The Matt Simpson Collection of Norman Nicholson Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 MSN
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      0.5 linear metres (68 items)
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive mainly consists of letters from Norman Nicholson to Matt Simpson covering the period 1971-1983, the bulk of the material dating from 1977-1983. Topics covered by the letters include: the poetry of both men; Nicholson's regular visits to Liverpool for readings; numerous readings he gave elsewhere; Nicholson's health; and, in the later letters, the final illness of Nicholson's wife Yvonne. The letters document one of Nicholson's literary friendships, in this case with a younger poet who sought his advice both in relation to specific poems and in his attempts to find a publisher. Nicholson in turn was grateful for Simpson's active interest in his own work. In addition the archive also contains a number of mimeograph copies of poems by Norman Nicholson, some of them by Nicholson, and one copy of Poetry Review, also annotated by Nicholson. The archive complements the library's other Norman Nicholson resources (see related materials, below).

Administrative / Biographical History

Matt Simpson was born in Bootle, Lancashire, in 1936, and was educated at Cambridge University. During the course of his career he has taught at Wirral Grammar School for Boys, the Studio School of English, Millbank College of Commerce and Christ's College, Liverpool. The latter, having merged with St Katherine's College of Education and Notre Dame College, is now known as Liverpool Hope University College.

Simpson has published extensively. There are five full-length collections of poetry: Making arrangements (Bloodaxe Books, 1982); An elegy for the galosherman - new and selected poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1990); Catching up with history (Bloodaxe Books, 1995); Cutting the clouds towards (Liverpool University Press, 1998); and Getting there (Liverpool University Press, 2001). He has also written three collections for children: The pigs' thermal underwear(Headland, 1993); Matt, Wes and Pete(Macmillan, 1995); and Lost property box (Macmillan, 1998). In addition his poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, journals and magazines.

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 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 Heinemann Prize for Poetry. His second collection Rock face(1948) contained 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, and it was first 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 his appearance on the South Bank Showbrought Nicholson's work to a much wider audience, and elicited many enthusiastic responses. As well as the Heinemann 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 honorary 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 30 May 1987, aged 73.

Matt Simpson first met Nicholson at St Katherine's College of Education in Liverpool, at one of Nicholson's annual readings, arranged by Ron Barnes who was head of English there at the time. Simpson had long been an admirer of Nicholson's work and the two entered a regular correspondence. Their friendship continued until Nicholson's death in 1987. On the retirement of Ron Barnes Matt Simpson took over responsibility for arranging Nicholson's readings at St Katherine's and Christ's. Much of the correspondence in this collection deals with the arrangements for Nicholson's visits to Liverpool.


In the absence of any clear indication of the papers' original order, the collection has been divided into two series: the letters from Nicholson to Simpson form one obvious series based on record type, and the literary material has been gathered together into a composite series.

Matt Simpson is referred to as MS and Norman Nicholson as NN throughout the body of this catalogue.

The collection is divided into series as follows:

  • MSN/1 Letters
  • MSN/2 Literary material

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid contains personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), the University Library of Manchester (UML) holds the right to process such 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. Section 33 of the DPA may also allow UML to process sensitive personal data for the 'special purposes', which are defined as fulfilling journalistic, literary or artistic needs. In accordance with the DPA, the UML 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 R.F.G. Hollett and Son, antiquarian booksellers of Sedburgh, Cumbria, in September 2002.


Matt Simpson is referred to as MS and Norman Nicholson as NN throughout the body of this catalogue.

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 Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The papers accumulated during the course of Matt Simpson's correspondence with Norman Nicholson; they remained in Simpson's custody until he sold them to an antiquarian book dealer.

Related Material

The Library holds Norman Nicholson's own very extensive archive (NCN ), and further Nicholson material can be found in the David Wright Collection of Norman Nicholson Papers (DPW ) and the Tom Kelly Collection of Norman Nicholson Letters (KEL). In addition, the first accession of the Archive of Carcanet Press includes a small quantity of correspondence between Matt Simpson and Michael Schmidt, along with four typescript poems by Simpson.

The Nottingham Trent University holds a collection of Matt Simpson's poems in typescript and manuscript, the University of Liverpool owns a collection of Matt Simpson's notebooks, and the University of Hull owns some typescript poems.