My friend Ruth Bidgood, who has died aged 99, was one of the finest Welsh poets in English and one of the best British female poets of her generation. She was also a local historian who patiently recorded the hidden history of the Black Mountains and mid-Wales.
She was born in Seven Sisters, near Neath, the daughter of the Rev Herbert Jones and his English wife, Hilda (nee Garrett), an elementary school teacher, and educated at Port Talbot secondary school and St Hugh’s College, Oxford. In 1943 she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (the Wrens) and worked in Alexandria, Egypt, as a coder, a job she later said was “akin to writing poetry” – that is, searching for the right and precise word.
But like so many female poets, she was a late starter. She married David Bidgood in 1946, had three children and lived mainly in Coulsdon, Surrey, although in the mid-60s the family bought a bungalow at Abergwesyn, in a beautiful north Breconshire valley, for summer holidays. “The call of the land and the ruins” inspired her to start writing poetry and investigating the past. Making up for lost time, she published several poems in magazines and a first collection, The Given Time, in 1972. But soon afterwards her husband left her, and the “corrugated iron cottage” miles from anywhere became her permanent home. She didn’t drive and led a very quiet, though not reclusive, life for the rest of her days.
Fourteen volumes of poetry followed; she continued writing well into her 90s. Her great subject was the “green desert” of mid-Wales, the harsh landscape, standing stones, crumbling churches, neglected gravestones and abandoned slate mines. It was inexhaustible. Her “rush-ridden valley” was not pretty but something that could swallow “the bones of your life”. The stories of vanished people “who lived here and are not remembered” were reconstructed in her poetry and in more than 70 scholarly articles.
She was elected a fellow of the Welsh Academy and an honorary fellow of Aberystwyth University.
Ruth’s daughter, Janet, died in 2007. She is survived by her sons, Tony and Martin, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.