The David Wright Collection of Norman Nicholson Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 DPW
  • Former Reference
      GB 133 DWNN
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      0.5 linear metres (61 items).
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive contains letters from Norman Nicholson sent to David Wright over a twenty year period, from 1966-1986. David Wright was deaf and, presumably, the written word was a preferred media, which may explain the long period of correspondence and also its extent. The archive also contains an audio cassette recorded by David of a conversation he had with Nicholson in January 1985. The conversation covers his life, career and major literary influences.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Wright was born in Johanesburg, South Africa in 1920. Aged fourteen he came to England and was educated at Northampton School for the Deaf and at Oriel College, Oxford, graduating in 1942. He became a freelance writer in 1947 after working on The Sunday Timesfor five years. He co-founded and co-edited the quarterly literary review Xfrom 1959-1962. His work includes three books about Portugal written with Patrick Swift, his co-founder and co-editor of X. His Deafness: A Personal Account(1969) was autobiographical while Roy Campbellwas a critical piece of work about a fellow South African. He has also edited Longer Contemporary Poems(1966), thePenguin Book of English Romantic Verse(1968) and thePenguin Book Of Everday Verse(1976)

David Wright will be best remembered for his poetry. His work included:Moral Stories(1954), Monologue of a Deaf Man (1958), Adam at Evening(1965),To the gods the Shades: New and Collected Poems(1976),Metrical Observations(1980), Selected Poems(1988) and Elegies(1990).

'His poetry is remarkable for its quiet intelligence and humour, and the integrity of its style. The tone is conversational, though not in the sense of reproducing a facitious chattiness; rather, it creates the lively curve of an eminently humane mind's thinking and speaking'. 1

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 entitledFive 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 Showwhich 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.

The letters and audio cassette that make up this collection show how the relationship between David Wright and Norman Nicholson developed. It would appear that Philippa (Pippa) Wright was the first to write to Nicholson, however, on finding that he had heard of her husband and knew of his work an almost instantaneous friendship quickly grew. The Wrights lived in Braithwaite, just outside Keswick, in the Lake District. The Wrights and Nicholsons became good friends and shared a love of the countryside as well as poetry and often visited each other. During their twenty year correspondence the letters reveal a wide range of matters to do with nature and literature as well as revealing many personal details. The thoughts of Nicholson are recorded concerning not only the death of his wife Yvonne, but also the death of David's wife Philippa (Pippa).


The archive is divided into two series based on format as follows:

  • DPW/1 Letters
  • DPW/2 Audio material

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader unless otherwise stated.

The cassette will be closed to readers until its contents have been transferred, for preservation purposes, to an alternative cassette.

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 purchased by the Library from David Wright in stages between 1992-1994. The audio cassette was purchased in May 1992. The main body of the letters were purchased in July 1992, however, in 1994 Wright discovered several more letters and the Library purchased those in January 1994.


1T.J.G. Harris, in The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry, ed. Ian Hamilton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 589.

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.

Custodial History

The archive principally consists of letters sent by Norman Nicholson to David Wright. It also contains one compact audio cassette of a conversation made by David Wright with Norman Nicholson. The archive has remained in the custody of David Wright until its transfer to the Library.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds the Papers of Norman Nicholson 1899-1987 ( GB 133 NCN), and a collection of letters from Nicholson to Tom Kelly (GB 133 KEL).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 )


The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century LiteratureJenny Stringer (ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.

The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century PoetryIan Hamilton (ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.