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).
This year's Borderlines Festival in Carlisle will feature talks by two writers who possess insight and knowledge of Norman Nicholson and his work. On Saturday September 6th in Tullie House Lecture Theatre at 3pm the poet, Neil Curry, will talk about Nicholson’s poems and read from them. Kathleen Jones will then talk about Nicholson’s passionate environmentalist beliefs, held and developed long before Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ gave stark warnings about what would happen to the planet if we didn’t both understand and cherish our relationship with it. Much of Norman Nicholson’s poetry and prose is about the interaction between human beings and the landscape. He understood the delicate balance between making a living from it and preserving it as a living entity. Nicholson spent his life observing one particular landscape and the impact of
industrialisation and its subsequent decline. His controversial opinions were sometimes unpopular.
Buy tickets online at www.borderlinescarlisle.co.uk or at Bookends Carlisle in person or on 01228 529067.
posted July 24th 2014
Our committee members Peggy Troll, Dot Richardson and Sue Dawson hosted a very successful U3A group visit from Lancaster. The response from the group was excellent, saying the visit had far exceeded their expectations. The schedule included visits to the Discovery Centre and Millom Library.
posted July 23rd 2014
The John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester is to host an exhibition of Nicholson documents from July 25th to December 14th.
Archivist Fran Baker tells us: As the display's curator, I was clearly spoilt for choice! Inevitably I struggled to condense the story of Nicholson's life and work into a mere two exhibition cases and 1,500 words of interpretation, but I have tried to do him justice. The display features classic items from Nicholson’s own archive as well as some material which has never been displayed or published before. There are plans for two 'collection encounters' later in the year - an opportunity for people to see and discuss a selection of further Nicholsoniana which did not make it into the display. These will be free of charge, but booking is essential. They will be advertised on our website in due course, so keep an eye on the Events page at http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/events/.
The Library is located at 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.
posted July 18th 2014
Nicholson celebrated at Isel Church
Personal and literary reflections on the life and work of Norman Nicholson were presented at a special centenary event on Saturday July 5th at Isel Church, near Cockermouth, hosted by Miss Mary Birkett OBE. Click on 'play' below for a series of pictures from the event.
posted July 16th 2014
'Not by the Dark, but by Dazzle': A Norman Nicholson Centenary Lecture
Grevel Lindop, poet and critic, will give a lecture on Norman Nicholson in London on Monday 20th October at the Lincoln Centre, 18 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3ED, 6.15 pm for 7.00 start; finish 8.15; nearest tube, Holborn
'Not by the Dark, but by Dazzle': A Norman Nicholson Centenary Lecture
Grevel Lindop writes:
Norman Nicholson, born in January 1914, was one of the finest English poets of the later twentieth century: something which his deliberately 'provincial' literary stance and lifelong residence in the small Cumbrian town of Millom tended to conceal, but which has become increasingly evident since his death in 1987. In the 1940s he worked closely with Kathleen Raine; her first book, Stone and Flower, took its title from one of his poems. He was a devout Christian, and his early work included religious poems, and plays which contributed to the 'religious drama movement' headed by Eliot and Chrisopher Fry. In his later work he developed deeply original ways of writing about nature, pioneering 'eco-poetry' before the term existed and, in a beautifully-written prose volume, Provincial Pleasures, offering a vision of meaningful, ecologically sustainable community life at a time when Britain was embarking on a future dominated by motorways, supermarkets and 'globalisation'. The lecture will examine both strengths and weaknesses in Nicholson's work, and suggest that he will come to seem increasingly important.
Music and more at our May event
The pictures above give a flavour of our Summer Event, held in Millom on Saturday May 31st. Pictures courtesy of John Troll.
A CELEBRATION AT ISEL HALL
We are delighted to announce that Miss Mary Burkett OBE of Isel Hall, Cockermouth, is hosting an event at Isel Church on the 5th July 2014 to which NN Society members and friends are invited. NN Society members Mary Robinson and Philip Houghton have kindly agreed to take charge of the organisation of this event.
A Celebration of the Life and Work of Norman Nicholson
on Saturday July 5th 2014, 2pm-4.30 p.m. at Isel Church, Isel, near Cockermouth, including tea at Isel Hall. £4 per person.
Advance booking is essential as numbers are limited. This event is not open to the public. For further information or to book please email LMEJacobsGhyll@aol.com or phone Mary on 016973 43723 or write with SAE to Mary Robinson, The Vicarage, Rosley, Wigton, Cumbria CA7 8AU.
Bookings can also be made with Antoinette Fawcett: firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone 01229 581700; address: 3, Burlington Street, ULVERSTON, Cumbria.
NB: between the 1st and 13th June please send your bookings to Antoinette.
Speakers include: Irvine Hunt on his friendship with Norman, Kathleen Jones on researching the biography, and Dr. Martyn Halsall who will talk about faith in Nicholson's work.
Geology, Love and a World Premiere
Please join us for a celebration of Geology, Love and Music, three very important themes in Norman Nicholson's writing, on Saturday May 31st. This is going to be another memorable day in our Centenary celebrations, featuring the world premiere of Harry Whalley's 'Seven Pieces for Seven Rocks', inspired by Nicholson's poem 'The Seven Rocks'. The piece will be performed by members of the Gildas Quartet, who will also be playing other music from their repertoire. The concert is free for all, and starts at 4pm in St. George's Church, Millom. Members of the public can attend the concert without attending other events on the day.
The Norman Nicholson Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Britten-Pears Foundation in making this commission possible.
Further information about the Britten-Pears Foundation can be found at: http://www.brittenpears.org/
The day will also feature a talk by Nicholson's biographer Kathleen Jones about the poet's relationship with Sylvia Lubelsky, and a talk about Nicholson's geological passion by Professor Brian Whalley who will also lead a geological walk around Millom. The event starts at 10am with registration and coffee. The Society's AGM is scheduled at 1030. Kathleen Jones' talk is at 1130. We expect the event to close at 5pm.
Venue: Millom Network Centre, Salthouse Road, Millom LA18 5AB
It's £8 for members of the Society, £10 for non-members (but the concert in St George's Church is free). Please send cheques to Norman Nicholson Society, 3 Burlington Street, Ulverston, Cumbria LA12 7JA, by May 21st (payable to Norman Nicholson Society). Enquiries can be made by using this website's contact form - click HERE
posted 15/5/14, updated 21/5/14
Lord Bragg contributes to Radio Cumbria's 'Nicholson' programme
Our President, Melvyn Bragg, has been discussing Norman Nicholson's poetry with our media editor Charlie Lambert who is producing a documentary about Nicholson for BBC Radio Cumbria. The interview was recorded at the National Theatre yesterday. The documentary is due to be broadcast in August. We'll post full details here nearer the time.
Poet-Prophet of Cumbria: A Centenary Celebration – 30th April 2014
The University of Cumbria is a special institution – the newest university in the UK according to its website, and also one with a long and complex history. Whilst Norman Nicholson would not have been familiar with the University as it now it is, he was certainly a welcome visitor at Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside, which has become a ‘heritage institution of the university’. He would also have known St. Martin’s College, now its Lancaster campus – a piece of Cumbria Over Sands – where a wonderful evening of readings and reflections took place in the lovely setting of the Alexandra Gallery, a light modern room which overlooks a small almost Japanese-style garden – rest for the eyes and mind, on the other side of the glass.
Dr Penny Bradshaw who opened the evening emphasised the importance of Nicholson’s vision of Cumbria as being essential also to the university itself. Nicholson knew that the rock is the basis of the distinctive and varied Cumbrian landscape, the source of its agriculture, forestry, pastoral farming, its vital industries and the spirit of the people who live and work there. Dr Bradshaw laid stress on the breadth and balance of Nicholson’s vision, and on his understanding of the close interrelationship of human beings and nature. In her reading and examination of Nicholson’s poem ‘To the River Duddon’ she also dwelt on the distinctiveness of Nicholson’s voice and the links and differences between his vision and that of Wordsworth.
Further highlights of the evening included Dr. Chris Donaldson’s reading of ‘Coastal Journey’, Professor Alan Beattie’s in-depth account of Nicholson’s poem, ‘Scarf Gap, Buttermere’ and Dr. David Cooper’s talk on Nicholson’s ambitious geological-theological poem ‘The Seven Rocks’. Poets Martyn Halsall and Pauline Keith gave their responses to the depth and range of Nicholson’s spiritual and ecological insights, whilst Dr. Steve Longstaffe rounded off the evening with rousing renditions of three of Nicholson’s most popular poems, ‘At the Music Festival’, ‘Rising Five’ and ‘Nobbut God’.
The event was ably administered and supported by a group of students led by Freya Gallagher-Jones. It was a great success and was very much enjoyed by all who attended it.
Our Gala Lunch at the Lighthouse Centre in Haverigg last Saturday went extremely well, and was enjoyed by all. Guests have commented favourably on the venue, the speakers, the table decorations, the food and the good company, not to mention the weather, which after a short showery start turned out to be glorious! Highlights included Alan and Kay Beattie's play reading from 'Old Man of the Mountains' - especially fitting in that Black Combe was visible in the background behind them. We finished with a recording of Norman reading the Pot Geranium, which evoked a lot of memories and emotions. The red balloons and geraniums on every table filled the room with colour and made Norman's words even more poignant. Our thanks to everyone who attended and especially all who worked so hard to make the event a resounding success.
We drop our youth behind us
Rising Five by Norman Nicholson was read on last night's Radio 4 programme, Something Understood. The programme examined the concept of transience and was presented by Samira Ahmed who explained that the poem had made a lasting impact on her from the moment she first encountered it many years ago. The programme is available on the BBC i-Player HERE until Saturday April 12th.
photo courtesy of BBC
They gev it Wigan...
It was standing room only at Swarthmoor Methodist Church near Ulverston for a concert entitled “Waiting for Spring,” a joint celebration of 150 years of the church and the centenary of the Millom poet, Norman Nicholson. The link was forged by iron – Swarthmoor village expanded greatly with the development of the nearby iron mines and Millom was the site of a once thriving iron works.
Ann Thomson assembled a group of talented friends to help her deliver a selection of Norman Nicholson’s poetic and dramatic works interspersed with extracts from his autobiography “Wednesday Early Closing”. These provided an entertaining introduction to the work of this often under-appreciated local writer.
As if that wasn’t enough, the evening was further enhanced by musical items from a string quartet, ably led by David Henry. A vocal quartet provided a different musical aspect and there were solos from Ray McIlroy and Ciara Myakicheff Preston accompanied by David Henry on the piano.
Donations from the appreciative audience raised well over £200 towards a project run by Methodist Church partners in Togo, West Africa.
top: Ray McIlroy. Quartet of singers: Ciara Myakicheff Preston, Jenny Underwood, Neil Hastings, Ray McIlroy. Reader: Ann Thomson.
photos by Ann Larbalestier
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
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
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
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
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
photo copyright Millom Parochial Church Council
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).
To locate the grave of Norman and Yvonne Nicholson: walk past the church into the graveyard and turn right into the 'new' extended section facing Black Combe. Follow the path down round a hairpin bend and take the first paved path on the right. You'll see a seat placed with its back to the wall. The grave is directly in front of the seat.
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.
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Keep in touch and join in the chat. Log onto Facebook and type into the Search box Norman Nicholson Society