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Norman Nicholson Archive

Date range: 1914–87.

Norman Nicholson (1914–87) was a writer in the widest sense: he wrote novels, plays, short stories,  topographies, criticism, essays, reviews and biographies, but he was first and foremost a poet.

A strong sense of place permeated his writing (‘My ways are circumscribed, confined as a limpet | To one small radius of rock’), which was largely inspired by the landscape and industry of his native Millom, a small mining town in south-west Cumbria.

He spent the whole of his life, except for a period of two years in his adolescence when he was forcibly removed to a sanitorium in Hampshire to recover from tuberculosis, in his birthplace, 14 St George’s Terrace, Millom. T.S. Eliot had a strong influence on the development of Nicholson’s poetic style, and it was Faber and Faber who published his first collection of poetry, Five Rivers, in 1944. Later collections, also issued by Faber, included Rock Face (1948), The Pot Geranium (1954), A Local Habitation (1972) and Sea to the West (1981).

The archive contains a vast range of material generated by Nicholson throughout the course of his life, which reflects every aspect of his work as well as containing important biographical information.

The archive includes:

  • literary manuscripts, among them drafts of some of his best-known poems, typescripts and proofs
  • files relating to particular literary projects; agreements with publishers
  • a large quantity of correspondence with fellow writers, publishers, academics, critics and readers
  • photographs; news cuttings containing reviews, interviews, etc.
  • diaries and personal documents

Significant literary figures represented in the archive include: John Betjeman, Melvyn Bragg, George Mackay Brown, Charles Causley, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Kathleen Raine, Anne Ridler, Iain Crichton Smith, Stephen Spender and David Wright.

In 2006 the Library received from Nicholson’s cousin, Doreen Cornthwaite, a collection of over 130 letters from the poet, charting their long friendship from the time of their first meeting in 1968 to three years before Nicholson’s death. They are written in an informal, often affectionate and humorous tone, and form an interesting contrast to Nicholson’s more ‘literary’ correspondence with other writers, discussing friends and family matters, holidays and personal interests.

The archive also reflects Cornthwaite’s ongoing concern with Nicholson’s literary legacy and reputation, and includes: a large series of press cuttings and printed ephemera relating to Nicholson and his work; correspondence with family, friends and acquaintances of Nicholson; official correspondence relating to his estate; and correspondence with students, editors, writers, poets, researchers and others interested in or concerned with Nicholson’s work.

The Library also holds the Norman Nicholson book collection.

Finding aids

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • Stella K. Halkyard and C.B. McCully, '"Thoughts of Inventive Brains and the Rich Effusions of Deep Hearts": Some of the Twentieth-Century Literary Archives of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 77, no. 2 (1995), pp. 105-21.


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