John Gambril Nicholson

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Nicholson with Melling
John Gambrill Nicholson (John Gambrill (Francis) Nicholson, 1866–1931) was a school teacher, Uranian poet, and an amateur photographer. He was the quintessential Uranian, forming the centre of that semi-underground world, and frequently writing introductions for and receiving dedications from his peers.


John Gambrill Nicholson (the Francis was added later and the -ll/-l spelling varied over the years) was born at Saffron Walden, Essex, the son of an ironmonger's assistant.[1] He was educated locally at the King Edward VI Grammar School before entering upon his career (without any formal qualification) as an English Master at various schools in England and Wales: Buxton (1884–7); Ashton (1887–8); Rydal Mount School, Colwyn Bay (1888–94), where he also coached the football team; Arnold House School, Chester (1894–6); Stationers' School, Hornsey, north London (1896–1925, retired).[2]

His first book of poems Love in Earnest (1892) was dedicated to the memory of his mother, but the first section, a sequence of 50 numbered sonnets (which open with "Some lightly love, but mine is Love in Earnest -/My heart is ever faithful while it hears/An echo of itself in thine, though years/Should pass ere its full passion thou returnest"), was dedicated to "W.E.M." This was the flaxen-haired blue-eyed William Ernest Mather (1877–99; second son of the industrialist and Liberal MP Sir William Mather) a pupil of his at Rydal Mount School 1888–90, who died young after being thrown from his horse[3] A photograph of Nicholson with Ernest, taken at Llandudno in June 1889, was published in The Book Collector (Summer 1978).[4] The dedicatees of other individual poems, referred to only by their initials, can be identified in many cases from the school register.[5]

Nicholson's second volume of poetry A Chaplet of Southernwood (1896), celebrated the beauty of another Rydal Mount pupil (1891–94), William Alexander (Alec) Melling (1878–1962).[6]

A third volume of verses A Garland of Ladslove (subtitled "Verses for Victor / To F.V.R. / (1902–1910)" was written for Frank Victor Rushforth (1888–1945), who entered the Indian Civil Service after university. As d'Arch Smith writes: "Nicholson's friendship with Victor began when the boy was thirteen. It was not altogether a happy relationship for it laboured under the usual difficulty that the boy was not able to respond to the ardour of Nicholson's passion.".[7] "Southernwood" and "Ladslove" are alternative English names for the aromatic plant from southern Europe Artemisia abrotanum.

Nicholson's semi-autobiographical novel Romance of a Choir-Boy was written between 1896 and 1905 but not published until privately printed in 1916. In it his alter ego protagonist Philip Luard chastely pursues the unresponsive twelve-year-old Teddy Faircloth of the title, despite his friend Gerrard urging him to a more sensual approach. The novel ends with the quotation: "Physical intimacies are but surface emotions, forgotten as soon as they are satisfied; whereas spiritual intimacies live in the heart, they are part of our eternal life, and reach beyond the stars."

Nicholson was a member of the Order of Chaeronea, a secret society for homosexuals founded in 1897 by George Ives.[8]


  • Love in Earnest: Sonnets, Ballades, and Lyrics (London 1892)
  • A Story of Cliffe School (Bradford c.1895)
  • A Chaplet of Southernwood (Ashover [Derby] 1896)
  • In Carrington's duty-week : a private school episode (London n.d. [1910]) — Internet Archive e-book
  • A Garland of Ladslove (London 1911)
  • Romance of a Choir Boy (London 1916)
  • Opals and Pebbles (London 1928)


Based on the Wikipedia article of the same name.

  1. Birth certificate
  2. See Frederick Rolfe: Letters to R M Dawkins" ed. Cecil Woolf (London 1962)
  3. Manchester Guardian 6 November 1899
  4. Surprisingly Nicholson has inscribed it with Ernest's date of birth as 18 April 1876, instead of the correct 1877 (as shown on his birth certificate).
  5. The Centenary Register of Rydal School 1985 ed. G Mayall & J Pepper (Colwyn Bay 1985)
  6. See Timothy d'Arch Smith Love in Earnest (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1970)
  7. Love in Earnest (1970), p. 128. See also Miriam J. Benkovitz: Frederick Rolfe: Baron Corvo (New York 1977), pp. 156, 247–8, where Victor's surname is disguised as "Rushmore", although in Garland the first letter of each line in the poem A New Vista spells out Victor's full name
  8. Nicholas C Edsall Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World University of Virginia Press, 2003 isbn=0-8139-2211-9 page=160