Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nichols, John Bowyer

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NICHOLS, JOHN BOWYER (1779–1863), printer and antiquary, the eldest son of John Nichols (1745–1826) [q. v.], by his second wife, Martha Green (1756–1788), was born at Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, London, 15 July 1779. Young Nichols spent his early years with his maternal grandfather at Hinckley, Leicestershire, and was educated at St. Paul's School, London, which he left in September 1796 to enter his father's printing office. He had a part in the editorship of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and contributed under the initials J. B. N., or N. R. S., the final letters of his name. He became the sole proprietor of the magazine in 1833, and in the following year transferred a share to William Pickering [q. v.] of Piccadilly. This share he subsequently repurchased, and in 1856 conveyed the whole property to John Henry Parker [q. v.] of Oxford. W. Bray refers to ‘the indefatigable attention and very great accuracy’ of Nichols in revising the proof-sheets of the second volume of his edition of Manning's ‘History of Surrey’ (1809, p. v). Nichols circulated proposals in 1811 for printing the third and fourth volumes of Hutchins's ‘Dorset,’ of which the stock of the first three volumes had perished at the fire on his father's premises in 1808 (see Gent. Mag. 1811, i. 99–100). The fourth volume appeared in 1815, with his name on the title-page jointly with that of Richard Gough. In 1818 he published, in two octavo volumes, the autobiography of the bookseller John Dunton [q. v.], which had furnished many curious materials for the ‘Literary Anecdotes.’ The firm was now J. Nichols, Son, & Bentley, with an office at the Cicero's Head, Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, as well as at 25 Parliament Street, Westminster. The latter locality, which soon after became the sole address of the firm, was more convenient, as Nichols had become one of the printers of the votes and proceedings of the house of parliament, an appointment in which he followed his father and William Bowyer (1699–1777) [q. v.] For a short time he was printer to the corporation of the city of London. In 1821, after the resignation of his father, he became one of the three registrars of the Royal Literary Fund. He was master of the Stationers' Company in 1850, having served all the annual offices.

Besides writing the books which bear his name, he superintended the passing through the press of nearly all the important county histories published during the first half of this century. Among these may be mentioned Ormerod's ‘Cheshire,’ Clutterbuck's ‘Hertfordshire,’ Surtees's ‘Durham,’ Raine's ‘North Durham,’ Hoare's ‘Wiltshire,’ Hunter's ‘South Yorkshire,’ Baker's ‘Northamptonshire,’ Whitaker's ‘Whalley’ and ‘Craven,’ and Lipscomb's ‘Buckinghamshire.’ He left large printed and manuscript collections on English topography. His last literary undertaking was the completion (vol. vii. in 1848 and vol. viii. in 1856) of his father's well-known ‘Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century,’ the sequel to the ‘Literary Anecdotes.’

Towards the end of his life he became blind, but preserved his mental powers and energy to the last. As an antiquary he showed great knowledge, industry, and accuracy; as a man of business he was esteemed for his honourable dealings, courtesy, and even temper. He was a fellow of the Linnean Society (1812) and of the Society of Antiquaries (1818), and was appointed printer to that body in 1824; he was an original member of the Athenæum Club, the Archæological Institute, the Numismatic Society, and the Royal Society of Literature. He also filled various public offices in Westminster.

He died at Ealing on 19 Oct. 1863, aged 84, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He married, in 1805, Eliza Baker (d. 1846; see Gent. Mag. 1846, i. 217), by whom he had fourteen children; of these there survived three sons—John Gough Nichols [q. v.], Robert Cradock Nichols (d. 1892), and Francis Morgan Nichols (b. 1826)—and four daughters.

There are portraits of Nichols by J. Jackson, in watercolour, about 1818; by F. Hopwood, in pencil, 1821; by John Wood, in oil, 1836; and by Samuel Laurence, in chalks, 1850. The last was lithographed by J. H. Lynch. W. Behnes exhibited a bust of him at the Royal Academy in 1858.

His chief works besides those noticed are: 1. ‘A brief Account of the Guildhall of the City of London,’ London, 1819, 8vo. 2. ‘Account of the Royal Hospital and Collegiate Church of St. Katharine, near the Tower,’ London, 1824, 4to (based on the history of A. C. Ducarel, 1782, 4to, with additional plates). 3. ‘Historical Notices of Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire,’ London, 1836, 4to (based on the publications of J. Britton and J. Rutter, with plates from the work of the last named). 4. ‘Catalogue of the Hoare Library at Stourhead, co. Wilts, with an Account of the Museum of British Antiquities,’ printed for private use, London, 1840, large 8vo (‘Notices of the Library at Stourhead’ were contributed by Nichols to the ‘Wiltshire and Natural History Magazine,’ 1855, vol. ii.).

Nichols also edited Cradock's ‘Memoirs,’ vols. iii. and iv. 1828; ‘Anecdotes of William Hogarth,’ 1833, with forty-eight plates, a compilation from his father's ‘Biographical Anecdotes of Mr. Hogarth’ (see Notes and Queries, 4th ser. i. 97); J. T. Smith's ‘Cries of London,’ 1839, 4to; and ‘History and Antiquities of the Abbey of St. Edmunds Bury; by the Rev. Rich. Yates,’ second edition, London, 1843, 2 parts, 4to.

[Obituary notice by J. Gough Nichols in Gent. Mag. 1863, ii. 794–8, reprinted in March 1864, with photograph (1860); Athenæum, 24 Oct. 1863; Proceedings Soc. Antiq. London, 23 April 1864, pp. 393–4.]

H. R. T.