In search of beauty
Country Life UK|January 05, 2022
A publisher, innovator and shrewd businessman with strong connections to the Liberal political establishment, Edward Hudson was the visionary founder of COUNTRY LIFE 125 years ago. Clive Aslet revisits his remarkable life
Clive Aslet

EDWARD HUDSON would enter the COUNTRY LIFE offices like a whirlwind. Staff who had temporarily put their feet on the table—on press days, they might not go home before midnight—took them down again. Bells rang; pages that were typeset by the compositors in the attics of the building and printed by presses in the basement were rushed into his presence: each one was personally approved by the proprietor. ‘His energy was tremendous, and was almost in the nature of bustle,’ remembered Bernard Darwin, employed in 1908 to write on the important early COUNTRY LIFE subject of golf, ‘…he could be brusque if anything or anybody was not up to time.’ Even worse would have befallen the individual who suggested that production standards could be allowed to slip: the hurry did not prevent Hudson from taking infinite pains to exact the best result from his team. ‘After this hectic time, Mr Hudson would dash off elsewhere, and the office would once more settle down with a gentle sigh.’

COUNTRY LIFE, founded in 1897, was the love of Hudson’s life, only rivalled—before his late marriage—by the grand amour he developed for the glamorous Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia, to whom he was briefly engaged. (He bought her the Montagnana cello she is shown playing in the portrait by Augustus John, initially commissioned by Hudson and now owned by Tate.) It became the centre of a publishing empire, with COUNTRY LIFE Books reusing plates from the magazine and a diffusion range, feminine and domestic, in Homes and Gardens.

Hudson’s own interests were those of his main publication. Sometimes, they spread beyond it into the world of politics. Through his friend and business associate George (later Lord) Riddell, managing director of the News of the World and an ally of Lloyd George, he had the ear of the Liberal establishment, freely bending on behalf of important causes.

The power of the press was reinforced by the behind-the-scenes influence exerted by the man himself; the architectural tenor of the War Graves Commission, established at the end of the First World War to provide cemeteries for the Fallen, exactly mirrored the COUNTRY LIFE point of view. Yet the means by which Hudson projected his vision remain mysterious, for the man was considerably less than charismatic. In sponge bag trousers and watchchain, he had a naturally lugubrious cast of face, with bloodhound eyes and a moustache covering his long upper lip. Acutely diffident, he suffered agonies when making a speech of any kind, even at the magazine’s Christmas dinner.

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