The 1930s – Childhood in Mytholmroyd and Mexborough

Edward James Hughes was born on 17 August 1930 in 1 Aspinall Street, in Mytholmroyd [pron. "my-tholm-royd" as in "my"/"mine"], a village in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, England. He was the third child of Edith Farrar and William Henry Hughes.

Mytholmroyd, where Ted and his older sister and brother, Olwyn and Gerald, grew up, is surrounded by the stark, barren moorscape of the Yorkshire Pennines. For centuries, the area was dominated by the clothmaking industry, and many of its old spinning and weaving mills, its cottages, mill chimneys and reservoirs can still be seen today. The valley's Rochdale Canal and its railway line also date from the industrial boom-time of this part of England.

Mytholmroyd is located in an area, the overall mood of which can change dramatically with the weather. On a rainy day, the village and the valley bottom can be quite dark and depressing – an impression that must have been heightened during the 1930s by the much higher amounts of smoke and the blackened walls of most houses. Venturing onto the moors on an overcast day, you're likely to be met by a blasting wind and rain pelting at you almost horizontally. On a bright and sunny day, however, the area can be uplifting and exhilarating – the gentle curves of the moors rolling away in the distance.

From quite early on, Gerald (who was 10 years older than Ted) took his younger brother along on little adventures, hunting expeditions and camping trips [cf. e.g. "The Rock"]. These outings and Gerald's habit of mythologising their outdoor world as prehistoric or native American, left a strong and lasting impression on young Ted – one that he would be hankering after for the rest of his life [cf. e.g. "Ted Hughes. The Art of Poetry LXXI" in The Paris Review, Vol. 37, No. 134, 1995]. Hughes also wrote several stories and poems alluding to adventures he had with Gerald, such as the poem "The Ancient Briton Lay Under his Rock" or the story "The Deadfall", for example.

His childhood in Mytholmroyd seems to have been a very happy one, playing out in the neighbourhood, roaming Redacre Wood and the hillsides, damming brooks, trying to catch fish in the canal, going on picknicks with Olwyn and his mother, or swimming in rocky pools in Crag Vale on the other side of the valley ... It was a time when many everyday customs and ways of doing things where very much different from what they are now, including the scouring and chalking of doorsteps once a week [cf. "View of a Pig"], washing days, afternoons at Chapel, swings being chained up on Sunday …


In 1938 the family moved to Mexborough, a mining town in South Yorkshire, where the parents opened a newsagent's and tobacconist's shop. Olwyn and Ted thoroughly disliked the new place [cf. "Capturing Animals" in Poetry in the Making: 16]. Gerald went off to work as assistant gamekeeper in Devon for a year before doing his National Service in the RAF.

Apparently it was Gerald who located an area which became Ted's new hunting ground at the end of the village on the opposite river bank. Having got friendly with the farmers, he could roam the fields, small patches of forest and the river marshes there.

According to Keith Sagar, it was here that he made the striking encounter – coming face to face with a fox – that later became an inspiration for the famous "Thought-Fox". At the time he was still obsessed with hunting and capturing animals, so he kept traplines for mice, moles and the like, and he would cure and sell their skins at school [cf. e.g. "So Quickly It's Over": 54].

View of Mytholmroyd from Scout Rock. looking tow. Hebden Bridge
Mytholmroyd from Scout Rock (2004, looking tow. Hebden Bridge); Aspinal St is close to the left corner of the football pitch at center right; Redacre Wood is in the centre behind the water works
1 Aspinal Street, Mytholmroyd (2004)
1 Aspinal Street, Mytholmroyd (2004)
1 Aspinal St, from Mt Zion site (2004)
1 Aspinal St, Mytholmroyd from where Mt Zion Chapel stood (2004)
Rochdale Canal nr. Banksfields (2002)
Rochdale Canal, view towards Banksfields estate from bridge near Redacre Mill (2002)
Standing stone "Churn Milk Joan" (2004)
On the moors: Standing stone "Churn Milk Joan" with Scout Rock on opposite side of the valley (2004)
Mexborough Canal, looking from Bank St towards Old Denaby (2004)
Mexborough Canal, looking from Bank St towards Old Denaby; Manor Farm was at the end of the field behind the trees in the centre (2004)
Related Resources

... is maintained by Frances Robinson. It has a "Hughes Corner" and regularly features news relating to Mytholmroyd and the area. [Click the image for more]