The story of young Tom Brown's seemingly hideous years spent at rugby school and his spirited and astonishingly stalwart response to the institutionalised bullying prevalent at the 'Great' British public schools became exactly the campaigning tool its author hoped it would.
The regimes at these schools had been largely unchallenged, with the assumption being that the education and training received were the best. The revelations in Hughes' book of the beatings and the burnings uncovered a system which had been all but hidden.
Hughes had been a schoolboy at rugby school in the 1830s when the school was run by the educational reformer Dr. Thomas Arnold. Dr. Arnold's idealism transferred itself wholesale to the young Hughes, and the good doctor appears towards the end of Tom Brown's Schooldays as the young master, bearing the light of possible redemption.