Hughes, Hugh Price
1847-1902; e.m. 1867

WM minister, born in Carmarthen on 8 February 1847, the son of a surgeon, John Hughes (1817-1897). Following his grandfather, Hugh Hughes, into the ministry, while training at Richmond College he obtained a London BA in 1869 and met his wife Katherine, the daughter of Alfred Barrett, the College Governor. As Superintendent in Oxford from 1881 to 1884, he revitalized the circuit. His friendship with the philosopher T.H. Green led to a deepening social concern. Returning to London in 1884, he became the first Superintendent of the West London Mission the following year, part of Methodism's response to The Bitter Cry of Outcast London through its social and evangelistic work among the urban poor. His Sunday evening sermons were widely reported in the press and he told his colleagues in the Mission that they were to preach to the saints on Sunday morning, leaving the sinners to him.

As preacher, pastor and organizer, he was leader of the Forward Movement in the 1880s and 1890s, creating a high profile for reform and innovation. As editor of the Methodist Times from 1885 he raised social issues as part of what became known as the 'Nonconformist Conscience', particularly with regard to temperance, gambling and social morality. In opposition to Parnell's adultery which contributed to his downfall, Hughes asserted: 'What is morally wrong cannot be politically right.' He was a committed ecumenist (despite 'fighting like a tiger' to prevent the inclusion of the Unitarians in the Free Church Council) and became the second President of the Free Church Congress. Despite his sturdy independence (as shown in his support for Henry Lunn in the missionary controversy of 1889-1890 and his criticism of the WM oligarchy especially in the Conference), he was elected President of the WM Conference in 1898.

Influenced especially by Social Aspects of Christianity by Brooke Foss Westcott, his volumes of sermons on Social Christianity (1889), The Philanthropy of God (1889), Ethical Christianity (1892) and Essential Christianity (1894) were widely read as models of Methodism's marrying of evangelism and social action, embodied in a range of agencies in the Mission. He also found time to write The Morning Lands of History: the story of a tour to Greece, Palestine and Egypt (1901).

He died of over-work in London on 17 November 1902. His funeral service was held at Wesley's Chapel, where he is commemorated in a stained-glass window. The annual series of 'Hugh Price Hughes Lectures' at Hinde Street Church was establshed in his memory in 1999.

His daughter Dorothea Price Hughes (1874-1964) wrote her father's biography (1904) and The Sisters of the People and their Work (c.1905). She also published a novel, Towards the Light (1906), which opens in Rome and closes in the Tottenham Court Road.

One of his sisters, Elizabeth Phillips Hughes (1851-1925), abandoned her Wesleyan roots and became an Anglican. She taught at Cheltenham Ladies' College from 1877 to 1881 and graduated in moral science and history at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1885, before being appointed the first principal of the Cambridge Training College (later incorporated into the university and renamed Hughes College). After retiring in 1899, she continued as an influential advocate of women's education, especially in her native Wales. She was awarded an MBE for her medical work in the First World War. The University of Wales conferred an honorary LLD on her in 1920.


'Of course, Mr. Hughes was not always progressive. There was a distinctly reactionary tendency in him which came out with fearful force at times. But on the whole, he has been the leader of the progressive forces of Methodism…

'Nothing ever destroyed my reverence, admiration and love for and my devotion to Mr. Hughes. These sentiments I have expressed when they were very fashionable in Methodism, especially among Methodist preachers. At the most acute moment of difference from him, nothing could blind some of us to this great leader's noble qualities and unique services to religion and Methodism.'

S.E. Keeble in Methodist Weekly, 20 and 27 November 1902

'As I look back on that period the characteristic of Mr. Hughes that shines out most eminently in my mind is his magnanimity. He was ever a fighter, and some of his controversies were difficult and painful. If I recall the Foreign Mission controversy, it is to prove the knightly character of Mr. Hughes… Having followed through all those years his various activities, activities which brought him into constant collision with others, I am unable to recall anything mean, anything base uttered by him either in speech or in print. Certainly for one I have none but pleasant memories of him, though he frequently criticised and opposed my views… No one could have done his work and made so few enemies; no one could have fought his battles and left so little bitterness.'

W. Robertson Nicoll, in Hugh Price Hughes as we knew him (1902), pp.13-15

'Others have told of his gifts, his splendid courage, his fearlessness, his enterprise, but the splendour of these gifts hid from all but those who knew him most intimately the beauty of virtues that made him unspeakably dear to us. Of no man could it be more truly said that he was "a good soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ. He rushed to the foremost place in the fray, and fought till his hand clove to the sword. But when the battle was done, there was no breath of malice, no lingering ill-will. In the true meaning of that great word he was magnanimous, great souled. I loved him as perhaps it is given to few men to love a man.'

Mark Guy Pearse, ibid, p.29

'It is impossible to exaggerate Mr. Hughes' influence on the life and thought of the younger men of the ministry. He has lifted us out of the old "ruts", turned our minds into new channels, widened our sympathies, and kindled our enthusiasm for social reform.'

Charles Ensor Walters, ibid, p.71

'He was always at his best when he had something or someone to "go for" - it mattered little whether it was a hard-hearted sweater, a profligate politician, an idle and selfish church or an unjust Parliamentary measure - he was ever a valiant and resolute fighter, strenuously battling for purity and righteousness. Some complained that he was "cocksure"; certainly, but why not call it intensity of conviction? It would be a truer description of a not altogether valueless quality….

'I do not think anyone would say that Mr. Hughes was a great preacher. He had but little imagination or idealism, and most of his sermons were topical rather than expository. But he was a great driving force, and his dominant individuality, his strenuous enthusiasm and his alert mind and dextrous wit made him the prince of platform speakers. His energy was boundless.'

Frederick A. Atkins, ibid, pp.81, 86

'Always I found him kind and enheartening. Twice he urged me to become his colleague in the West London Mission, but it was not to be… Often he rallied me that I did not always support his proposals in the Wesleyan Conference. I had and have grave doubts as to his policy, but his burning enthusiasm, his magnanimity, his evangelistic passion always charmed me. He wore himself down with a thousand pursuits, and he lived a brave, unselfish life.'

Dinsdale T. Young, Stars of Retrospect (1920) p.76

'A powerful preacher, a mighty evangelist, a clever organizer, a brilliant debater, a forceful journalist, the influence he exerted was magnetic. With his passing the Forward Movement lost one of its most powerful advocates.'

Arthur and Ensor Walters, Sir John Bamford-Slack (1910) p.67

'A cleric to his finger tips, and an emphatic believer in the ministerial order. Dogmatic and sometimes overbearing. A fine platform speaker, and a fearless advocate of what he believed to be right; lackng somewhat in sympathy, and in the saving grace of humour; but his driving force was tremendous.'

Silas K. Hocking, in My Book of Memory (1923), p.191

  • Methodist Recorder, 20 & 27 Nov. 1902; 6 Feb. 1947; 14 November 2002; Winter Number, 1900, pp.17-25
  • J. Gregory Mantle, Hugh Price Hughes (1901)
  • J.Armitage Robinson (ed.), Hugh Price Hughes as we knew him (1902)
  • HK, Hugh Price Hughes, leader of the Forward Movement and the revival of Oxford Methodism (1903)
  • Dorothea Price Hughes, The Life of Hugh Price Hughes (1904)
  • A. Walters, Hugh Price Hughes: pioneer and reformer (1907)
  • Henry Lunn, Chapters from my Life (1918) pp.47-58
  • J.H.S. Kent in Essays in Modern Church History in memory of Norman Sykes (1966) pp.181-205
  • Paul Glass, 'Hugh Price Hughes and the West London Mission', in WHS Proceedings, 45 pp.129-46
  • D.W. Bebbington, The Nonconformist Conscience: Chapel and Politics 1870-1914 (1982)
  • Edward R. Norman, The Victorian Christian Socialists (Cambridge, 1987), ch.5
  • Christopher Oldstone-Moore, Hugh Price Hughes (Cardiff, 1999)
  • David M. Chapman, In search of the catholic spirit (Peterborough, 2004), pp. 71-73
  • Brian Frost, with Stuart Jordan, Pioneers of Social Passion (Peterborough, 2006), pp.31-44
  • D W Bebbington, The evangelical conscience, in Welsh Journal of Religious History, vol.2 (2007) pp.27-44
  • Roger Standing, The Forward Movement: Evangelical Pioneers of 'Social Christianity' (2015)
  • Oxford DNB