The Tom Kelly Collection of Norman Nicholson Letters

Scope and Content

The archive consists of letters from Norman Nicholson to Tom Kelly.The archive covers the period 1971-1986, however, the majority of the letters date from between 1971-1972. The first letter is Nicholson's acceptance to the Jarrow festival and a discussion of travel arrangements. Subsequent letters revolve around the posting of the publication Here and Now to Nicholson from Kelly. In one letter Nicholson discusses the wider implications of Art Council support.In the letters there are references to Seamus Heaney, Rodney Pybus, De Quincey,David Jaffin, Susan Fellows, William Oxley and David Bean.

It should be assumed that all items consist of one leaf only, except if otherwise stated.

Administrative / Biographical History

Tom Kelly is a local historian, author and playwright. He was born in Jarrow in 1947. His poems and short stories include: Gibbeting of William Jobling: Story and Poems (1972), Still With Me(1986), John Donne in Jarrow(1993), Beatitudes of the Buttered Brick(1995) and In The Distance(1998). He has written plays and musicals including Kelly a musical documentary written with Alan Price in 1977 which was the subject of a BBC Arena programme screened in 1977 and 1978. At this time he also co-wrote, with David Price, The Hookey Mata play with music for BBC TV.

From 1975-1980 he was signed to music publishers Jarrow Music/ATV. His songs have been recorded by Cold Comfort, Marianne Faithfull and Alan Price. He was also working on musicals including Hugh,with David Price. Between 1980-1990 he ran a youth theatre.

Since 1984 Kelly has worked as a drama lecturer at South Tyneside College. He teaches drama, theatre studies and the performing arts. From 1990 his musicals have included The Machine Gunnerswith John Miles and Ken Reay and Steel Town,with Steve Thompson. His plays have included: Fog On The Tyne, The Girls, I Left My Heart At Roker Park, Three Devoted Sisters, and Tyne Songsa community play. His latest musical is about the lives and loves of Tom and Catherine Cookson entitled Tom and Catherine. Kelly wrote the book and lyrics, the music was written by John Miles and Ray Spencer is the Director.

Norman Cornthwaite Nicholson (1914-1987), poet, dramatist, novelist, critic, biographer and topographer, was born behind the gentleman's outfitters shop run by his father in Millom, Cumbria. He was to live all his life in this small mining town. In 1930, at the age of sixteen, he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and sent to a sanitorium in Linford in Hampshire. On his return he was unable to work and developed a love of native wild flowers and birds. The ideas he developed at this time formed the basis of Nicholson's philosophy and much of the poetry and prose writing he produced during his life.

During the 1930s he had published anonymous reviews for The Times Literary Supplement, and from 1938 onwards he lectured on modern literature to the local WEA in Millom, Whitehaven and St. Bees. His first published collection of poems about Cumbria, the War and religion entitled Five Rivers(1944), won the first Heinmann Prize for Poetry. His second collection Rock Face(1948), had similar themes. His first play Old Man of the Mountains(1945), is the story of Elijah transported to modern Cumberland. This play carries a warning against the exploitation of the earth's resources and consequent damage to the environment, it was produced at London's Mercury Theatre. Other dramas include: Prophesy to the Wind(1947), A Match for the Devil(1955) and Birth by Drowning(1960).

In 1975 he produced his autobiography Wednesday Early Closing.In 1984 he appeared on the South Bank Show which brought Nicholson's work to a much wider audience, and elicited many enthusiastic responses. As well as the Heinmann Prize for Poetry, Nicholson was also awarded the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry (1967), the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry (1977), the Order of the British Empire, (1981) and he received honary degrees from various universities. In 1956 Nicholson married Yvonne Gardner, a teacher at Millom Secondary School. Yvonne devoted much of her life to caring for Nicholson, she also played an important role in helping to organize Nicholson's numerous poetry readings, and she acted as a chauffeur, enabling him to give readings beyond his native Cumbria. In 1982 Yvonne died of cancer after a long illness. Norman Nicholson died, in the house where he was born, on the 30 May 1987, aged 73.

Nicholson became aquainted with Kelly when Kelly invited him to the Jarrow Festival in June 1971.The correspondence, the Library only has Kelly's letters, continued for many years. Most of the Collection, however, dates from between 1971-1972, there are two further letters one from 1974 and one from 1986. The basis of this correspondence was Kelly, on a regular basis, sending Nicholson copies of a north-east publication Here and Now. The letters give an insight into the literary environment that Nicholson lived in. There are references to poets and comments on their work and he often refers to the progress of his career.


The letters were in no specific arrangement.However, reflecting the order in which they would have been received, they are arranged in chronological order.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), the John Rylands University Library of Manchester (JRULM) holds the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRULM to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRULM which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA, and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.

Acquisition Information

The collection was a gift and came into the Library's possession following information that Kelly received from Pat Wressel, of Northern Arts, on 21February, 1992, informing him that the Library was holding Norman Nicholson's papers. The collection was received by post on 2 March 1992.

Other Finding Aids


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 items within the archive remain 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 University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The archive consists of letters sent by Norman Nicholson to Tom Kelly. The letters have remained in the custody of Tom Kelly until their transfer to the Library in 1992.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library of Manchester holds the Papers of Norman Nicholson 1899-1987 (NCN) and the David Wright collection of Nicholson papers (DPW). The Special Collections Division of the John Rylands University Library also holds the Carcanet Press Archive, which contains a letter written by Nicholson. There are also three cassette recordings of Nicholson in the library's possession. These are recordings of: Nicholson's acceptance of the Honorary Freedom of Copeland Borough on 18th September 1984; Nicholson interviewed by David Wright, recorded in Millom in 1985 and Nicholson reading from his poetry collectionSea to the Westat the Poetry Book Society in London on 11 June 1981. In addition, the Library holds Nicholson's book collection, which came to the Library at the same time as his archive. Many of the writers who appear in the archive are well represented in this collection which provides an invaluable research resource to back up the archive.

Further Papers of Norman Nicholson are held by numerous other institutions. Millom Folk Museum houses artefacts as well as photographs, cuttings, magazines and programmes. Correspondence and literary manuscripts are held by: the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle Upon Tyne; the University of Hull Brynmor Jones Library; the British Library Department of Manuscripts in London; the BBC Written Archives centre in Reading; the University of Bristol Library; the University of Durham Library; the John Bate Collection in Edinburgh; the University of Leeds Brotherton Library; the National Library of Wales Department of Manuscripts and Records in Aberystwyth; the University of Reading Department of Archives and Manuscripts; and University College London Library. The British Library National Sound Archive houses recordings of interviews and poetry readings given by Nicholson. For more detail about these collections, see the Location Register of Twentieth Century English Literary Manuscripts and lettersVol.II (London: British Library,1988