Reading the poems Wilfrid Gibson wrote about his native Northumberland takes you to another place – a place less rushed than the world we live in today.

And it’s a world Mike Tickell is hoping to introduce to more people who, up until now, may have overlooked this prolific writer.

A former teacher, Mike who lives in Wark, has spent the last two years researching the Hexham-born poet (1879-1962) and the poems he wrote about his homeland – a homeland he left at the age of 31, never to return to.

A friend of First World War poet Rupert Brooke, Gibson’s realism inspired more well-known war poets like Owen and Sassoon, but today his name does not slip off the tongue when talking about this genre of writers.

“Apart from a plaque on Battle Hill and a poem on the market cross in Hexham, there are not many references to him,” said Mike, who is hoping to redress the balance.

Gibson was one of eight children and his father was the photographer John Pattison Gibson, who used to take his son on walks which young Wilfrid would eventually put into words.

“He got a lot of support from his elder sister Elizabeth – she was ten years older,” said Mike. “She was a published poet as well and Gibson had written nine books before he left Hexham.”

Mike first came across Gibson in the fifth form at school in Hexham in 1956, when his class studied the poem Flannan Isle. Since then, and with Gibson out of print for many years, Mike memorised some of the poems, which he took with him wherever he went during his career in education.

“I think back then I knew he came from Hexham, but did not know he was still alive, because he died in 1962,” recalled Mike.

He was out of print until local publisher Wagtail Press produced two anthologies, Homecoming in 2003 and November Gold in 2018. His poems can also be found in Land of Three Rivers (2017) from another local publisher, Bloodaxe Books.

“Between 1905-25 he wrote 800 poems which gives you an idea of how much he wrote,” said Mike.

“And that is the problem if you are researching him. You have got so much to cover. He published 43 books of poems.

“They say of him that his poetry is almost like photography – saying what he sees,” explained Mike and a typical example is the poem he wrote about his father, recounting one of those walks in the Northumberland countryside along Hadrian’s Wall.

One verse reads:

And surely now his spirit stands,

This crystal day,

When the first curlew calls, and bent and brae

Awaken to the Spring, above the lands

Of his hearts love, on Whinshiels’ windy height,

With eyes that see the rampart, squared and white,

New-builded, as when Hadrian first surveyed

Rome’s arrogance against the North arrayed!

Gibson moved to London when he was 31 – his father had given him an allowance so he did not have to work, whereas his elder brother took on the family business.

“So he spent all his time writing poetry, but still struggled all through his life with finances because he dedicated himself to this,” said Mike.

He didn’t stay in London though and moved to Dymock in Gloucestershire to join the literary group of poets based there, which included Brooke and Robert Frost.

He had met and married Geraldine Townshend and after the death of Brooke, the couple moved to Great Malvern where they lived until 1922. Six further house moves followed, in the south of England, before his death in the early 1960s.

“Geraldine came from Dublin and had been at Cambridge, which was unusual back then and had also climbed the Matterhorn,” said Mike. “She was an interesting character, but she became very domestic, living with Wilfrid who was very demanding.

“He wrote about women’s suffrage which did not carry that on at home – he did no work in the house.

“What I want to try and pull together is how relevant his work is today. The world was in crisis with the First World War and Second World War. There was the movement from rural areas into towns. There was unemployment and women’s suffrage. And what I am going to focus on is just his Northumberland poems.

“He went to local village schools, but which village schools? Why didn’t he go to Hexham Grammar School? I was wondering if anybody knows what schools he went to. Nobody knows who his friends were.

“This is the part of his life which is badly evidenced. What happened in his early years in Hexham? He destroyed all his early correspondence. We know of Robert Frost correspondence. There was also a wealthy woman in Leeds – Una Ratcliffe – who looked after him. Geraldine wrote to her because he was very interested in the sea and Una used to take him on the sea on her ocean going yacht. She helped him a lot in his latter years.

“Which poems, if any do people remember of his? If he had come back, which he didn’t, there would have been a society based around the Hexham poems, but he never came back. And why? He used the word eventualities. ‘There were always eventualities which took me’ he said.

“I have done the academic trawl, but there could be people who knew of him and have an anecdote. I think it is the issue that he did not come back whereas Basil Bunting did.”

What Mike hopes is that like-minded people will contact him and perhaps form an appreciation society.

“Today we have environmental issues, climate change, Brexit and we are coming into a period of change. You can’t compare the First World War to Brexit. But we have a changing situation where we are going to look at things continuing to go faster and faster. And I think Gibson’s poetry will in a small measure be one of the antidotes. I am thinking about Gibson and his sense for the place… taking us back into place and what we have got.

“I think that hopefully, his poetry is relevant and can come back to a new audience. Gibson is unfinished business for me.”

Anyone with any information about Gibson can contact Mike on (01434) 230049 or by email at