Ted Hughes birthplace (17th August 1930 to 28th October 1998)

 

When I was about seven years old I was sitting on the classroom floor listening to the teacher read The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. I was frightened by the giant tin man who roamed around the countryside attacking and destroying industrial tractors and combined harvesters without being stopped. I didn't know much about the author - that he was a famous poet. Here I am in Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire outside the home where he was born in the front bedroom. In boyhood I didnít think anybody famous - except Manchester United/City footballers - came from the north but this man did.

 

I remember learning about him through an article about his two wives who'd both committed suicide (his first wife Sylvia Plath is buried not far from this house.) This was a little unfair as it seemed to push to one side a broad volume of poems and novels. I go rambling around the Calder Valley locations where Ted walked and the moody landscapes were distilled quite accurately in his poetry.

 

As I looked at the end terraced house I wondered which room was his. He lived here till he was seven years old, the youngest of three children. His dad, a joiner, almost died having enlisted with the Lancashire Fusiliers and took a bullet while fighting in Ypres (a bullet stuck in his pay book which he kept his breast pocket.) The trajectory of Tedís imagination was set in this end-terrace house and he later said "my first six years shaped everything."

 

Though the area was strewn with textiles mills his parents ran a newsagent's and tobacconist's shop. Ted wrote a lot about animals. He was fascinated by them rather than loved them (he hunted and fished) and started drawing them. Soon he was writing poems about them and the career as a poet - that carried him to the end of his life - was set in stone. He didnít know it at the time - nor when the family moved forty miles away to Mexborough in Yorkshire. The teachers at his grammar school encouraged his poetry but he left wanting to be a train driver or footballer.

 

After university, living in London and Cambridge, he had many jobs including working as a rose gardener, a nightwatchman and a reader for the British film company J. Arthur Rank. He even worked in a zoo which enabled him to observe animals at close quarters.

 

We now him know as a poet and he was so effective with words he was the country's Poet Laureate for nearly fifteen years until his death. Eventually he published eleven volumes of poetry as well as several children's books. He married the poet Sylvia Plath (they had two children) but left her for Assia Wevill. Both women killed themselves - also the daughter he had with Assia.

 

He moved to Devon and died aged 68 of myocardial infarction (heart attack) while suffering with colon cancer. He was cremated in Exeter and his ashes scattered at a remote location where the River Taw started (where he loved fishing.)

 

It all started here in this stone end-terrace house. I looked up at the front bedroom window where he was pushed out into the world in 1930. Sometimes I stroll up to the cemetery at Heptonstall to observe visitors to his first wife's grave. Some brook at the idea that he had his wife Sylvia buried here rather than have her flown back to the US and the "HUGHES" letters have been chiselled off the headstone.

 

Ted wrote a poem called Stubbing Wharfe named after a pub in Hebden Bridge. I went to have a quick look at it. It recalls a real event in the early years of Ted and Sylviaís marriage. They had just returned from America in December 1959 and Sylvia was four months pregnant with Frieda. They spent that Christmas in Yorkshire with family.

 

Perhaps some famous folk are born in the north afterall. I did a salute and left.

 

 

 

Note blue plaque outside last houseÖ

 

Wonder which was his bedroom?

 

 

 

Tedís wife, the poet Sylvia Palth, is buried nearby in Heptonstall Cemetery. Not the "Hughes" has been removed...

 

Outside Stubbing Wharfe pub in Hebden Bridge (frequented by Ted and Sylvia.) Ted wrote a poem of the same name.