Mytholmroyd Net

Hughes's birthplace embraces poet's memory

The Independent
4 April 2006
By Ian Herbert

In the poet's own words, it was his "tuning fork", a place whose mournful Pennine moors, decaying industrial landscape and canal full of fish inspired some of his finest poetry.

Now the village of Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire's Calder Valley, where Ted Hughes caught his first pike, went rabbiting with his brother and gazed up at the hills, is to build a visitor centre in his name.

The village's pursuit of such a venue has not been without frustration in the eight years since Hughes died, aged 68. But the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Yorkshire Regional Development Agency have just pledged 1m each, which means work should soon start on converting the elegant Victorian railway building, in which railway pioneer George Stephenson had an architectural hand, into the Ted Hughes Visitor Centre.

It will provide a focus for the immutable links between Mytholmroyd and Edward James Hughes who was born at 1 Aspinall Terrace in the village on 17 August 1930.

Unprepossessing though it may seem, Hughes' three-bedroomed birthplace, where a plaque on the wall bears his name, is a vital part of Mytholmroyd's Hughes heritage. In Mount Zion, one of a least eight poems set in the house or local neighbourhood, Hughes remembered the brooding Mount Zion Methodist Church - now demolished - which stood yards from his bedroom window.

Another landmark is the Rochdale Canal tunnel, 20 yards from the house, where "Teddy", as he was universally known in the village, would fish with his schoolfriend Donald Crossley, using pieces of old curtain netting. Both were both in perpetual fear of the pike they came in search of, according to Mr Crossley.

And there is also Scout Rock, the brooding geological feature overlooking the village which could be seen from the attic room that Hughes shared with his brother, Gerald. Hughes wrote of it: "The most impressive early companion of my childhood was a dark cliff... a wall of rock and steep woods halfway up the sky... this was the memento mundi over my birth... for my first seven years it pressed my shape."

The new centre will provide a guide to these and other local places, including the churchyard at nearby Heptonstall, where he buried his first wife, Sylvia Plath, after her suicide in London in 1963

The consortium of local businessmen behind the visitor centre, Royd Regeneration, also envisages archive and educational facilities as well as the obligatory cafe and bookshop. The consortium, which has also been given substantial grants by the local council and the Railway Trust, aims to tap into the coachloads of Americans who visit Haworth, home of the Brontes, 13 miles away. Interest in Hughes has grown steadily since his death, particularly after the 2003 film of his life starring Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow as Plath.

Local businesses could do with the extra tourist income. The village remains overshadowed by the bohemian town of Hebden Bridge, a mile up the valley, where visitors flock in abundance, leaving Mytholmroyd to push its Hughes heritage and its status as home to the world dockleaf pudding championships.

Many of Hughes' papers are in the United States and there are only limited materials in this country. But the plans have been given added impetus by the news that Aspinall Terrace, which was in private hands until last year, is to be placed under the new centre's management, after its sale.

"What was regarded as a 'pie-in-the-sky' notion years ago is now nearly there," said Alan Brooks, chairman of Royd Regeneration.

"Negotiations for the lease on the old railway station are progressing and a business plan has been commissioned."

The sights that inspired a poet


Hughes's brother would often take him fishing to the canal, 20 yards from their house. Hughes would also fish there with his schoolfriend Donald Crossley, using pieces of old curtain netting they had rigged up. Both were said to have been in perpetual fear of the pike they came to hunt


Traces remain of the skull and crossbones that Hughes daubed on the side of the house using mustard paint, when he was seven and the family left the house. He wrote: "That really sealed off my first seven years, so that my first seven years seem half my life. I've remembered almost everything"


Hughes's collection The Remains of Elmet is about Calder Valley. In "The Rock" he writes of days he would "step out of the house, or get off a bus come from elsewhere, and be astounded to see that blackish, hogback mass riding directly overhead"


A 7ft standing stone on the edge of moorland, a short climb out of the village. Hughes described it as "a lonely stone, afloat in the stone heavings of emptiness", and recounted the local tradition of leaving a coin in the hollow at the top of the stone. It is to be found at the edge of the Luddenden Valley