CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

For rent: Scene of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s first night

'18 Rugby Street' sheds light on the literary couple’s troubled and passionate relationship

01 December, 2016 — By Ella Jessel

18 Rugby Street

IT is the grade-II listed townhouse in Bloomsbury where two giants of the literary world, poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, began their romance amidst “Victorian torpor and squalor”.

Now, the setting for their first dates, 18 Rugby Street – the title of Hughes’ poem about the couple’s first night together – is up for rent.

Sixty years on, prospective tenants will no doubt find something more attractive than the pale grey flat with no running water described by Hughes.

Plath, best known for her semi-autobiograph­ical novel The Bell Jar, first visited Hughes at the house in 1956 and has long been associated with the borough of Camden. She lived with Hughes in Chalcot Square, in Primrose Hill, and died at her house in Fitzroy Road, where she com­mitted suicide aged 30.

But Judith Palmer, director of the Poetry Society, a Bloomsbury-based organisation which represents British poetry across the world, said 18 Rugby Street is a reminder that not all of the couple’s connections to the area are “sad ones”.

“People focus most immediately on the home in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, where Plath took her own life”, said Ms Palmer, adding: “It would be good to think that number 18 might attract another literary tenant, who’ll enjoy a happy and creative life there.

“There’s still plenty of poetry on the doorstep, with The Poetry Society only minutes away at the heart of a thriving community of readers and writers.”

The low rents of the lodgings in the heart of Bloomsbury’s celebrated cultural centre meant number 18 attracted a wealth of creative talent for decades.

Ted Hughes Sylvia Plath

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

The poem “18 Rugby Street” appears in Birthday Letters, a volume published a few months before Hughes’ death that sheds light on the couple’s troubled and passionate relationship.

The former poet laureate describes the house’s “unlit and unlovely lavatory”, its lack of running water and how its four floors acted as a stage set for its occupants and played host to “an unmysterious laboratory of amours”.

Since then, the house has no doubt had a number of makeovers and its prime location means it is unlikely to be the backdrop for the trysts of future struggling poets. A six-bedroom property, it was given an internal refurbishment in 2012 but historic features like timber panels will be retained.

Nevertheless, agents Farebrother, who did not wish to comment this week and provided no further property details, will no doubt be inundated with viewing requests from curious poetry fans hoping for a glimpse inside a home seeped in literary history.

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