Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thomas Hughes: Tennessee, Frome and the Titanic

The other day I likened David Cameron to Flashman, the bully from Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays. This has led me to discover three interesting facts about Hughes.

Fact 1
A commenter on that post mentioned Rugby, Tennessee, the colony founded by Hughes. Following that link, we learn:

British author and social reformer Thomas Hughes, famous for his classic, TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS, dedicated the Rugby Colony amid great fanfare on October 5, 1880. He envisioned his new community as a place where those who wished could build a strong agricultural community through cooperative enterprise, while maintaining a cultured, Christian lifestyle, free of the rigid class distinctions that prevailed in Britain. The idea for the colony grew out of Hughes' concern for the younger sons of landed British families. Under the custom of primogeniture, the eldest son usually inherited everything, leaving the younger sons with only a few socially accepted occupations in England. In America, Hughes believed, these young men's energies and talents could be directed toward community building through agriculture.

Fact 2
Thomas Hughes was a Liberal MP. He sat for Lambeth (1865–6) and for Frome (1868–74).

Fact 3
One of Hughes's daughters, Lilian, died on the Titanic in 1912.

Thanks to Wikipedia for these last two.

1 comment:

David Heath said...


Delighted to see your reference to Rugby, Tennessee. We went there a few years ago, and they were delighted that I, as Liberal MP for Frome and therefore "direct descendent" of Thomas Hughes, had visited. The most remarkable thing about it is the library. Thomas Hughes decided there needed to be a cultural centre to the colony, so he asked his British and American publishers to send their entire lists to him. They did, and as a result there is a perfectly preserved library of victorian literature in a log cabin in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness. My wife has a PhD in Victorian Literature, and she was ecstatic. We have a picture of the library on our wall here in Somerset.

The colony is preserved by a group of enthusiastic volunteers, who are very proud of their "typically English" cottages, which actually owe more to William Morris than any known vernacular. They tell you sternly not to touch the walls as they are "over 200 years old". I didn't have the heart to tell them my house is over 350 years old and I touch the walls all the time!

Thomas Hughes and his chums eventually packed up and went home, but his elderly mother stayed and was buried there.