British Library apologises for naming Ted Hughes in slavery dossier
British Library apologises to Ted Hughes’ widow for naming the late poet in a dossier on slavery and colonial links because of a distant ancestor
- Former Poet Laureate found to be descendant of slave trader Nicholas Ferrar
- British Library has since apologised and is conducting a review into its research
- The library personally apologised to Ted Hughes’s widow, Carol Hughes
The British Library has apologised to Ted Hughes’s widow and family for naming him in a dossier on slavery and colonial links.
The former Poet Laureate, who came from humble origins in Yorkshire, was found to be a descendant of Nicholas Ferrar who was involved in the slave trade some 300 years before Hughes was born.
Ferrar, born in 1592, and his family, were ‘deeply involved’ with the London Virginia Company, which sought to establish colonies in North America.
But the British Library has since published an apology saying they ‘regret profoundly the distress that this has caused’ and have removed the spreadsheet.
The library will now conduct a review into the research.
The British Library has apologised to Ted Hughes’s widow and family for naming him in a dossier on slavery and colonial links
In a statement they personally apologised to Ted Hughes’s widow, Carol Hughes.
A spokesman said: ‘In particular we wish to apologise to Mrs Carol Hughes, widow of the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, and to other family members and friends, owing to a reference included in the spreadsheet to a distant ancestor which should not have been made, and which we withdraw unreservedly.
‘While the document involved has been removed pending review, this reference will not be made again.’
The spreadsheet was initially created to identify collections associated with wealth obtained from enslaved people or through colonial violence.
Hughes was born in 1930 in the village of Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire where his father worked as a joiner before running a newsagent’s and a tobacconist’s.
A spokesman said: ‘In particular we wish to apologise to Mrs Carol Hughes (pictured), widow of the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, and to other family members and friends, owing to a reference included in the spreadsheet to a distant ancestor which should not have been made, and which we withdraw unreservedly’
He attended Cambridge University on a scholarship where he met his future wife Sylvia Plath.
Along with Hughes, who died in 1998, the British Library identified Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde and George Orwell as benefits of slavery through distant relatives.
It is part of the institution’s plans to become ‘actively anti-racist’ by providing context to the remembrance of historical figures.
It comes in the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter movement which led to a reassessment of a number of people and institutions from our past.
But the tenuous link between Hughes and Ferrar, who he is related to through his mother’s side, prompted ire among experts of the great writer.
His biographer Sir Jonathan Bate said: ‘It’s ridiculous to tar Hughes with a slave trade connection. And it’s not a helpful way to think about writers.
‘Why on earth would you judge the quality of an artist’s work on the basis of distant ancestors?’
The British Library (pictured) has since published an apology saying they ‘regret profoundly the distress that this has caused’ and have removed the spreadsheet
He added that Ferrar was better known as a priest and a scholar who founded the religious community Little Gidding.
Romantic poet Lord Byron was added to this list because his great-grandfather was a merchant who owned an estate in Grenada.
His uncle through marriage also owned a plantation in St Kitts.
Oscar Wilde was included because of his uncle’s interest in the slave trade, even though the research noted there was no evidence the acclaimed Irish writer inherited any of the money through the practice.
Meanwhile George Orwell, who was born Eric Blair in India, had a great-grandfather who was a wealthy slave owner in Jamaica.
But the Orwell Society said the money had long since disappeared before Orwell was even born.
It was recently reported how the British Library was also ‘reviewing’ its Sir Hans Sloane manuscripts after activists targeted one of scores of London landmarks – including the famous Sloane Square – which are named after the pioneering doctor.
The move was revealed in a note on its website, and coincides with a wider review of Sloane’s legacy that saw the British Museum – which he founded – remove his bust from a pedestal and attach the label ‘slave owner’.
The 18th-century philanthropist partly funded his collection of 71,000 artefacts with money from his wife’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, which used slave labour.
A statue of his likeness on Duke of York Square, off the Kings Road, has attracted the ire of protesters.
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