The Ted Hughes Project (South Yorkshire)
The Ted Hughes Project (South Yorkshire) is a community-based group rooted in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. Mexborough was Ted Hughes’s home in the period 1938-1951 and Hughes was formed as a poet in the town.
The THP (SY) seeks to celebrate and commemorate Hughes’s time in Mexborough by generating art and creativity in his name. Within this context, our aims are three-fold.
We produce an annual Ted Hughes Poetry Festival, programming high quality poets and performers with established and rising reputations. Our festival programming also includes visual arts, children’s activities and a distinctive strand of poetry walks.
Secondly, we are developing a Ted Hughes Trail, a self-guided walk to the key locations of Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire period, at each one of which will be an appropriate installation or information board. Although from 2017 we will be working with the University of Huddersfield’s Ted Hughes Network to develop a more ambitious, Yorkshire-wide Ted Hughes Heritage & Literary Trail, our first two installations are in place at Mexborough Business Centre and at Old Denaby, and we have developed an accompanying map and leaflet.
Thirdly, we are seeking to develop creativity — poetry, writing and art — in and around Mexborough. Our highly successful community creative writing group Write on Mexborough! and our extensive work with schools are the main manifestations of this strand.
The THP (SY) is a friendly, welcoming and inclusive group that welcomes new members. There is a significant tradition of poetry and writing in South Yorkshire, which we are seeking to uncover, tap into, liberate and develop. If you’re interested in joining us on this journey, we’d be more than happy to welcome you aboard.
The THP (SY) is funded and supported by Arts Council England, Right Up Our Street and Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership. We also receive financial and other support from the Concertina Club, Mexborough Business Centre, the Ted Hughes Network at the University of Huddersfield, and Thomas Tunnock Ltd.
Ted Hughes & South Yorkshire
Although it has always been known that Ted Hughes spent a significant part of his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in Mexborough, scholars and biographers have paid little sustained attention to the period. It was not until the publication of Steve Ely’s Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made in Mexborough in 2015 that the seminal role South Yorkshire played in Hughes’s formation was fully articulated.
The Hughes family (father Billy, mother Edith, eight years-old Ted and his siblings Gerald and Olwyn) moved to Mexborough from Mytholmroyd in September 1938 when Billy and Edith acquired a newsagent’s shop in the town at 75 Main Street. Hughes lived ‘over the shop’ on Main Street until September 1951, when he went up to Cambridge. During his time in Mexborough, Hughes had the experiences and was exposed to the influences which formed him as a poet.
It was in the countryside around Mexborough where Hughes developed the deep knowledge of animals, nature and landscape that was to inform his poetry so deeply — initially through shooting and trapping, and latterly as an observer. It was at Vinah’s Pond, Old Denaby and latterly the pond at Crookhill, that Hughes developed the obsession with fishing that was to so powerfully influence his life and poetry.
At Mexborough Grammar School, Hughes came under the spell of Pauline Mayne and John Fisher, two charismatic teachers who introduced him to the poetry and art that would form his taste and shape his own work — Beethoven, Donne, Eliot, Hopkins, Kipling, Lawrence, Yeats — and, of course, his beloved Shakespeare. He published his first poem, ‘Wild West’, in the Mexborough Grammar School magazine, the Don & Dearne, in 1946 — and in that year he resolved to become a poet.
During his time in the Sixth Form at the school, Hughes developed into a precocious ‘man of letters’, writing skits, reviews and articles, directing and acting in plays — and, of course, writing poems and short stories, several of which were published in the school magazine. By the age of eighteen, Hughes had clearly evolved into the poet of his subsequent fame and was recognised as a poet by his teachers, peers, friends and family.
Although Hughes left Mexborough in 1951 (he returned on many occasions, generally to visit old friends, most notably his former teacher, John Fisher), South Yorkshire was to influence his poetry throughout his life. Hughes wrote over twenty poems or short stories with direct South Yorkshire links (including ‘Pike’, ‘View of a Pig’, ‘The Bull Moses’ and ‘On the Reservations’). The landscape, flora and fauna of South Yorkshire underpin and inform his work more generally and those familiar with the area will discern a distinctive South Yorkshire temperament (an assertive, laconic intelligence, seasoned with ribaldry and a penchant for subversive humour) at work in Hughes’s writing.
* The full story of the importance of Ted Hughes’s Mexborough period is told in Steve Ely’s book Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made in Mexborough (Palgrave Macmillan). http://www.palgrave.com/uk/book/9781137499349
Write on Mexborough!
Write on Mexborough! is a community creative writing group now in its fourth year. Open to writers at any level of experience — participants have ranged from complete beginners to multi-published novelists — Write on Mexborough! offers a mixture of seminar style sessions, peer assessment and masterclasses from published poets and fiction writers, who have included Simon Crump, Michael Fowler, Carola Luther, Helen Mort, Ian Parks & Michael Stewart.
Writers are able to focus on poetry, prose or script and may work on ongoing projects or simply write in response to the exercises and prompts given by the tutor — or a mixture of the two. Participants have the opportunity to have their work published in a pamphlet anthology of the group’s work and to perform their work at events sponsored by the THP (SY).
Write on Mexborough! is led by experienced and published tutor-writers. Steve Ely has led the group since 2014. However, the new iteration (beginning in September 2017) will be refreshed with new poet-tutors and a new programme. Members old and new are welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
Ted Hughes’s Paper Round
Ted Hughes’s Paper Round was devised and created by Steve Ely and Dominic Somers as a Performance Trail around Mexborough & Old Denaby based on the route of Ted Hughes’s Paper Round, which Steve was able to reconstruct from comments and references Hughes made in his letters.
Taking in 75 Main Street, Mexborough Grammar School, the South Yorkshire Navigation Canal, the Ferryboat Crossing to Old Denaby, Vinah’s Pond and Manor Farm, it reveals the locations of several of Hughes’s South Yorkshire poems, including ‘The Bull Moses’, ‘The Harvesting’, ‘Her Husband’, ‘The Rain Horse’, ‘Sunstroke’ and ‘View of a Pig’.
Ted Hughes’s Paper Round enables participants to experience Hughes’s most formative landscape — his Old Denaby experiences contributed significantly to the development of the mythopoeic imagination that underpinned all Hughes poetry — first hand. The Paper Round also exposes some fascinating aspects of Mexborough’s history.
Dominic’s skilful, dramatic and often tongue-in-cheek staging creates an event that is full of surprises, in which the audience becomes part of the performance. The event is often enhanced with contributions from THP (SY) volunteers, participants and festival performers, with Gerry Cambridge, Cathy Galvin, Lyndsey Holland, Greg Leadbetter, David Morley, Helen Mort, Ian Parks, Vidyan Ravinthiran and Ed Reiss all contributing to recent iterations.
Ted Hughes’s Paper Round features at every Ted Hughes Poetry Festival and is often staged on other occasions. Keep your eye on the website for notifications of future performances.
Ted Hughes’s Paper Round was featured on Radio Four’s The Echo Chamber on 2nd April 2017.