Working Men's College, London, UK.
  • Thomas Hughes, 1872: correspondence with Charles Bradlaugh, Bishopsgate Institute and Library, UK.
  • Thomas Hughes, 1890-95: letters to George Craik, British Library: manuscript collections, UK.
  • Thomas Hughes, 1879-95: letters to 4th Earl Grey, Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections, UK.