VIPembroke: Ted Hughes

Dísa Greaves explores where Ted Hughes lived in his days at Pembroke and talks to the students currently in the poet’s old residence.

Pembroke is our home, and as much as we like to complain about the myth of the central heating and the thin walls, we’ve all made those four walls our own. So have hundreds of other students before us, complete with 3am breakdowns in the very same rooms. Including our own VIP Valencians.

Ted Hughes spent his third year in E1 after changing to Archaeology and Anthropology from English. The room is quite the hidden gem, located right down the end of E staircase above the Old Library. At the time, it was one large set, but it’s since been split into two separate rooms, inhabited now by fresher HSPS student Jacob Brockmann and third year Philosophy of Science student, Emma Neville.

On the left-hand side is E1b. The door has a coat-hook hanging off the front - the first sign that a bedroom was not its intended purpose. The room is very cosy, with just enough space to move between the furniture, but not quite enough to open the drawers behind the bed at the same time as the door. But what the room lacks in square footage, it makes up for with the charming view over Old Court towards the chapel, perhaps a place of inspiration for Ted Hughes (or perhaps not, seeing as it was his cupboard...)

At the end of the corridor is the main room which Ted must have used as his bedroom. It’s arguably the best room in the whole of Pembroke, tucked away into the corner of Trumpington Street and Pembroke Street. The most noticeable thing, especially after visiting E1b first, is the sheer size of the room, as well as its striking beauty. Throughout the room is a dark wood antique theme, with roof beams crossing the room and a ornate wooden fireplace behind the bed. Emma, the current resident of this scholar’s room, knows some of its secrets. There’s a removable part of the beam, and inside are objects that previous students have hidden. Among other items is a piece of paper reading, “I am Ted Hughes” - though it’s uncertain that the red felt tip note really was scribbled by our former Poet Laureate...

From a little research, it seems that Ted’s choice of décor was mainly an accumulation of road signs from around Cambridge. This was much to the dismay of his tutor, who refused to give him a reference after graduating, not that it hurt his prospects all that much. In E1b, Jacob doesn’t have much room for décor and is a self-described minimalist. Nevertheless, he shows his patriotism with a full-sized Australian flag and cricket bat in full view. Emma’s take on the room is what can only be described as some sort of fairytale forest, what with the dark wood furniture and plethora of plants scattered around. It seems very fitting with the natural and mythical themes of the former resident’s poetry.

While sharing a room with Ted Hughes is quite special in itself, I asked Jacob and Emma who they wished had lived in their room. Jacob quick-wittedly replied with “Harry Potter”, an apt choice given the similarity of their living quarters. Emma said Gloria Steinem, the American feminist, for the inspiration to work harder - although we’re not sure much more work is required for someone who achieved a First as a NatSci! One massive perk of the rooms is location, location, location. It’s basically right on top of Trough - the location of dreams for most of us central college students, who are by nature inherently lazy.

A friend of Ted’s wrote of a culinary mishap he once had involving a landlady’s frying pan and a black pudding. A nod to the lack of opportunities for learning any life skills in the shelter of the Cambridge bubble? Perhaps less has changed for the sadly neglected gyp in the past 60 years than we might realise. •

Dísa Greaves is a first year Land Economist and the Pembroke Street blogger

Photos by Tasha May

Illustrations by Lizzy O'Brien