Uffington House-A Living History Project
Thomas Hughes' mother, Margaret, and her teenage (and motherless) granddaughter Emily, crossed the ocean from England to the East Tennessee wilderness in May, 1881. Uffington House, named for a family home on the Isle of Wight, became their Rugby home until Madame Hughes' death at age 90 in 1887.
Margaret Elizabeth Wilkinson Hughes was one of Rugby's most important citizens. She gave up an interesting social and cultural life in London, where she was aquainted with Dickens and Tennyson, to support her son's new colony in the wilderness. 'Madame' Hughes, as she came to be called, played an active role in the community's life. She was the guest of honor at many important ceremonies such as the opening of the Thomas Hughes Library in 1882. She started the Ladies Church Working Society and was its president for several years. She had a playground built for the children of Rugby and was a frequent hostess to visitors and colonists. Both she and Emily established a small farming operation and extensive vegetable, flower and shrub gardens throughout their farmstead.
Historic Rugby's archives contain more than 200 letters written from Uffington House by Emily and Margaret, revealing the day-to-day life of the Anglo-American colony. They describe the daily housekeeping and dining customs, social and cultural activities, landscaping, farming and gardening details, observations on visitors from around the world and successes and failures of the early colonists. Just one of Emily's many self-taught accomplishments was photography. She developed her pictures in the Uffington House kitchen, struggling with the early chemicals and paper. The historic pictures below are Emily's, found in a trunk in Ireland with some of her letters to a friend.
Seven-gabled Uffington House stands little changed today, with its huge trees and sweeping views across the Clear Fork River. Recently purchased by Historic Rugby, Uffington offers the most exciting potential in the Rugby Colony National Register Historic District for an exceptionally accurate restoration and living history interpretation.
Historic Rugby is raising funds and working to restore the home and grounds. The home will be refurnished as it was in the 1880s. When opened, Madame Hughes, Emily, and other family members will show visitors around the house and grounds, as voice actors on audio players, allowing an authentic step back in time to 1880s Rugby. Visitors will also be able to wander the entire three-acre grounds, the stable and farmyard with animals like those Emily raised, historically documented flower and vegetable gardens and even the spring and bathhouse where Uffington residents bathed. The restored 1930s Potato House from a later farming period will introduce visitors to a 125-year overview of Uffington and its history.
Margaret Hughes is the only family member buried at Rugby's Laurel Dale Cemetery. Young Emily had to leave Rugby after her Granny's death, but lived a long, interesting life, dying in Kenya, S. Africa, in 1939.
FROM THE LETTERS OF MARGARET & EMILY HUGHES
"I get up at 6 and feed my chickens & Granny and I have breakfast at 7. I potter about in the garden & after tea, I go to the post for our letters & we go to bed at 8:30. I have taught Nina, my little goat, to draw a cart & I take her with me when I go shopping to the one shop in town. (the Rugby Commissary).
"I have named my little estate Landscape after the place where my cousins live in Ireland. My farm yard consists of 36 fowls, two turkeys, two ducks a goat and a puppy. I am thinking of getting a little pig in the spring & also of rearing silkworms & perhaps bees.
"There are a great many hogs running about the country here & they come into town & eat people's fowls when they can catch them, which is very often. They are a dreadful nuisance as they eat all the garden vegetables they come across and think nothing of clearing a whole bed of watermelon."
"I have begun to take German lessons three times a week from Mr. Bertz, who is to be the Librarian at the Hughes Public Library when it is finished. The library books are all presents from different publishers which they have presented to the library as a compliment to Uncle Tom on the condition it be named for him."
"Some time ago I took a photo of the members of the Rugby Cornet band with their instruments and I think it is the best I have done yet. I have tried very hard to get a good one of myself but as I cannot stand in position & focus at the same time."
"Just now a lady from Newbury House has stopped me writing for half an hour. Before she came, two other ladies called, sat some time, and requested to see the pictures in my drawing room; so my valuable time is eaten up. It is a trial to be the mother of a man whose fame is know to every one, but then I ought not to complain at the success of my beloved son."
"I wish dear boys you could see my garden. I am sure it would please you. The walks are all now laid down, the beds in order, all the fruit trees I planted are alive and putting forth green leaves, the strawberries are in full blossom, and all the vines at the foot of the trellis alive and flourishing.--So you see I have been very fortunate.--My good Dyer is head and ears at work at our farm. He is finishing getting potatoes planted, and today he is helping dig the holes for 200 mulberry trees that your Father and Emmie have bought with the intention of cultivating silk worms, and making their fortunes by raw silk! -- Joking apart, I believe that mulberry trees will flourish in this soil, and therefore the keeping silk worms be made to pay as it does in France. This week will I believe see Dyer through all the seed sowing, except those for late crops such as celery and endive, and then all we gardeners and farmers shalt want will be favourable weather to bring the crops to perfection. God grant us that blessing!"