Norman Nicholson

1914 - 1987

'Let our eyes at the last  be blinded
Not by the dark
But by dazzle'

Norman Cornthwaite Nicholson is buried in St George's churchyard Millom, Cumbria, England. 

Grave of Norman Nicholson
Photo by David Boyd

With the exception of a few years spent in a TB sanatorium when he was a teenager, Nicholson spent the whole of his life in Millom. (There is a plaque outside his former home at 14, St. George's Terrace.) At the age of 22 he converted to Christianity which proved a major influence on his writing.

However, it was the town of Millom and its supporting iron industry which was to prove his overriding inspiration. He understood intimately the tough lives of those who worked in the quarries and the furnaces and even experienced the loss of his own uncle in the Hodbarrow Mines. In later years, he witnessed the decline of the iron industry and the distress caused to the largely working class community. One of his finest poems is entitled: On the Dismantling of Millom Ironworks.

Nicholson, like fellow Lake Poet Wordsworth, was also adept at capturing the bleak beauty of the landscape - in particular, Black Combe, a fell lying in the southern Lakes close to the town of Millom - which provided the subject matter for his 1978 collection The Shadow of Black Combe.

His other collections include: Five Rivers (1944), The Pot Geranium (1954), A Local Habitation (1972) and Sea to the West (1981). He also wrote two novels, four verse plays, various criticism and an engaging autobiography Wednesday Early Closing (1975).

Like Charles Causley, Nicholson worked outside the major literary movements of the day - quietly producing powerful, colloquial poetry.  His work has certainly not received the attention it deserves and is, surely, ripe for re-discovery.

In 1956 he married Yvonne Gardener - who lies nest to him in St. George's. He died on May 30, at the age of 73.

A commemorative stained glass window, designed by Christine Boyce, was installed in St George's - the church where he worshipped.      


                                          Sixty mile back,
Edging the ooze of the estuary mosses - sheep
One side on fire from the level sun; hedges
Clinkering ginger; every dyke and mole-hill
Casting an acre of shadow. And soon
From each rise in the road, each break in the hills' barrier,
Comes glimpse after glimpse of the nearing Combe, first white,
Then patchy, and then streaked white on black,
Darkening and sharpening every minute and every mile.
Home at last to the known tight streets,
The hunched chapels, the long canals of smoke -
And now, from my own doorway, between gable and chimney,
That harsh, scarred brow, entirely stripped of snow,
Impending over yard and attic sky-light,
A dark, parental presence. And when the neighbours tell me:
'The Combe was white last night!' - I don't believe them.
It's always black from here.
from Black Combe White
Norman Nicholson Biography





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