Ted Hughes & Seamus Heaney: Will Gompertz reports on a previously hidden treasure trove

Will Gompertz
Arts editor
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Publishedduration9 hours agoimage copyrightTopfotoimage captionTed Hughes and Seamus Heaney enjoying each other's company

A recently discovered archive of previously unseen letters, drawings and poems by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney – two of the great post-war poets – has been acquired by Pembroke College, Cambridge, which will put them on public display. Will Gompertz spoke to the man behind the find.

It was May 2013, not that the month or the year meant a great deal to Barrie Cooke. Dementia was robbing the 81-year old artist of his quick wit and sharp mind. Although he was still painting, the present was a mystery to him, the past an evaporating memory.

Days came and went.

On this particular May morning he was sitting – as he did every day – in an unprepossessing armchair in an assisted-living facility in County Kilkenny, Ireland – a country that'd been home to the Cheshire-born painter since the mid-1950s.

Opposite him was Mark Wormald, an energetic English lecturer from Cambridge University. The two had met a year earlier at Wormald's behest when Barrie was in better shape and still living in his own home in County Sligo. The 54-year academic had been in the British Library trawling through Ted Hughes's fishing diaries when he came across an entry containing Barrie's name. He was curious and read on.

Turned out Barrie and Ted went way back. They'd been close friends for decades, bound by a passion for poetry and fishing.