Mytholmroyd - A West Yorkshire village that celebrates its literary heritage
PUBLISHED: 11:25 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:47 20 February 2013
An unassuming West Yorkshire village still attracts visitors from around the world as the childhood home of an exceptional literary talent. Bill Hearld finds out more
It was 80 years ago last month that the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes was born, putting the quiet village of Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, on the cultural map. Devotees from around the world have for many years descended here to pay homage to their poet hero. One woman makes the pilgrimage from Los Angeles every year to read his poetry in the countryside which inspired it.
Hughes, who became Poet Laureate in 1984 until his death on October 28th 1998, lived there only until he was eight, when his family moved to Mexborough in South Yorkshire. But it is universally agreed that it was the influence of the rugged Calder Valley landscape that shaped his life and his beloved poetry.
Together with his older brother, Gerald, he would roam the steep hillsides, moors and woodland around Mytholmroyd at every opportunity, hunting, shooting, camping and fishing, making fires and soaking up the wildlife and scenery.
Today, the village of 4,000 inhabitants, which was founded on the textile industry, gets on with the business of the present, but Ted Hughes is remembered and revered. A verse of his poetry is engraved on a heart-of-the-village feature, a conical projection which is named the Eye and the Needle but known locally as the spike in the new St Michaels Square.
The Elmet Trust is a charitable company set up in Mytholmroyd to celebrate the poetry of Ted Hughes. It stages an annual October Festival with walks, poetry events, talks and film screenings. It also awards annual poetry prizes, especially for youngsters, and it was the trust which refurbished Hughes childhood home, 1 Aspinall Street, into a writers retreat holiday home.
Mytholmroyds Calder High School named its new state-of-the-art school theatre a community theatre as well as a centre of excellence for the schools performing arts faculty after the former Poet Laureate.
And just up the road in Heptonstall, the little local museum is staging The Poetry of a Laureates Landscape, an exhibition featuring Hughes memorabilia including one of his ties, letters, and photographs local landscapes and a haunting portrait of Hughes on show locally for the first time after being donated to Calderdale by renowned artist Reginald Gray.
The exhibition continues until the museum, open only at weekends, closes for the season next month. Hughes first wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, is buried in the churchyard in Heptonstall
Mytholmroyd itself is a village that seems busier because of the volume of traffic on the A646 Halifax-Burnley road running through it. Trickling alongside the road is the River Calder where it meets Cragg Brook. The old heart of the village is made up of stone houses and some former textile mills, no doubt being eyed up by property developers for luxury apartment conversions at a future date.
One building claims still to be the worlds largest clog manufacturer. An annual World Dock Pudding Competition (puddings made of dock plants and other ingredients) is held at Mytholmroyd Community Centre in April every year and Mytholmroyd Gala takes place in August, with proceeds going to local charities.
The village is not short of amenities, including a railway station, churches, a library and the recent Mytholmroyd Shared Space, an innovative project which offers a flexible space for events together with an enterprise centre and the Erringden Room, a community hub, all in front of St Michaels Church in the centre of the village.
Donald Crossley is a lifelong resident of Mytholmroyd, a successful amateur landscape painter and a childhood playmate of Ted Hughes. He lived just a few doors away from the poet-to-be in Aspinall Street and both attended Burnley Road School.
They kept in touch over the years and Donald has many letters and signed books from his famous pal. He and his wife even spent holidays with the Hughes at their farm in the south of England. In 1989, Ted Hughes sent Donald a signed copy of his poetry book, Wolfwatching, inscribed: When thee and me played in muck little we knew our marvellous luck.
The thing I remember most about Ted was his passion for the countryside and wildlife, said Donald.
He was out on the hills or in the woods at every opportunity and was so close to nature. Thats why his poetry brings the local landscapes to life, especially Redacre Wood which was a sacred place for local boys for generations.
In his own way, Donald Crossley also brings the local landscapes to life through his talented watercolours, which can be seen in the local Abacus Gallery. Aged 78, he conducts Ted Hughes tours, showing the poets birthplace, where they played together, and tramping the hills and woods to reveal to worldwide visitors Hughes childhood happy hunting grounds.
Our mills and clothing factories have mostly gone, we are a market town without a market, but Mytholmroyd has the privilege of being the birthplace of a great Poet Laureate, he added.
Where it is: Mytholmroyd is on the A646 Halifax-Burnley Road, 1.5 miles east of Hebden Bridge and seven miles west of Halifax. It has a well-served railway station and some free and on-street car parking.
What to do: The village has three popular walks and a full year-round calendar of annual events, including celebrations of Ted Hughes (visit their website www.theelmettrust.co.uk for information); the annual World Dock Pudding Competition at Mytholmroyd Community Centre in April; and Mytholmroyd Gala in August.
Where to park: On street parking. Please park with consideration for residents