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Norman Nicholson Papers

Date range: 1899-2005

Medium: Archive

Norman Nicholson (1914–1987) was a writer in the widest sense: he wrote novels, plays, short stories, topographical books, criticism, essays, reviews and biographies, but he was first and foremost a poet.

A strong sense of place permeated his writing, 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 in his birthplace, 14 St George’s Terrace, Millom, except for a period of two years in his adolescence, which he spent in a Hampshire sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis. 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 included Rock Face (1948), The Pot Geranium (1954), A Local Habitation (1972) and Sea to the West (1981), all issued by Faber.

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, typescript sand 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 of reviews, interviews, etc;
  • Personal and family 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.

In addition, there are several smaller collections of correspondence between Nicholson and other writers and friends, including David Wright, Tom Kelly, Matt Simpson and Sylvia Lubelsky (a friend from the TB sanatorium). There are also a number of small accessions of individual letters and manuscripts as well as a collection of letters, cuttings and ephemera which were originally inserted by Nicholson in the volumes making up his book collection.

See also:

Further information:

Catalogues available online on ELGAR for the following:

Catalogues of other Norman Nicholson-related collections are available via Special Collections reading rooms.

See also 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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