The Nichols Family

John Nichols (1745-1826)

John Nichols
Portrait of John Nichols, drawn by J Jackson in 1811 and engraved by Charles Heath in 1812

John Nichols, the son of an Islington baker, was apprenticed to William Bowyer the younger (1699-1777), one of London’s most learned and influential printers, in 1759.  Nichols became Bowyer’s partner in 1766 and inherited the business on Bowyer’s death.  He continued Bowyer’s tradition of printing for private gentlemen, learned societies and the Palace of Westminster and, in 1778, purchased a share in the Gentleman’s Magazine, a popular monthly periodical specialising in literature, history and the arts.  The Nichols family edited and printed the magazine until 1856.  John Nichols mixed business with his own interests in antiquities and biography.  His press published many of the county histories of his day and his own History and Antiquities of the Town and County of Leicester, remains the standard history of that county.  He was also fascinated by the lives and writings of his literary contemporaries and used the Gentleman’s Magazine to collect anecdotes and literary papers for his longer biographical works.  His memoirs of William Bowyer grew over thirty years to form the Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century 9 vols  (1812-1816) and Illustrations if the Literary History of Eighteenth Century, 8 vols (1817-1858).  He also produced a biography of Hogarth, edited the letters of Sir Richard Steele and published a Select Collection of Miscellaneous Poems 8 vols (1780-1782).  He was Master of the Stationers’ Company in 1804; a registrar of the Royal Literary Fund and a founder of the Royal Humane Society and a sea-bathing infirmary for ‘scrophulous diseases’ at Margate, Kent.  In 1810 he was admitted a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. 

John Bowyer Nichols (1779-1863)

bowyer nichols
Portrait of John Bowyer Nichols, drawn in chalk by Samuel Lawrence, lithographed by J H Lynch in 1850.

John Bowyer Nichols was the son of John Nichols and his second wife, Martha Green.  He was apprenticed by patrimony on 6 Aug 1793 and was freed at Stationers’ Hall, becoming partner in the family business, on 5 August 1800.  He oversaw the rebuilding of the printing office and warehouse in Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, after their destruction by fire on 8 February 1808.  In 1819 he moved the business to new premises at 25 Parliament Street, Westminster, in order to be nearer to his parliamentary printing.  Bowyer inherited his father’s interest in antiquities and printed most of the major early nineteenth century county histories, on which he lavished his typographical skill.  His own publications however, which had begun promisingly with his edition of The Life and Errors of John Dunton in 1818 and which were to include a catalogue of Sir Richard Colt Hoare's library at Stourhead in 1840, were compromised as he defended the business against the enquiries of select committees in 1828 and 1833 into the high costs parliamentary printing.  It is, however, largely due to his care and deep sense of responsibility for the press and the papers he had inherited that so much of the Nichols archive survives today.  He was Master of the Stationers' Company in 1850. 

John Gough Nichols (1806-1873)

gough nichols
Photograph portrait of John Gough Nichols by Hennah and Kent, 186

John Gough Nichols joined the family firm in 1824 and, though his prodigious editorial achievements and biographical studies, may be regarded as the natural successor of his grandfather, John Nichols.  He began to attend meetings of the Society of Antiquaries with his father from the age of twelve and, in 1826, assisted John Nichols with his Progresses of James I, completing it alone in 1828.  His indefatigable editorship of the Gentleman's Magazine lasted from 1826 to its sale in 1856 but, through his zeal to print original sources and biographical materials, he was also the founding editor of the Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica (1834-1843), the Topographer and Genealogist (1846-1858), the Herald and Genealogist (1863-1874) and the Register and Magazine of Biography (1869).  To these milestones of biography and local historical publication must be added his Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey (with William Lisle Bowles) in 1834, his contributions to Sir Richard Hoare's History of Modern Wiltshire and his contributions to Archæologia and the publications of the Camden Society, Surtees Society and Shakespeare Society, all of which he had helped to found.  When he died, in 1873, his library at Holmwood Park near Dorking in Surrey housed one of the largest collections of topographical and historical books of his time.  It was also the home of many thousands of family, business and collected papers that he and his family had been accumulating for over a century.  In the course of the next fifty years a succession of sales by Sotheby’s began the dispersal of the Nichols archive to its many present locations in public repositories and private collections around the world.

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