Hudson, Edward Burgess (1854–1936), magazine printer and publisher
by Clive Aslet

Hudson, Edward Burgess (1854–1936), magazine printer and publisher, was born in November 1854, the son of John Francis Daniel Hudson, printer. The family was descended from modest landowners in Cumberland, but Hudson's grandfather had moved to London, made money as a merchant, and then established the family printing business of Hudson and Kearns, with premises in Southwark Street. At the time of Hudson's birth his father was head of the firm and had recently purchased a ‘gloomy mansion’ (Maude, 58) near Hyde Park. Together with his several brothers and sisters, Edward grew up in this house surrounded by his father's collections of antiques, and although he appears to have been largely uneducated his ‘instinctive appreciation of beauty’ (Hussey, 96) was surely fostered in the family home. Indeed, long after his parents' death Hudson continued to live there with his sickly brother, Henry, and his two unmarried sisters. It was not until he reached middle age that he eventually moved, to 15 Queen Anne's Gate. There, in an early eighteenth-century house which he is said to have coveted throughout his youth, he began to indulge his own lifelong love of collecting art and furniture, making every room ‘like a picture’ (Strong, 18).

Little is known about Hudson's early life, except that his passion for open-air pursuits such as walking and cycling began in childhood. Capable and ambitious, he had been articled to a solicitor at the age of fifteen and within two years had become chief conveyancing clerk. However, he evidently disliked the profession and by the age of twenty-one, after a stint as a ‘printer's traveller’ (Edwards, 334), he persuaded his father to let him take over the family business. There he quickly emerged as a shrewd businessman and under his direction Hudson and Kearns went from strength to strength. In the 1870s they had simply been a busy company printing a diverse range of books, mostly for other publishers. By the early 1890s Hudson's interest in recent advances in the technology of blockmaking and half-tone printing had led the firm to expand into the booming field of illustrated magazine publishing.

This entrepreneurial scheme came about after Hudson's first contact with Lord Riddell (1865–1934), chairman of the News of the World, and Sir George Newnes (1851–1910), the publishing magnate who had made his fortune with the enormously popular magazine Tit Bits, launched in the early 1880s. Hudson's first magazines, produced from his London offices at 10–11 Southampton Street in partnership with the firm of George Newnes Ltd, were Famous Cricketers, the Navy and Army Illustrated, and Racing Illustrated. On 8 January 1897 the company merged the ailing Racing Illustrated with a new magazine, Country Life Illustrated, which focused on sport, country pursuits, and the social side of land ownership. Importantly, this first number also included an article on Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, Country Life's first weekly portrait of a country house. The magazine prospered financially from the beginning, thanks in part to its success in attracting advertising from estate agents in a rapidly growing country-house market. By 1902 the business had so expanded that Hudson commissioned the young and charismatic architect Edwin Lutyens to design suitably imposing offices in London's Covent Garden, and by 1905 he had bought out George Newnes and established Country Life Ltd.

Although he did not write for the magazine and was never its editor, Hudson always exerted his authority over Country Life's contents, style, and policy. Its distinctive appearance and regular features evolved over the next few years as a combined result of his fiercely critical eye and his remarkable success in assembling a band of expert advisers and contributors. Despite his early investment in ‘the finest pictorial printing machinery obtainable’ (Strong, 19), when Country Life was first launched there was no specialist photographer on the staff and many of the images were bought in from elsewhere. In 1898 Hudson met Charles Latham (d. 1909), one of Britain's finest architectural photographers, who helped to define the magazine's unique style with his perfectly balanced pictures of country house interiors—combining a romantic feeling for atmosphere with documentary clarity.

In 1899 Hudson met Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932), an established figure in the gardening world, who edited a gardening magazine for him in 1900–01 and contributed a ‘Garden notes’ column to Country Life for the next thirty years. It was she who had introduced him to Lutyens, who, though he ‘ragged Hudson unmercifully’ (Edwards, 333), quickly became a dear friend whom Hudson loved like a son. Hudson took great pains to promote Lutyens's career in the pages of Country Life. In 1931, when he accompanied him to India for the inauguration of New Delhi, Hudson was said to have been ‘on the verge of tears … from emotion and pride’ (Maude, 59). It was through Lutyens that Hudson's own artistic tastes found expression in his succession of country homes: first at a new house, the ‘arts and crafts’ Deanery Garden (1899) in Sonning, Berkshire; then in the romantic restoration of the ruined sixteenth-century Lindisfarne Castle (1902) on Holy Island; and lastly at the timber-framed Sussex manor of Plumpton Place (1927–8), which Lutyens turned into an ‘enchanted place’ (Pevsner), complete with moat and lake.

Lutyens benefited from—and may have influenced—the increasing professionalism of the magazine's architectural journalism, which became a central part of its identity under the guidance of its architectural editor H. Avray Tipping, whose articles on historic houses first appeared in 1906, and Sir Lawrence Weaver, who concentrated on new buildings. Hudson attracted equally distinguished writers, including Percy Macquoid and Margaret Jourdain, for articles on furniture and other antiques. These contributors also helped to author books published by Country Life, in a venture originally set up by Hudson to recycle photographs commissioned for the magazine; among its most ambitious productions were the three-volume Dictionary of Furniture (1924–7), by Macquoid and Ralph Edwards, and Tipping's nine-volume English Homes (1920–37).

Described by several contemporaries as gruff, difficult, boring, and tongue-tied, Hudson had a fondness for Lutyens and his young family—he was a devoted godfather to Lutyens's daughter Ursula—which revealed a more affectionate and tender side to his character. Although he was always nervous and reticent in company, he hosted regular Monday luncheons at Queen Anne's Gate, where contributors to Country Life were entertained alongside such guests as Lytton Strachey or Guilhermina Suggia, the renowned Italian cellist by whom Hudson was ‘starstruck’ (Edwards, 335). His reputation received its greatest social recognition when he was visited at Lindisfarne Castle by the prince and princess of Wales in 1908. Although he must have been somewhat lonely, he took great solace in his love of music, collecting fine objects, driving in the countryside, playing golf, and spending time with his few intimate friends. On 2 May 1929, at the age of seventy-four, he married Ellen Gertrude Woolrich (b. 1876/7), who edited the magazine Homes and Gardens, another of Hudson's creations. On 17 September 1936 Hudson died at his London home in Queen Anne's Gate, and his funeral took place nearby on 28 September at Christ Church, Lancaster Gate. It is likely that following his death his wife disposed of his personal papers, since none has come to light.

Country Life was Hudson's finest creation and the greatest love of his life. He continued to supervise its publication until he retired, a few years before his death, confident in the knowledge that the magazine would outlive him. It succeeded with both readers and advertisers thanks to the immense and enduring popular appeal of his personal ideal of the civilized life: an architecturally distinguished house in unspoilt countryside, furnished with choice collections of paintings and furniture, and set in a beautiful garden.

CLIVE ASLET

Sources  

R. Edwards, ‘Percy Macquoid and others’, Apollo, 99 (1974), 332–9 · D. Bank and A. Esposito, eds., British biographical index, 4 vols. (1990) · H. Friedrichs, The life of Sir George Newnes, bart (1911) · M. Hall, ‘How beautiful they stand’, Country Life (16 Jan 1997), 91–5 · C. Hussey, ‘Edward Hudson: an appreciation’, Country Life, 80 (1936), 318–19 · C. Hussey, The life of Sir Edwin Lutyens (1950) · P. Maude, ‘Portrait of a perfectionist: Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life’, Country Life, 141 (1967), 58–60 · ‘Mr Edward Hudson: an appreciation’, The Times (23 Sept 1936) · M. Lutyens, Edwin Lutyens (1980) · Country Life, 80 (1936), 317 · The Times (26 Sept 1936) · The letters of Edwin Lutyens to his wife Lady Emily, ed. C. Percy and J. Ridley (1985) · Pevsner · The Post Office London directory (1902) · R. Strong, Country Life, 1897–1997: the English Arcadia (1996) · WWW · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1937) · P. Mandler, The fall and rise of the stately home (1997) · C. Aslet, The last country houses (1982) · m. cert. · d. cert.

Likenesses  

photograph, repro. in Country Life (12 Jan 1987), 58

Wealth at death  

£82,070 13s. 2d.: probate, 24 Feb 1937, CGPLA Eng. & Wales


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Edward Burgess Hudson (1854–1936): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/39648