Welcome to the website of the Norman Nicholson Society. The site aims to provide information about Nicholson and his work and encourage the study and enjoyment of this remarkable man's writings, especially in 2014, the centenary of his birth. Here you will also find information about the NN Society which holds regular events and publishes the newsletter Comet. The Society is based in Millom, on the banks of the River Duddon and in the shadow of Black Combe (pictured), and has a worldwide membership. New members are warmly welcomed.
Header picture of Black Combe in winter by Sue Dawson. 'Centenary' portrait of Norman Nicholson copyright Ray Troll. NN lines from 'The Seventeenth Of The Name' (1972).
Any ideas for a poem for me to read?
Following the AGM of Melrose Literary Society on 1st April, we will have literary readings from members. The subject will be "Spring" (well, good to be original !). Any ideas for an NN poem for me to read? My preference is "Waiting for Spring 1943". I've never read an analysis of this poem - are there references to Stalingrad here? Perhaps a clue is that the next poem in "Five Rivers" is "Stalingrad : 1942". Are the dead and injured of Stalingrad those to whom "The snow is their only eiderdown, the frost / Their only morphia" - and what can we make of "Spring is a terrible season, atonement not to be told....." ? Likewise "the anger of love". Some echoes here, perhaps, of Wilfred Owen's "At a Calvary near the Ancre"; the Church says, "love one another, love your enemies" but in war, that message doesn't fit with patriotism; in the trenches, the Church can only offer anger and hatred of the enemy. Interestingly, if there is an echo of Owen, was Nicholson aware of his poems - the Edmund Blunden's edition was published in 1931 - was a copy available to the boy of 17 in the sanatorium?
Any answers or suggestions for Malcolm? Please respond via our contact form - click here to find it.
posted February 24th 2014
Pay tribute to Nicholson’s geniality and genius
Nicholson may not have used the word ‘gala’ in his Collected Poems but he certainly knew how to celebrate with musical gusto and energetic delight, jubilating in the ordinary and extraordinary alike, touching the words of his poems with a zest for life, even when contemplating death, destruction or decay. You get the sensation when reading the poems – or listening to rare recordings of Nicholson’s voice – that he enjoyed the feel of words in the mouth, and the touch of voice in the air. ‘Gala’ would undoubtedly take its place in Nicholson’s vocabulary, along with ‘galleys’ and ‘gales’ and ‘galleons’, ‘nightingales’ and ‘sweetgales’, ‘galaxies’ and ‘Galloway’, ‘gallons’ and ‘gall’, all words which pricked his imagination and made his poetry dance.
‘Gala’, the Oxford English Dictionary tells me, is of Italian and French origin and is perhaps derived from words for merriment and/or for finery. Let us ‘gallivant’ together then and pay tribute to Nicholson’s geniality and genius at our Gala Lunch at the Lighthouse Centre in Haverigg, Millom LA18 4HA on Saturday April 26th 2014.
Members will soon receive a letter and booking form with full details of the event and are urged to book swiftly, as only 80 tickets will be sold. Tickets will be made available to non-members after our booking deadline of the 31st March.
We won’t promise you the sensual luxuries imagined by Nicholson in his poem ‘Belshazzar’, but we will celebrate in style and with poetic passion. Oh, and there will be a Brass Band!
That day in the city there were banners slung
Across the streets, from balconies and chimneys,
Swinging in the wind like smoke, and telegraph poles
Were hung with geraniums; military bands
Marched down the thoroughfares and bugles rang
Against the plate-glass frontages. […]
They poured the yellow wine in the grey silver,
The red in the yellow gold, and plates were piled
With quails and nightingales and passion fruit,
And the air was a fume of music.
From ‘Belshazzar’ by Norman Nicholson
Do join us!
posted February 10th 2014
The quick ring-plover shifts and disappears
Like a puddle in the sun, and the stones stay
Perfect and purposeful, acknowledging no way
Other of being than this.
(from Silecroft Shore, pub 1948 in the 'Rock Face' collection)
photo of Silecroft beach by Charlie Lambert
posted Janury 29th 2014
"If I lived here for 500 years I would still have things to write about"
Dr Malcolm Morrison writes via the website contact form:
Elsewhere on the website, Michael Mitchell compares Norman Nicholson with another wonderful poet, George Mackay Brown; both were criticised for being "provincial" and therefore overlooked by many.
George rarely left Orkney - once he went to Oxford, but otherwise never travelled further south than Edinburgh. In 1994 he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize with his novel "Beside The Ocean of Time" - he refused to travel to London for the award ceremony.
He was criticised that he never left Orkney to join the "rough and tumble of the world", but replied "If I lived here for 500 years I would still have things to write about". Seamus Heaney said of his poetry: "he transforms everything by passing it through the eye of the needle of Orkney".
He stayed in Stromness for all but six years of his life - if he required a change of scene, he went off to stay at a farmhouse a couple of miles down the road. He seemed to need the familiar landscape of his native Orkney to ground and fire his creativity. The Orkney writer, Eric Linklater said "GMB is a good poet, a true poet, and essentially a poet of Orkney - it is his persistent theme and constant inspiration.
Thank you Malcolm for this very interesting comparison.
Posted January 26th 2014
Waiting for Spring
WAITING FOR SPRING is a concert of Words and Music to be staged at Swarthmoor Methodist Church near Ulverston on Saturday 29th March 2014, 7.30pm. The event, organised by NN Society member Ann Thomson, will feature readings from Norman Nicholson's poetry and prose. Refreshments provided. Admission free - charity donations.
New web-links: evidence of a growing interest in Nicholson’s work
If activity on the Internet is anything to go by, the first fortnight of Norman Nicholson’s Centenary Year has awoken a growing interest in his work. New readers are intrigued to find how contemporary many of his themes still are, and those already familiar with his work are finding new facets to explore, or re-discovering how much his poems and prose mean to them.
The first crop of centenary year web-links has been added to our links page and includes an article by poet Mary Robinson describing her relationship with Nicholson’s poetry and prose works, and setting his writing in a wider context, a piece by Fran Baker on an early album of Nicholson’s verse, co-authored with Ted Fisher, and an article by society member Ann Thomson on Nicholson’s Methodist links.
Other web-articles include Grevel Lindop’s assessment of Nicholson as ‘an essential poet’, a couple of interesting blog entries by poet Mike Smith, a report from the North West Evening Mail on the first week of the centenary celebrations, and a listing of poets with whom Nicholson shares his centenary.
There are links also to the magazines Cumbria Life and Cumbria which feature articles on Nicholson in their January 2014 issues, and to a very interesting and alert article by Nathan Richardson on Nicholson and Larkin.
Explore and enjoy!
Please alert us, via the website Contact Page, if you know of any other relevant web-links we haven’t yet discovered.
- Antoinette Fawcett (Editor, Comet)
posted January 19th 2014
The centenary celebrations continue to spark off reflections and reminiscences. Simon Johnson sent this via our contact form: I come from Furness. Spent a lot of time on Walney beach (Ernse Bay) looking across at Millom and Black Combe. Have always loved poetry. Have kept pot geraniums for decades because they do just what he says they do in the poem. Have known of Norman Nicholson. Have read his poems and taught the odd one in class at school. But didn't know he came from five miles across the Duddon sands from where I used to stand as a boy and feel inspired.
And Brian Anderson posted this on our Facebook page:
I have just started reading Kathleen Jones' book 'The Whispering Poet' on Norman Nicholson. I note in the penultimate chapter she refers to him 'visiting schools in the 1970's'. And indeed that's what happened. Norman visited my 'A' level English Literature class in 1976 and discussed the themes and inspiration behind some of his poems, Cleator Moor, Windscale, Whitehaven etc. I have greatly admired his work since then.
All similar thoughts and memories are welcome.
posted January 17th 2014
Can you contribute to this book?
Steve Matthews of the Bookcase shop in Carlisle is planning to bring out a book about Norman Nicholson, based on essays, memoirs, and any other short pieces (approx 2000 to 10000 words) that anyone has written or would like to write. Contributions should be emailed to Steve at BookcaseCarlisle@aol.com
posted January 17th 2014
Mary Robinson asks: is this the right time for a reassessment?
"Wait! Come closer. I've something to tell".
Hearing a recording of Norman Nicholson reading those words from "The Whisperer" was spine-tingling. It was one of the highlights of the centenary celebrations at the Wordsworth Bookshop in Penrith.
There is an upsurge of writing about the environment at the moment. The time is ripe for a re-assessment of Norman Nicholson's work. Let's ditch the "provincialism" debate and look at his writing in the context of ecology, edgelands and sustainability.
Driving to Penrith I heard the musician Joshua Rifkin being interviewed on the radio. Years ago he championed the (now very popular) ragtime music of Scott Joplin. "Why did you do it? he was asked. "Because his work deserves to be heard". Why are we celebrating Norman Nicholson's centenary? Because his work deserves to be heard.
I've something to tell."
- Mary Robinson
posted January 10th 2014
Radio Cumbria replays Robson
Provincial Pleasures, Radio 4's programme about Norman Nicholson presented by Eric Robson, will be repeated on BBC Radio Cumbria this Sunday at 2.30pm.
posted January 9th 2014
A lovely, intimate evening
The event at the Wordsworth Bookshop in Penrith was a lovely, intimate evening in a great venue. Mary Robinson and Mike Smith presented slides, readings and recordings of or relating to Nicholson and his work, and several enthusiasts contributed readings, including Phil Houghton, a long-term member of the Society. A version of Mary's talk is available on the internet at her blog: http://maryrobinsonpoetry.blogspot.co.uk/. I was invited by Mary to make a short presentation about the society, and left copies of our new leaflet with her. Mike's recordings of Nicholson date back to the late 1970s and were made at 14, St. George's Terrace.
- Antoinette Fawcett
posted January 9th 2014
Still packing them in after 100 years
In Carlisle's Caffe Nero a woman was spotted reading Sea to the West. BBC Radio Cumbria ran a series of interviews about Norman Nicholson throughout the day, including Neil Curry and later Peggy Troll in the breakfast show, and an excellent chat by reporter Neil Smith with Simone Faulkner and two students from Millom School. In Kevin Fernihough's morning show Neil spoke again to Peggy and also Sue Dawson and Dot Richardson, and Charlie Lambert was a guest on Emma Borthwick's drivetime show.
At Carlisle Library it was a full house for the afternoon of talks organised by Bookends. David Cross spoke about NN and the artist Percy Kelly and made the point, "Beautiful things can be found outside the National Park."
Alan Beattie presented an enlightening talk about NN's verse plays, reading extracts along with his wife Kay and surprising most of the audience with the relevance the plays have to contemporary issues such as sustainable agriculture.
Neil Curry took the audience through NN's poetry. Among those he picked out was The Pot Geranium which, said Neil, was Norman's response to the critics who "accused" him of provincialism.
Finally Kathleen Jones spoke about her new biography of Nicholson The Whispering Poet. Among many fascinating points in a very informative session Kathleen said that Norman's tuberculosis influenced his entire life: it taught him to be selfish to protect his health, but Norman had a sweetness about him which meant people would forgive him his egotism.
News that this evening's event with Mike Smith and Mary Robinson at the Wordsworth Bookshop in Penrith was also a sell-out completed a very satisfying day. One hundred years from the day of his birth, Norman Nicholson is still making us think, giving us a chuckle, and attracting sell-out audiences.
Neil Curry addresses a rapt audience at Carlisle Library.
posted January 8th 2014, updated January 9th 2014
Reflection and Inspiration
Radio 4's programme about Norman Nicholson yesterday, 'Provincial Pleasures,' has provoked a range of responses from people who have contacted the website or our Facebook page. Among them is Penelope Saladfingers who writes:I am the great-granddaughter of Marmaduke Fawcett. Norman wrote about Marmaduke and my Grandfather Thomas Fawcett, in Wednesday Early Closing. He signed his book for my mum, thought you might like to see it.
Stephe Cove writes: Listening to Norman reading poems on Radio 4 this afternoon reminded me of taking a group of children from Year 6 of Black Combe School to interview him in 1986. This was part of the Domesday Project on the BBC. The write up can be found at
along with the children's other comments about Millom.
Lesley Birkett (nee Collins) writes: I lived in Millom from December 1949 until January 1961, during which time we lived in the District Bank House in The Square and I attended Millom School. I remember Norman Nicholson very well - he used to call me "Mushroom" because of the way I wore my hair! It was very touching to hear his voice again after so many years as I listened to the very interesting Radio 4 programme about him this afternoon (5th January).
Dr Malcolm Morrison writes: I live in the Scottish Borders. My late mother was born in 1915 in Arlecdon ( "edgelands") and I spent much of my formative years there. I have long admired NN.
Michael Mitchell on our Facebook page posted: Years ago I used to read George Mackay Brown. I believe he showed the same virtues of the provincial as Norman Nicholson. He too was overlooked by the literary establishment. My opinion of Philip Larkin took a hard knock listening to the Radio 4 programme yesterday.
(The programme reported that it was Philip Larkin as editor who took the decision to omit NN from the Oxford Book of 20th Century English Verse).
Chas Ryder, also posting on Facebook, said: I have not read any Norman Nicholson since I was in my twenties back in the seventies. This programme reminded me what I had been missing for all those years. I will start to re-read with eagerness and great pleasure.
The Radio 4 programme has also produced new enquiries about membership of the Society and provoked a massive spike in hits on this website with over 400 unique visitors yesterday.
posted January 6th 2014
The Society organised the first celebration of Centenary Year at St George's Church, Millom, today. Sue Dawson led a walk to significant local landmarks explaining links to Norman Nicholson. Lunch (including very popular hot soup) was provided by members of St George's Church. Antoinette Fawcett led a discussion of Norman's poetry with the appropriate backdrop of the Nicholson Memorial Window. A service of thanksgiving for Norman's life and work was conducted by Rev Malcolm Cowan and included readings of Nicholson poems by Society members Neil Curry, Glenn Lang, Dot Richardson, Antoinette Fawett, John Troll and Peggy Troll.
Photographers from the NW Mail and Whitehaven News also attended.
posted January 5 2014
Centenary year off to flying start
The Centenary Year will get off to a busy start with three events in the opening days of January, taking in Millom, Carlisle and Penrith. See the 'Centenary Events' listings, right, for full details.
Radio 4 programme date announced
BBC RADIO 4 - Sunday 5th January 2014 16.30 (with repeat Saturday 11th January, 23.30)
Eric Robson examines the unique and unjustly overlooked Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson. Born in 1914, Norman Nicholson lived all bar two of his seventy three years in the same small industrial town, most of them in the same house. Millom (Cumbrian dialect for "At the mills") is not the Lake District of Hawkshead or Windermere. It’s a place where industry came and went, where the population rose and fell. Yet it was here, in isolation from the literary world, that Norman Nicholson became a world-class poet. He wrote about quarrying and iron works, slag banks and granite. He was one of the first to argue that industrial heritage should be valued on a par with our cultural heritage. Championed by TS Eliot, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, Norman chose to focus his energies on a non-literary audience, spending his spare time lecturing at local Workers Educational Associations. For this poetry feature Eric revisits the town Norman dedicated his life to.
Contributors include Melvyn Bragg, Peggy Troll, Paul Kingsnorth, David Cooper, Grevel Lindop and Kathleen Jones.
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.
A Turn For The Better
The Society's exhibit at the annual Christmas Tree Festival at St George's Church, Millom, takes as its theme the poem A Turn For The Better, published in The Pot Geranium collection in 1954. It's based on a story which comes from a gospel of James not included in the New Testament. The story, told by Joseph, Jesus' father, describes how, at the moment of Jesus' birth, everything in creation stood still - 'Now I Joseph was walking and I walked not'. Norman pictures Joseph walking between the allotments in Millom and the moment when everything stopped:
Society members Peggy Troll, Dot Richardson and Sue Dawson created the display.Their aim was to express the poem in paper - cut snowflakes, silver, gold and white figures of the people and animals, and the significant quotations on ribbons. The tree stands in a miniature allotment. "We hope we have conveyed something of the poet's intention and his fresh view of the Christian story," said Peggy.
The Festival is open for viewing on designated days from November 30th to December 22nd:
Norman Nicholson Day 2013
'Poet's Body: Health, Creativity and Connectedness' was the theme of our annual Norman Nicholson Day, held at Millom Network Centre on Saturday October 19th. Dr Duncan Darbishire (above, right), a poet and photographer as well as a retired GP, described the impact of TB, the disease which had such an influence on Norman's life. Alan Beattie (above, far left), who has worked in both public health and the performing arts, analysed the influence of Norman's illness on his writing. And Dr Chris Donaldson (pictured with Alan) presented an illuminating study of Nicholson's global network by using online tools to chart his connections worldwide. The talks were followed by study groups which discussed poetry and prose in which Nicholson made reference to his illness. The day also featured screenings of two BBCTV productions from the 1970s - 'The Whispering Poet' (1973), and a shorter feature from 'Look North' (1975). Our thanks to our three speakers and to everyone who attended and all who helped with the organisation and catering.
pictures by John Troll
Radio doubles up for 2014
Two radio documentaries are to be aired on BBC radio as part of next year's centenary celebrations. First up will be a 30-minute documentary made by Somethin' Else Productions and presented by Eric Robson, to be broadcast on Radio 4 in the early part of next year. The production team will be conducting interviews in Millom later this month. Also coming up next year is an hour-long programme to be made by NN Society member Charlie Lambert for BBC Radio Cumbria, tentatively scheduled for August. We'll post exact transmission times here when we have them.
Visit to Nicholson Archive
Members of the Society enjoyed an illuminating visit to the Norman Nicholson Archive at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. Among the documents displayed by librarian Fran Baker were Norman's birth certificate, correspondence between Norman and T S Eliot and Philip Larkin, and not least a photograph of Norman at the British Gas showroom in Millom which also depicted Dot Richardson, who was among the group visiting the archive today.
Norman Nicholson was born in Millom, Cumbria, in 1914 and lived there until his death in 1987 with the exception of two years in his late teens when he was sent to a sanatorium in Hampshire to recover from tuberculosis - an event which shaped his subsequent life. His writing career lasted from 1930 until his death and embraced plays, poetry, novels, criticism and essays. He is best known for his poetry and was awarded the Queens Medal for Poetry in 1977 and the OBE in 1981.
The official biography of Norman by Kathleen Jones, price £13, is available through all good bookshops who will order it if it is not in stock. It is also available from Amazon via this link. Published by the Book Mill. Click here for a review.
Radio Cumbria conducted a series of interviews with members of the Society throughout the day of NN's centenary, January 8th 2014.
Click HERE to find the audio and then
click the orange 'play' arrow, top left.
The interviews are reproduced by kind
permission of BBC Radio Cumbria.
Centenary events 2014
*Events marked with an asterisk are organised by the Norman Nicholson Society. This website publishes details of events promoted by other organisations in good faith but cannot accept responsibility should any details be inaccurate. If you know of any events which would interest members of the Society please let us know via the Contact Form. Click here to find it.
St George's Church, Millom
Norman Nicholson is buried in the churchyard of St George's, Millom. In 2000 a memorial window created by Christine Boyce was installed. The window depicts various scenes and themes from Norman's writings. An explanation can be found on the Cleo website (Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online).
photo copyright Millom Parochial Church Council
Inspiring youngsters today
This photographic interpretation of Nicholson's poem 'Windscale' by pupils of Millom School shows how his writing inspires young people today. See more in 'Our Page!'
Millom Discovery Centre
NICHOLSON EXHIBITION: The refurbished Millom Discovery Centre contains a collection of artefacts, documents and memorabilia connected with Norman Nicholson. Click here for more on the Discovery Centre and here for a slideshow of the NN display.
We're on Facebook
Keep in touch and join in the chat. Log onto Facebook and type into the Search box Norman Nicholson Society