Monica Margaret Nicholson (Born Monica Margaret Epworth), Sculptress, and widow of Wilfred Oswald Nicholson (“Nick”), died peacefully in Hale on Sunday June 23rd at 4.15pm.
Monica Epworth was born in Dronfield, on the picturesque South West side of Sheffield on October 2nd 1915.
She was the daughter of Joseph Thomas Epworth and Margaret Ethel Skinner, and had one younger brother Bill Epworth. Monica had no children herself, but leaves two nieces and a nephew (Gill Warburton, Rosie Dixon and Richard Epworth) and their children.
Monica’ mother was rather domineering, and favoured Monica’s brother. Monica was much closer to her father, Joe.
Although she enjoyed listening to Harry Secome on Songs of praise, Monica was never an enthusiast for orthodox religion. This was probably a reaction to her mother, who was deeply religious. The choice of a humanist funeral for Monica acknowledges this.
Monica loved art and went to art school in Sheffield. There she learned to sculpt in clay, and she produced some impressive pieces of work. It was at Art college where she first met the man who later became her husband, Wilfred Oswald Nicholson (known affectionately to all as “Nick). Although they were in the same year-group they did not become friends at that time, as Monica was very shy, and he was much more outgoing.
Later she went to work in one of the Potteries in Stoke on Trent, where she learned how to glaze and decorate pottery and china.
In the war Monica lived at her parents home at Dore, on the edge of Sheffield. She worked in her father’s hosiery/haberdashery (clothing) business, which for some strange reason (which we currently can't remember) was called Bunny’s. The shop was located on the “Moor”, a downtown part of Sheffield which took a great pounding during the Blitz. Monica often talked about the bombing in Sheffield, when they had trouble getting to the shop because of debris all over the roads on the way into town. It was an exciting and memorable time for her.
After the war, Joe her father was a regular visitor and snooker player at the Devonshire Arms, the local pub. He often used to bring people back home for a nightcap. One night Nick was amongst the guests. By then he was divorced, and a bit of a drinker who used to hang out with a group of similarly minded blokes - and he was in a poor state. By this time Monica was in her thirties. They remembered each other from college, and became friends. She helped him to cut down the drinking and they eventually married on September 25th 1952.
The relationship worked well. To outsiders he was the strong “Falstaff-like” figure, while she was his “Little Love”. Paradoxically it was Monica who provided much of the emotional strength and stability in the relationship. Through marriage to Nick, she escaped most of her mother’s tyranny. Her Mother “Mag” was somewhat charmed by Nick, though as a child I remember her complaining that she could “hear that d*mn mans voice anywhere in the house”. You see, Nick possessed the wonderful deep voice of a Shakespearian actor, a voice which he would later use to entertain so many visitors to their studio in Cornwall.
They both were very actively involved with an amateur theatre group - The Players. Although Nick was a leading light on-stage, Monica’s interest was more with helping back stage - though she did once appear on stage as a Charleston dancer.
Monica carried out her sculpting business from her home in Totley - modelling busts of friends and relations, and other pottery items. She started producing pottery animals but dogs were her real favourite. She studied each new breed carefully and sculpted an original in clay, from which she had plaster moulds made. This enabled her to cast many plaster copies, each of which she would carefully decorate and glaze in individual colourings. She skilfully painted many of these to match the colouring and personality of a customer’s own pet.
Monica’s first connection with Cornwall was through her sculpture. For many years she exhibited some of her best work in the Island Art Gallery in Newquay. Nick and Monica made frequent visits, and came to love Cornwall as much or more than their native Sheffield. Business in Sheffield was poor, and around 1970, they made the momentous decision to pack up everything and come and seek a better life in St Ives. They arrived with just £400 between them. The Sloop Market had just opened and they spent almost everything opening a tiny stall there. Monica sculpted and decorated ceramic models of animals, while her husband Nick engraved silverware. They worked incredibly hard there and made many friends in the artists community. Monica had learned accountancy skills in her fathers business and kept meticulous records of absolutely everything.
Later they established the Cavalier Studio in the Digey Square by Porthmeor beach, where people could come and watch Monica sculpting dogs, while Nick engraved and told yarns to the customers. Together they brightened many a rainy family holiday. Many people became lifelong friends, returning to visit year after year. Monica modelled more and more animals, till eventually she had a catalogue of more than 50 different pieces. They also bought a bungalow in Carbis bay, where they would bring home their fish and chips at the end of a long day.
Monica loved her garden and greenhouse, and grew fresh salad/vegetables right until her deteriorating health prevented it. She always had fresh fruit and vegetables to offer visitors. She even managed to combine her garden and sculpture skills by trimming a box tree into the shape of an elephant. Monica loved wild birds, in fact most wildlife, and pet dogs - but hated cats, which she blamed for anything that went wrong in the garden
Monica was quite traditional, and like her mother before her, had little time for things “modern”. She sculpted under her maiden name of Monica Epworth, and was frustrated when people attempted to make connections between herself and the well known sculptor Barbra Hepworth who lived in St Ives. Ironically, when Barbra Hepworth died, Monica’s relatives in Sheffield were asked by a lady from the local post office who had known Monica, if they should erect a commemorative plaque to Monica (The lady had got confused between the two artists. Ironically, during the last phase of her family tree researchers, Monica became convinced that they were indeed related!).
Monica loved antiques auctions and collected a few treasures over the years. She also loved the colour Turquoise (it is interesting that several people accidentally chose to wear something turquoise at the funeral).
She had some favourite places, she particularly loved the views around the Minack Theatre - the aquamarine waters around it. She also loved Kynance Cove and Cape Cornwall. Monica loved walking barefoot on the St. Ives beach and paddling in the sea. She also enjoyed walking in the country, and had a good pair of legs for it.
She listened to Cornish radio throughout the day, and watched coronation street on TV in the evening.
Monica never forgot family birthdays, and always took the time to write a letter at birthdays and Christmas, to keep people up date.
As a result of wartime rationing Monica became frugal in the extreme :
She carefully untangled any piece of string that came her way, and preserved it in a tin for future use.
Spent matches were carefully preserved on the kitchen windowsill, to be relit from a burning gas-ring in order to light another one.
Organic stuff was composted, papers, and glass were re-cycled. Foil and stamps were saved for charity. She was a real old-style environmentalist.
One time when her Niece Rosie stayed with her, she offered to cook salmon for tea. Rosie thought she meant a whole one - or at least some steaks. However, she opened the smallest sized tin of salmon, heated it in a pan, poured over the savoury sauce, and brought it steaming to the table. She served out the vegetables (picked freshly from her garden just before cooking), then carefully cut the tiny salmon steak into three equal pieces. The first piece went onto Rosie’s plate, the second onto her own, she then took the third piece back to the kitchen saying, "yes, this will do nicely for tomorrow".
She was meticulous in writing down everything she spent, and would say that the old-age pension was far too generous !!?
Eventually Monica and Nick both retired, and the Cavalier Studio became a teashop, (which it still is today).
Following the death of her husband Nick fourteen years ago, Monica lived a solitary life but did not seem lonely. She threw herself into researching the Epworth Family tree. She applied her diligent accountancy skills to this problem too, and became fairly obsessed with tracing the origins of her fathers family name. Exhausted visitors would be treated to all sorts of detailed photocopies of illegible wills and manuscripts. She was convinced that the family had artistic roots. She was an active member of various genealogy societies, and helped many others to locate relatives. For many years she made an annual pilgrimage back to her hometown of Sheffield, to search out more elusive family history. Monica, like Nick, was proud of her Yorkshire heritage, and could be quite direct and to the point.
She immersed herself totally in this search, and as her health started to decline, she began to feel that she was surrounded by her “ancestors”. Eventually she had to give up this interest due to her deteriorating condition, but by then she had established a solid Family tree of more than 140 individuals, spanning 12 generations. A truly incredible feat. She also leaves behind a large collection of research material, yet to be processed. This will be a real treasure chest for the next one of our family who decides to explore the family tree. The family tree can now be accessed by people via the Internet, so others anywhere in the world are now benefiting from her work.
Monica was somewhat obsessed by the Cornwall weather, possibly because it had an effect on business. Prior to global warming it was the drought that concerned her, though recent rainier times made her very concerned about flooding and subsidence. She would try to deter visits from the family by describing lurid tales of horrendous weather conditions. The stress of visitors would often bring on bad migraines, from which she suffered for most of her life. She hated the colour Red - it gave her the dazzles. Her favourite colour combination was turquoise and brown.
In recent years, Monica's health deteriorated, and for the last two years, she has been well cared for in Penmeneth and Bonaer nursing homes in Hale. Monica handled her declining health with great courage. She had realised that old age was beginning to interfere with her mental state, and made appropriate arrangements for her affairs to be taken care of if, and when necessary. When her condition became difficult to endure, she refused the nourishment necessary to keep her alive, an act of courage which humbles many of us.
Those who knew and loved her, will miss her greatly, with all her ways. The sadness though, is tempered by the knowledge that she is at peace at last. Monica leaves the world enriched by her existence, through friendships, her beautiful models of dogs which live on throughout the world, and through her vast documented family of ancestors.
Let us carry the memory of Monica forward in our hearts.