It was here in a Victorian terrace that Norman Nicholson was born
in 1914 and lived most of his life. And if you read the works of
Cumbrias most influential Twentieth Century poet prepare yourself
for more than just pretty lakes and fells; youll be just as
likely to find a field of weeds or a decaying ironworks because
Norman Nicholson wrote about every aspect of the county he lived
sleeve of Norman Nicholson, Collective Poems Edited by Neil
he understood the how the complex puzzle of jigsaw pieces that make
up Cumbria fits together, how the rock that lies under our feet
and forms the high fells is the same rock that put the bread on
the table for thousands of families through the mines and quarries
points out in flowing, easy to understand language how towns and
villages like Appleby and Seascale are built out of the very rock
that they sit on. His writing about the power and timelessness of
rock and the presence of the hills is as good as youll find
anywhere, if not the best.
of a Hodbarrow Miner in Millom town centre
hardly surprising that Norman Nicholson was inspired by industry.
Millom, his home town was one of the busiest iron ore mining areas
in Europe during the late 1800s, and the whole of South and West
Cumbria was peppered with quarries, mines and furnaces for smelting
the iron ore. Norman wrote about the toughness of life for the folks
who worked in industry, the grime, the sheer physical hard work
and the almost regular tragedy like when his own uncle Jack was
killed in the huge Hodbarrow mines at Millom. Its a million
miles from hosts of golden daffodils but this is robust writing
about real Cumbria and all powerful stuff.
last iron, the final remnant of a thriving iron industry sits
on the site of the dismantled ironworks.
course the history of industry in Cumbria is now the history of
industrial decline. Norman saw the thriving Millom ironworks go
from boom to bust in his lifetime.
business that employed nearly all of the town closed in the mid
60s and he saw the dole queues snaking down the street, he saw what
happens to men when they lose their jobs and their pride, he saw
what happens to a town when you rip the heart out of it he put it
all down on paper.
wrote about what he saw around him but the poems were about more
than that; for him, his writing was about the relationship of people
to the world around them and his work was about universal subjects
that were as important whether you lived in Millom, Mexico or Madras.
you go to St Georges Church in Millom youll find a specially
commissioned stained glass window designed and made by Christine
Boyce. Its inspired by Normans poetry and its
really worth a look.
some of his work is out of print now but you might be able to find
it in second-hand bookshops or via the internet, but there is a
good collected works published by Faber and Faber and edited by
Neil Curry. Take a look and steep yourself in Cumbria, past present
Nicholson - you're right "The Collected Works" is out
of print and there is only one copy currently on offer thur Amazon
and it's £82. Someone needs to persuade Faber + Faber to re-print.