Ted Hughes

'Crowing' about our local Laureate'

The House at Aspinall Street Mytholmroyd, copyright John Billingsley

Born on the 17th August 1930 at 1 Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd, Ted Hughes would become the nation's Poet Laureate. Hughes later remembered living out his early years in the twin shadows of Scout Rock and Mount Zion Methodist Chapel, both of which overlooked his home. The youngest of three siblings, he attended Burnley Road Primary School. His father worked at a joiner’s yard near Hebden Bridge Station. During his years in Mytholmroyd,Ted was highly influenced by his brother Gerald’s interest in hunting, mythology and the land. When he was eight years old, however, the family moved to Mexborough in South Yorkshire; Gerald left home and his sister Olwyn subsequently guided him into a closer relationship with literature which saw his graduate from Mexborough Grammar School to Cambridge University. Hughes found studying – rather than creating - English Literature too stifling, however, and after a memorable personal experience switched to Archaeology and Anthropology.

At Cambridge he met the American poet Sylvia Plath and they married in 1956. Discord in their marriage led to separation and ultimately to Sylvia’s suicide in 1963; she was buried in the Hughes family churchyard at Heptonstall. Ted Hughes retained links with the upper Calder valley and in 1968 he bought a former mill owner's house at Lumb Bank near Heptonstall, which was later taken on by the Arvon Foundation as a centre for creative writing. For some, his relationship issues seem to have been of more interest than his poetry, which distracts from a figure whose contribution to English literature, as well as environmental conservation, has been wide-ranging and influential. His reputation as a poet became established in the 1960s and was affirmed by numerous awards through the rest of his life, such as the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 1974. He was also recognised for his prose works. In 1977 Hughes was awarded the O.B.E and in 1984 he was given the highest accolade - the title of Poet Laureate, the youngest person to be granted the title since Tennyson. he held this post until his death, and was the last poet to hold the title for life.

In 1998 he received the Queen’s Order of Merit, an honour only held by 24 persons at any one time. A few months later, in October 1998, Hughes died at his home in N Tawton, Devon. He had been suffering from cancer. His ashes were scattered, and a memorial stone laid, at the source of the River Taw on Dartmoor, eight miles from the nearest road. Hughes’ local connections were expressed in his collection Remains of Elmet (later republished with extra poems as Elmet). The Elmet Trust was established in Mytholmroyd to recognise the symbiotic relationship between the village and the poet, and organises an annual Ted Hughes Festival.

Calderdale Libraries has a full collection of works by both Hughes and Plath. For a list of items currently in stock look in our Online library catalogue

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