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14 St. George's Terrace, Millom

The project to buy Norman Nicholson's House

· Fundraiser,Norman Nicholson

This is a post about the project to buy and renovate the house of the Cumbrian poet Norman Cornthwaite Nicholson (1914-87) in Millom, on the county's south west coast. It describes something of the poet's significance to the region and what the project hopes to achieve and why it's important. It begins by quoting a whole poem of Nicholson's, showing how he combined social comentary with perceptive evocation of place. 

Norman Nicholson, "Millom Old Quarry" in The Pot Geranium (1954):

‘They dug ten streets from that there hole,’ he said,‘Hard on five hundred houses,’ He noddedDown the set of the quarry and spat in the waterMaking a moorhen cock her headAs if a fish had leaped. ‘Half the new townCame out of yonder—King Street, Queen Street, all‘The houses round the Green as far as the slagbank,‘And Market Street, too, from the Crown allotments‘Up to the Station Yard.’—‘But Market Street's‘Brown freestone,’ I said. 'Nobbut the facings;‘We called them the Khaki Houses in the Boer War,‘But they're Cumberland slate at the back.’I thought of those streets still bearing their royal namesLike the coat-of-arms on a child's Jubilee Mug—Nonconformist gables sanded with sunOr branded with burning creeper; a smoke of lilacBetween the blue roofs of closet and coal-house:So much that woman's blood gave sense and shape toHacked from this dynamited combe.The rocks cracked to the pond, and hawthrons fellIn waterfalls of blossom. Shed petalsPatterned the scum like studs on the sole of a boot,And stiff-legged sparrows skid down screes of gravel.I saw the town's black generationsPacked in their caves of rock, as mussel or limpetWashed by the tidal sky; then swept, shovelledBack in the quarry again, a landslip of lintels Blocking the gape of the tarn. The quick turf pushed a green tarpaulin over All that was mortal in five thousand lives. Nor did it seem a paradox to one Who held quarry and query, turf and town, In the small lock of a recording brain. [1] 


Like anywhere, Cumbria (soon to be split into two counties) has many inequalities and huge disparity across the region. Predominately hillfarming country, its central valleys, mountains and lakes are now a National Park (not of the US type!) and UNESCO World Heritage Site which attracts millions of tourists every year, and all of the challenges and income that goes with that. At the same time, there are the coastal communities, sometimes isolated and hard to access, whose industries have all but died out. These places are some of the county’s most beautiful but they are also some of the poorest and the most neglected, both in the imagination and in terms of government funding.

Cumbria is well known for the Romantic and radical poet William Wordsworth, who was born in Cockermouth but spent most of his life in the central lakes. He died in 1850, but in the twentieth century, Cumbria had another visionary, poetic voice, that of Millom-born and Millom-hefted Norman Nicholson. Unlike many of the region’s best known figures, he was plagued by ill health and after recovering from TB in his teens, would never climb a mountain. Yet he became one of the best writers I know, able to combine person and place, history and nature, powerfully and succinctly.

In 2022, the central Lakes will generate millions in income for the region. But Millom will see none of that. Nicholson’s work is, in some ways, the legacy of the town and its people, and if we celebrate it, we can help people to see how marvellous the whole county is, its coastal fringe as well its the honeypot villages in the middle. That is why there is a Community Interest Company with the aim of buying the house Nicholson lived in (currently unoccupied and in disrepair), renovating it and making it a community hub, to celebrate Nicholson and to provide an ongoing connection with the local community. This costs money, however, and of course there are many many good causes out there, not least the ongoing effects of Covid and the suffering in Ukraine.

The project has already secured £126,000 but we need £500,000. We’re approaching major funders but we’re also looking to raise some of the money ourselves. We currently have a GoFundMe campaign running, with all of the money donated being matched by the Architectural Heritage Fund. As of today, we have raised £11,289 this way but we’d love to make £20,000 as the Architectural Heritage Fund will match every pound up to that amount. So if we raise £20,000, £40,000 will in fact go to the project. There is a detailed website and project plan here.  It’s chocker block of info and exciting details of the project. We want his house to become not just a worthy tribute to him but also a lively contributor to the Millom area, creating jobs, supporting community initiatives, attracting visitors and increasing revenue. This whole project will cost over £500k.  We'd be so grateful if you can support us and show that you support our aims and want to see this project come to life.

[1] Norman Nicholson, Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), 181.

Copyright © Jack Threlfall Hartley 2022

Here are a selection of photos from the website to give you an insight into what the house looks like and the aims of the project: 

A pot geranium in Nicholson's dormer window, looking out over Millom's rooftops.

A pot geranium in Nicholson's dormer window, looking out over Millom's rooftops.

"Celebrating a great writer - and doing a whole lot more".
"breathing new life into the house that gave birth to a poet"

 The front of 14 St. George's Terrace and Nicholson's "blue plaque".