Ted Hughes: A first look inside unseen private collection and photos with Sylvia Plath

The sheer brilliance of the work of poet Ted Hughes and the public’s fascination with his life continues unabated nearly 24 years after his death.

Mytholmroyd-born Ted Hughes
Mytholmroyd-born Ted Hughes

And now a first look at a previously unseen private collection reveals the poet’s relationships, artistic endeavours and manuscripts, including unseen albums containing photographs of him and first his wife American poet Sylvia Plath.

Described as ‘one of the finest Hughes collections in private hands’, it was gathered over a lifetime by the late Huddersfield poet and Hughes expert, Mark Hinchliffe, and acquired by Huddersfield University from Mr Hinchliffe’s widow, Julie. It will remain in the university’s archives at the end of an exhibition, ‘Mark and Ted: Exploring the Mark Hinchliffe Ted Hughes Collection’ which runs until the end of September at the university’s Heritage Quay.

The Poet Laureate, who died in October 1998 at his home in Devon, was born in Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire in 1930 and moved to Mexborough in South Yorkshire as a child.

Megan Barford is pictured with the Jaguer Poem which is related to the Sculpture part of the Ted Hughes collection.

He is was known as much for his poetry and children’s books, as for his short six-year marriage to Plath, who had a history of mental health problems and died by suicide months after he left her.

Hughes was a prolific writer and it was Plath who encouraged him to submit his work, The Hawk in the Rain, for a competition for the Poetry Center, which won first prize and secured his reputation as a poet of international stature.

The Huddersfield exhibition focuses on Hughes’ work, his relationships with his family, friends and colleagues, and on the friendship between Hughes and Mark Hinchliffe, who died in 2019.

The university's archivist Dr Rebecca Bowd said: “Most of the items are on public display for the first time and we can’t wait to welcome visitors to Heritage Quay to get a glimpse into just some of the highlights from this fascinating collection.

Exhibition of work by Ted Hughes at the Heritage Quay, Huddersfield University

“Above all, the collection is a personal collection, one that was collated and shaped by Mark Hinchliffe over 40 years throughout which Hinchliffe spoke to Hughes and his family about the meanings behind the work. This research is part of the collection; many of the books are annotated by Hinchliffe; others have letters, or newspaper clippings, or plant and animal matter tucked inside.”

Dr Steve Ely, director of the Ted Hughes Network at the University added they’re “delighted” to have acquired Mr Hinchliffe’s “outstanding” collection.

Mr Hinchliffe’s widow Julie said he would be “very pleased” with his items’ new home.“It was his wish that the collection should remain intact and be available for academics, students and the public to enjoy as much as he did.”

If anyone would like to view additional material from the Mark Hinchliffe Ted Hughes Collection, or from any other of our Ted Hughes related collections at Heritage Quay, they can visit the research room when it is open to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays 9.30-5.00pm. For more information and questions about the collection, please email [email protected]

For further information about the collection, go to: https://heritagequay.org/archives/mhth/

The collection is funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Victoria and Albert/Arts Council England Acquisition Fund, The Friends of the National Libraries, and the University of Huddersfield.

What’s in the collection

The collection comprises of more than 170 items, including signed first editions, original letters written by Hughes, signed and annotated books from Hughes’s personal collection; a fine ceramic jaguar sculpted by Hughes in 1967, a photograph album containing hundreds of photographs, including some previously unseen photographs of both Hughes and Plath; a holograph manuscript of the radio play ‘Orpheus & Eurydice’ with some significant differences to the broadcast and published versions, and, a bespoke edition of the Gehenna Press’ limited edition Howls & Whispers, comprising the original fine-book, eight original watercolours by Leonard Baskin and a unique copper-plate, engraved portrait of Sylvia Plath.