Pembroke acquires Ted Hughes’s writing desk and chair

by Alice Oates

Thanks to generous donations Pembroke has been able to acquire Ted Hughes’s writing desk and chair.

The desk and chair join an existing collection of manuscripts, books and artworks by and about Ted Hughes, who was a student at Pembroke in 1951. The most visible of these are the Yamada room windows, inscribed with Hughes’s poems and illustrations of animals. The desk and chair are an exciting addition, and we hope they will be an inspiration for future poets and readers of Hughes’s poems. Thank you to Mark Wormald, Pembroke Fellow and Ted Hughes specialist, and Patricia Aske, College Librarian, for bringing them to Pembroke.

Ted Hughes writing desk and chair, Pembroke College Cambridge

Ted Hughes’s writing desk and chair in place in the Yamada Room at Pembroke College

The Collection

In 2010 Pembroke hosted an international conference on Ted Hughes (1930-1998, Pembroke 1951) whose work we’d honoured a decade earlier with stained glass windows devoted to his poems. In 2011, lines from one of the poems in our library windows, ‘That Morning’, provided the inscription for the memorial plaque to Hughes at Poets’ Corner. In 2012, we began acquiring a collection of manuscript poems, printed books, original artwork, letters, ephemera by and about one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets and writers. That collection is still growing. In March 2018, assisted by a grant from the Friends of the National Libraries, we bought at auction a remarkable and moving copy of a rare edition of Animal Poems, printed in 1967 by a small press in Devon. In 1980 Hughes gave it as a Christmas present to his son Nicholas. It contains nine manuscript poems, all of them about fish or fishing, the passion they shared. Each tells a remarkable story,  months or years — in one case fifteen years —  before any other reader saw them. One, about pike fishing on a Devon reservoir, remains unpublished. ‘That Morning’ is there. So is his masterpiece ‘Pike’, and ‘An Otter’, inspired by Hughes’s own youthful love of Henry Williamson’s classic Tarka the Otter.

You can watch Mark and Pat discussing the collection in our crowdfunding video: