Papers of Herbert Lomas

  • Reference
      GB 133 HLO
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English, Finnish
  • Physical Description
      6 li.m.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive is remarkably comprehensive, containing notebooks dating back to the 1940s, as well as photographs from the period of Lomas's military service during the Second World War. Some of the longer sequences of correspondence cover four decades or more, and the most recent material dates from the year of his death.

Lomas's own literary works are extremely well-represented: there are numerous drafts and typescripts of his principal poetry collections and translations, as well as reviews, essays, rough notes and jottings, unpublished poems, novels and plays, and an unpublished autobiography. There is correspondence (as well as related papers like contracts and royalty statements) with most of the publishers of his books - from Michael Horovitz, who included work by Lomas in his 1969 anthology Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain, to Bloodaxe, Oxford University Press, Dedalus Press, Anvil, Sinclair-Stevenson, Peter Owen, and Arc Publications. Correspondence with the BBC reflects Lomas's involvement in various radio broadcasts.

Publishing (of poems, reviews and essays) in poetry magazines and periodicals, is also a strong feature of the archive, meaning that 'little magazine' culture and associated literary networks are well-represented. There are around 150-200 incoming letters and cards from Alan Ross of the London Magazine, who became a close friend as well as a publisher of Lomas's work. However, Lomas also contributed to numerous other magazines, and there is correspondence with the editors of Ambit, Encounter, the Hudson Review, New Departures, Outposts, PN Review, the Spectator, Stand, the Tablet and others.

The criticism and reviewing of poetry is another strength: numerous poets wrote to Lomas in response to his published reviews of their work; similarly, other poets wrote to him responding to his own work (most notably a small but significant sequence of letters from Ted Hughes).

Other poets and writers represented in the archive include: Al Alvarez; Donald Atkinson; Sebastian Barker; Sebastian Barry; Martin Bax; Alan Brownjohn; Harry Chambers; Kevin Crossley-Holland; Douglas Dunn; John Fuller; Dana Gioia; John Heath-Stubbs; Philip Hobsbaum; Glyn Hughes; Michael Horovitz; Ted Hughes; Michael Hulse; Edward Lowbury; Lawrence Sail; Jon Silkin; Anthony Thwaite; and Michael Tolkein.

Numerous Finnish writers are also represented as correspondents, including Paavo Haavikko, Eeva-Liisa Manner, Mirkka Rekola, Kirsti Simonsuuri, Eira Stenberg and Ilpo Tiihonen. There is also a substantial quantity of correspondence with, and some manuscripts of work by, Martti Siirala, a Finnish psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and philosopher, who was a good friend of Lomas.

The archive also includes cuttings, some entire periodicals containing contributions by Lomas, printed ephemera, address books, diaries, a small quantity of analogue audio recordings, and some digital material held on floppy disks and two laptops.

Administrative / Biographical History

Herbert Lomas was born on 7 February 1924 in Todmorden, West Yorkshire; his parents, Mary and Bertram, managed the Black Swan pub in the town. He attended King George V School in Southport, Lancashire, from 1935 to 1942. Many years later, his northern childhood and the life and landscape of Todmorden would form the subject matter of some of his most memorable poems.

Lomas obtained a place to read English at Liverpool University, but had to take time out from his education when he was called up for military service during the Second World War, serving as Lance-Corporal in the King's Liverpool Regiment (1943-4) and subsequently as Second-lieutenant and Lieutenant in the Royal Garhwal Rifles, Indian Army, stationed on the north-west frontier of India (1944-6). After the war he was able to resume his formal education, earning a BA (Hons) First Class in 1949, followed by an MA in 1952. He taught English for a year at Anargyrios School on the Greek island of Spetses, and then moved to Finland as a lecturer at the University of Helsinki. His mastery of the Finnish language, combined with his own skills as a poet, resulted in his acclaimed translations of work by major Finnish writers of the twentieth century, including Paavo Haavikko and Eeva-Liisa Manner - two of the most prominent post-war Finnish poets. However, his translations were not published until some time after his return to the UK; he left Finland in 1965 to take up a lecturing post at Borough Road College, Isleworth, Middlesex, which subsequently became West London Institute of Higher Education and is now part of Brunel University.

Lomas's own career as a published poet also began relatively late in life - he was 45 before his first major collection appeared. In 1961, he submitted a poem called 'The Fear' as an anonymous entry for the annual Cheltenham Festival Guinness Poetry Competition, winning second prize (the first place going to Sylvia Plath). This poem was never reprinted - as was the case with much of his early poetry, which he suppressed despite having received encouragement in the early days from both W.H. Auden and Robert Graves.

The first six poems Lomas published in the UK appeared in Michael Horovitz's anthology, Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain, published in 1969 with a dedication to American Beat writer Allen Ginsberg. He became active in the small press and poetry-reading scene, often reading his own work at events associated with the Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden. He developed a particularly strong and enduring connection with the London Magazine, as a major contributor of poetry and criticism; the magazine's editor, Alan Ross, became a lifelong friend. Over the years he contributed to many other literary journals and little magazines, including Ambit, the Hudson Review, Encounter, PN Review, and the Spectator.

His first full-length poetry collection, Chimpanzees are Blameless Creatures, appeared in 1969; between this and his next collection, Private and Confidential (1974), he found time to publish a non-fiction work called Who Needs Money? (1972) - an analysis and critique of capitalism from a Marxist perspective.

His poetry collection Public Footpath (1981) appeared the year before his retirement and move to Aldeburgh in Suffolk, where he lived for the rest of his life; he was active in the local creative community, and acted as President of the Suffolk Poetry Society for nine years. In 1982 he also received the Cholmondeley Award for poetry.

His collection Fire in the Garden (1984, praised by Peter Porter for its satire and sardonic humour) was followed by Letters in the Dark (1986); the latter was comprised of 52 verse meditations on faith, linked by allusions to Southwark Cathedral, which formed an exploration of faith in post-Christian times. Although this work received mixed reviews, it became an Observer book of the year, which is unusual for a poetry collection, and some claimed it as an achievement placing him within the tradition of T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Always religious, he explored various forms of Christianity, ultimately being received into the Catholic Church just two years before his death.

Three poetry collections appeared in the 1990s: Trouble in 1992; Selected Poems in 1995; and A Useless Passion in 1996. The latter was one of his best-received books. It includes poems drawing on his experiences of military service during the Second World War. As he commented in the book's introduction, 'I had a cushy war', but he hoped that his poems might 'remind others of the tomfoolery, the comradeship, the cruelty, and fun, and what it was like to be young then'.

A Useless Passion also includes a sequence called 'Death of a Horsewoman', comprised of elegies to his wife Mary, who died suddenly in 1994 while out riding. This sequence was greatly admired by Ted Hughes, who was prompted to write to Lomas about it and to reflect on his failure to respond to the death of his own wife, Sylvia Plath, in writing. In one of the letters preserved among Lomas's papers, Hughes comments "I was chastened to see you do what I didn't have the wisdom (or gut) to do back in the sixties". It appears that Lomas's poems may have had some influence on Hughes's decision to publish Birthday Letters, dealing with Plath's death and their relationship, in 1998.

Hughes also admired Lomas's 2003 collection The Vale of Todmorden, which drew on his West Yorkshire childhood (some of the poems had earlier appeared in Public Footpath). Simon Hoggart wrote of the 2003 publication, "I don't know when else a time and a place have been so beautifully evoked" and it received enthusiastic reviews from other poets.

The 2009 publication, A Casual Knack of Living: Collected Poems, gathers together Lomas's nine published full-length collections and also a previously unpublished collection called Nightlights.

Overall, Lomas is difficult to categorise as a poet: according to Joanna Blachnio, "his work is remarkable for the versatility of both its form - ranging from free verse to traditional stanzaic patterns - and subject matter, where conversational poems about quotidian events appear alongside sophisticated religious meditations. This diversity makes it difficult to place him within any contemporary poetic style or school".

In her 2012 survey of contemporary poetry, Fiona Sampson groups Lomas with Dannie Abse, Alan Brownjohn, Ruth Fainlight, Elaine Feinstein, Anthony Thwaite, and Fleur Adcock, as one of the 'Plain Dealers', while Janet McCann, exploring his work from a religious perspective, suggests that his "mixture of faith in God and skepticism about the world, of exaltation and humor, of sublime and ridiculous have strong appeal for a wide swath of readers of all faiths and none".

In the field of translation, Lomas's English translations of both poetry and prose by Finnish writers are widely admired. He translated at least 14 books by Finnish authors, and his Bloodaxe anthology, Contemporary Finnish Poetry (1991), brought the work of Finnish writers to a wider audience, winning Lomas the Poetry Book Society Biennial Translation award. Also in 1991, Lomas was named knight, first class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland for his services to Finnish literature. He was a regular translator for the quarterly journal, Books From Finland.

He was married three times: he married first wife Marie Yvonne Wright in 1951; following their divorce in 1956 he married Annukka Partanen. They divorced in 1967, and in the following year he married Mary Marshall Phelps (b. 1940); they remained together until Mary's sudden death in 1994.

Herbert Lomas died on 9 September 2011. He is survived by a son (Jeremy) from his first marriage, and a son (Matthew) and daughter (Lucy) from his third.


The archive has not yet been subject to archival arrangement and remains in its original order.

Access Information

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

The collection is open to any accredited reader, although it is currently held on a restricted basis, meaning that all correspondence and other personal papers must be checked by a curator for Data Protection issues before they can be made available in the reading room; as a result of these checks, some some closures may be applied in line with the requirements of the DPA.

Acquisition Information

The archive was presented to the Library as a gift by Lomas's children Lucy and Matthew. Peter Dickinson acted as custodian of the collection for a time, and the material was transferred to the Library from Professor Dickinson's Aldeburgh home.

Other Finding Aids

There is an interim box list for the archive.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

All of the material in the archive remains within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Appraisal Information

The archive has been subject to some appraisal at reboxing stage, in which obvious duplicates, entire issues of magazines containing no contributions by Lomas, and some ephemera with no long-term research value has been weeded out. It is likely that more appraisal - particularly of the digital material - will take place at a later stage.

Custodial History

The archive was built up by Herbert Lomas during his lifetime, and ultimately came to be stored in his house at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

Related Material

The Library also holds a small quantity of material relating to Herbert Lomas which was donated by Peter Dickinson and Christopher Matthew, and a larger collection of material formerly belonging to Denys Sharrocks, donated by his widow Monica. The latter includes approximately 85 letters from Lomas (many of which contain poems), as well as cuttings and publications. There is also some correspondence with Lomas in the Archive of Carcanet Press.

The other side of Lomas's correspondence with Alan Ross and the London Magazine is held at Leeds University Library, where there are also some letters from Lomas in the archives of other writers. Small quantities of further letters and manuscripts by Lomas can be found at the British Library, Durham University Library and Hull History Centre.


Joanna Blachnio, 'Lomas, Herbert', Literature Online Biography (2011).

Janet McCann, 'The Poetry of Herbert Lomas', Christianity and Literature, vol. 58, no. 4 (2009), pp. 749-58.

Christopher Matthew, Obituary of Herbert Lomas, The Guardian (12 September 2011).  Accessed 10 February 2014.

Bernard Saint, Obituary of Herbert Lomas, The Independent.  Accessed 10 February 2014.

Fiona Sampson, Beyond the Lyric: A Map of Contemporary Poetry (London: Chatto and Windus, 2012).

Unsigned obituary of Herbert Lomas, The Telegraph.  Accessed 10 February 2014.

Corporate Names