Thomas Hughes, the son of a landowner from Uffington in Berkshire, was born in 1822. After being educated at Oriel College, Oxford, Hughes trained as a lawyer. While a student Hughes read The Kingdom of Christ (1838) by Frederick Denison Maurice. In the book Maurice argued that politics and religion are inseparable and that the church should be involved in addressing social questions.
Hughes became a supporter of Chartism and after the decision by the House of Commons to reject the Chartist Petition in 1848, he joined with Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley to form the Christian Socialist movement. The men discussed how the Church could help to prevent revolution by tackling what they considered were the reasonable grievances of the working class.
The Christian Socialists published two journals, Politics of the People (1848-1849) and The Christian Socialist (1850-51). The group also produced a series of pamphlets under the title Tracts on Christian Socialism. Other initiatives included a night school in Little Ormond Yard and helping to form eight Working Men's Associations. In 1854 the evening classes that the Christian Socialists had been involved in developed into the establishment of the Working Men's College.
In 1856 Hughes wrote Tom Brown's Schooldays (1856) based on his school experiences at Rugby School. His follow-up novel, Tom Brown at Oxford was less successful. Hughes became a Liberal MP between 1865 and 1874 and principal of the Working Men's College from 1872 to 1883. Thomas Hughes died in 1896.