Ted Hughes of Mytholmroyd

by Elaine Connell who maintains the Sylvia Plath Forum

Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate, was born at 1, Aspinall Street, Mytholmroyd on 17th. August 1930. He was the youngest of the three children of William and Edith Hughes (nee Farrar) who were both from well established Calder Valley families.

His father was one of the few survivors of his regiment which had been massacred during the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War. Hughes himself felt that the terrible experiences of his father dominated his childhood. In his poem Out which deals with the effects of the war on his family and the Calder Valley he writes:

    It is more years
    The shrapnel that shattered my father’s paybook

    Gripped me, and all his dead
    Gripped him to a time

    He no more than they could outgrow,..

When he was seven the family moved to Mexborough in South Yorkshire, returning to live in Heptonstall, four miles from Mytholmroyd in the late 1940’s. After National Service and Cambridge University he had a variety of jobs including nightwatchman, gardener, zoo-keeper and secondary school teacher.

Ted Hughes and Sylvia PlathIn 1956 he met and married the American poet Sylvia Plath, who was on a Fulbright scholarship at Cambridge. They settled in London and later Devon. They had two children, Frieda and Nicholas born in 1960 and 1962. In late 1962 they separated because Hughes was having an affair with Assia Wevill, the wife of another poet. In February 1963 Plath committed suicide by gassing herself. Hughes went on to have another child, Shura with Assia in 1965. Sadly, Assia also killed herself and their daughter by gassing in 1969.

In 1971, he married Carol Orchard a nurse.

In 1984,Hughes became Poet Laureate, the highest honour which can be accorded to a poet writing in English. His work had received a great deal of recognition from very early in his career. In 1958, his first collection The Hawk In The Rain won the Harper’s Poetry Prize and he has won several major literary awards since then including two Whitbread Poetry awards for Tales From Ovid and Birthday Letters.

In the years following her death Hughes refused to discuss Sylvia Plath. Therefore the literary world was startled in January 1998 when he published Birthday Letters a collection of poems about his life with her. Shortly, after Sylvia’s death Hughes had remarked to a friend that, "The time to write about Sylvia Plath is when you’re dying." Although it was a well kept secret Hughes was actually suffering from terminal cancer and died in October of that year.

Although he lived most of his adult life outside of Mytholmroyd and the Calder Valley it remained a major source of inspiration for his poetry. One collection The Remains of Elmet deals exclusively with the Calder Valley which he claimed was originally the kingdom of Elmet, the last Celtic land to fall to the Anglo-Saxons. In The Rock, an autobiographical prose piece about his early childhood, he describes Scout Rock, the large geographical feature which dominates the Mytholmroyd landscape.
    Most days it seems far enough off, deflated and scenic, with visible trees and scrambling walls to its steep fields , and clearly enough there is a farm or two along the top of it, people living happily up there and cattle grazing, and it’s plainly no Eiger. But on other days you step out of the house, or get off a bus come from elsewhere, and are astounded to see that blackish, hogback mass riding directly overhead.
There are plans, now at the development stage to honour Mytholmroyd’s most famous son by opening a Ted Hughes’ Centre in the former railway station buildings in the town centre.