Ted Hughes OM OBE was an English poet, playwright, translator, and children’s writer. Poet Laureate.
Edward James Hughes “Ted” (1930-1998) was born in Mytholmroyd, a large village in the Upper Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, England, two miles east of Hebden Bridge. He lived and worked in Cambridge and London.
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
On 25 February 1956, Hughes met the accomplished American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) who had already published extensively and won various awards.
Their second meeting did not take place until 23 March, when Plath visited Hughes in London on her way to Paris.
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married at St George the Martyr in Southwark, London, four-months later on 16 June.
Hughes became deeply interested in the occult, astrology, and the supernatural, using Ouija boards, while they were living in Cambridge.
In June 1957, they moved from Cambridge to America so that Plath could take a teaching position at her alma mater, Smith College, Massachusetts. Hughes taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. They were avidly writing.
Sylvia Plath entered Hughes’s work for a prestigious American competition which he won, and the publication of The Hawk in the Rain (1957) immediately established him as a leading younger British poet.
Ted and Sylvia Hughes returned to England where they resided for a short while in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, until they found a small flat in Primrose Hill, London.
In 1960, Ted Hughes began to seriously explore myth and esoteric practices within – perceiving that imagination could heal dualistic splits in the human psyche and poetry was the language of the work.
Hughes sought to open himself to alternative modes of knowledge such as Astrology (which he often used to determine the publication dates of his books), Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, Shamanism, and the hermetic sciences – Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Cabbala.
Some of his works have a hidden (or, in the case of Cave Birds, 1975, overt) alchemical structure.
In 1961, Hughes simplified some of the exercises he had been using with Plath to release her true poetic voice (concentration techniques and dreams) as a series of radio talks for schools, later collected as Poetry in the Making (1967).
In February 1961, Sylvia’s second pregnancy sadly ended in miscarriage; mentioned in several of her poems, including “Parliament Hill Fields.”
Hughes and Plath had two surviving children; Frieda born in London (1960) and Nicholas born in Devon (1962).
In the autumn of 1961, Ted and Sylvia Hughes visited North Tawton in Devon.
Consequently, they acquired the quaint 18th-century thatched former manor house named Court Green, in Essington, North Tawton.
In the summer of 1962, Ted Hughes began an affair with Assia Wevill who had been subletting the Primrose Hill flat along with her husband.
Sylvia Plath soon separated from Ted Hughes and left Court Green. She found a new flat in London and lived there along with her two children.
Tragically, Sylvia ended her own life on 11 February 1963, and was laid to rest at Heptonstall Church, West Yorkshire.
Hughes moved his partner Assia Wevill into Court Green, North Tawton, where she helped with the care of Ted and Sylvia’s two children.
Assia Wevill (1927-1969) was an accomplished woman, successful in her marketing career, linguistically gifted, and an aspiring poet.
In 1965, Alexandra Tatiana Elise “Shura” was born to Assia Wevill and Ted Hughes.
Hughes’s infidelity caused Assia Wevill to move out of Court Green, North Tawton, and live in their London home along with her daughter.
In 1969, Assia Wevill tragically ended her own life and the life of four-year-old Shura.
August 1970, Ted Hughes married Carol Orchard, a local nurse 20 years his junior, and they lived in Court Green, North Tawton, along with Frieda and Nicholas.
On 11 June 1977, the announcement of the honours to celebrate Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee and Birthday included the award of an OBE – Officer of the Order of the British Empire – to Edward James Hughes (author). 
In 1984, Ted Hughes received the appointment of Poet Laureate and held the office until his death in Southwark, London, on 28 October 1998.
O.M. Order of Merit
Two weeks before he died, Ted Hughes was admitted into the Order of Merit by Her Majesty The Queen.
His funeral service was held on 3 November 1998, at St Peter’s Church, North Tawton, and he was cremated in Exeter.
In the United Kingdom, a circular “Blue Plaque” is installed in a public place to commemorate a link between the site location and a famous person.
On 28 April 2011, a blue plaque was unveiled on the wall of the Town Council office building in North Tawton by Hughes’ widow Carol Hughes; In memory of Ted Hughes O.M. Poet Laureate Parishioner of North Tawton 1961-1998.
Poets Corner – Westminster Abbey
Ted Hughes was commemorated with a memorial floor stone in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, on 6 December 2011. Fellow poet Seamus Heaney unveiled the memorial in front of 300 guests.
Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and actress Juliet Stevenson gave readings at the ceremony, which was attended by Hughes’ widow Carol and daughter Frieda Hughes, and by the poets Simon Armitage, Blake Morrison, Andrew Motion and Sir Michael Morpurgo.
Poets’ Corner is the name traditionally given to a section of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey because of the high number of poets, playwrights and writers buried and commemorated there.
The six hundred year tradition of honouring the greatest poets of the age with a tomb, monument, or memorial floor stone in Westminster Abbey Poets’ Corner include; William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Geoffrey Chaucer (the first poet interred in Poets’ Corner), T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, John Keats, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and William Wordsworth.
Around the memorial, in a circle, is an extract of “That Morning” from Ted Hughes collection of River poems:
So we found the end of our journey So we stood alive in the river of light Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.Ted Hughes
The memorial stone image can be viewed and purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
T. S. Eliot
Hughes memorial stone in Westminster Abbey is situated below the memorial stone of his mentor Thomas Stearns Eliot OM, an American-born British poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor.
Eliot influenced, among many others, Ted Hughes, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, Seamus Heaney, and James Joyce.
Further Reading About Former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes:
- About North Tawton
- ANTS – The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
- Edna Eglinton – Poet and Children’s Writer
- Ring Out, Wild Bells – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Tarka Trail walk along the River Taw
1. Ted Hughes – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
2. London Gazette.