John Nichols (printer)

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John Nichols
John Nichols cph.3b31721.jpg
John Nichols
Born(1745-02-02)2 February 1745
Islington, London
Died26 November 1826(1826-11-26) (aged 81)
Occupation printer; antiquary
Notable worksLiterary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century;
History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester

John Nichols (2 February 1745 – 26 November 1826) was an English printer, author and antiquary. [1] He is remembered as an influential editor of the Gentleman's Magazine for nearly 40 years; author of a monumental county history of Leicestershire; author of two compendia of biographical material relating to his literary contemporaries; and as one of the agents behind the first complete publication of Domesday Book in 1783.

Antiquarian Specialist or aficionado of antiquities or things of the past

An antiquarian or antiquary is an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More specifically, the term is used for those who study history with particular attention to ancient artifacts, archaeological and historic sites, or historic archives and manuscripts. The essence of antiquarianism is a focus on the empirical evidence of the past, and is perhaps best encapsulated in the motto adopted by the 18th-century antiquary Sir Richard Colt Hoare, "We speak from facts, not theory."

English county histories, in other words historical and topographical works concerned with individual ancient counties of England, were produced by antiquarians from the late 16th century onwards. The content was variable: some recorded archaeological sites, but others were heavily slanted towards the genealogies of county families and other biographical material, particularly relating to property and the descent of lordships of manors. The tradition continues with the series of Victoria County Histories.

Leicestershire County of England

Leicestershire is a landlocked county in the English Midlands. The county borders Nottinghamshire to the north, Lincolnshire to the north-east, Rutland to the east, Northamptonshire to the south-east, Warwickshire to the south-west, Staffordshire to the west, and Derbyshire to the north-west. The border with most of Warwickshire is Watling Street.


Early life and apprenticeship

He was born in Islington, London to Edward Nichols and Anne Wilmot. On 22 June 1766 he married Anne, daughter of William Cradock. Anne bore him three children: Anne (1767), Sarah (1769), and William Bowyer (born 1775 and died a year later). His wife Anne also died in 1776. Nichols was married a second time in 1778, to Martha Green who bore him eight children. Nichols was taken for training by "the learned printer", William Bowyer the Younger in early 1757. [2] Nichols was formally apprenticed in February 1759 by Bowyer, whom he eventually succeeded. [2] On the death of his friend and master in 1777 he published a brief memoir, which afterwards grew into the Anecdotes of William Bowyer and his Literary Friends (1782).

Islington Area of London

Islington is a district in Greater London, England, and part of the London Borough of Islington. It is a mainly residential district of Inner London, extending from Islington's High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy High Street, Upper Street, Essex Road, and Southgate Road to the east.

William Bowyer (printer) 18th-century English printer

William Bowyer was an English printer.

Literary career

In 1788, he became editor of the Gentleman's Magazine and remained so till his death. In that periodical, and in his numerous volumes of Anecdotes and Illustrations, he made numerous contributions to literary biography. As his materials accumulated he compiled a sort of anecdotal literary history of the century, based on a large collection of letters. The Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century (1812–15, nine volumes), into which the original work was expanded, forms only a small part of Nichols's production.

When studying literature, biography and its relationship to literature is often a subject of literary criticism, and is treated in several different forms. Two scholarly approaches use biography or biographical approaches to the past as a tool for interpreting literature: literary biography and biographical criticism. Additionally, two genres of fiction rely heavily on the incorporation of biographical elements into their content, biographical fiction and autobiographical fiction.

Considered one of his most important works, Nichols's monumental History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, was the most ambitious of the antiquarian county histories (extremely long, but the quality of the content is very variable), a massive compendium of historical notes, manuscripts and engraved plates printed by subscription after an exhaustive survey of the county, and published in eight parts not in chronological order to make up four volumes when complete, from 1795–1815. [3] It was followed by the Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, consisting of Authentic Memoirs and Original Letters of Eminent Persons, which was begun in 1817 and completed by his son John Bowyer Nichols (1779–1863) in 1858. The Anecdotes and the Illustrations are mines of valuable information on the authors, printers and booksellers of the time.

John Bowyer Nichols (1779–1863) was an English printer and antiquary.

Nichols and the printing of the Domesday Book (1767–83)

Nichols co-operated with Abraham Farley in the production of the 1783 edition of Domesday Book, which he called in his Literary Anecdotes "the most invaluable as well as most antient Record in this or any other kingdom". [4] Between Farley's appointment as co-editor of the project in 1770 and the final publication of Domesday Book in two volumes in 1783, Nichols assisted Farley in printing and proof-reading the text, and also designed the special "record type" typeface that was to be used. This was a source of lasting pride to him; he would later say "on the correctness and the beauty of this important Work I am content to stake my typographical credit". [5]

Abraham Farley (?1712–1791) was a lifelong civil servant, who was appointed deputy chamberlain of the Exchequer in 1736, and soon became involved with the public records at the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey. First amongst these was Domesday Book, of which Farley became custodian, granting visiting antiquaries access to the Book and making transcripts for a fee. In 1753 he was approached by Philip Carteret Webb to make a transcript from Domesday Book; this he did, and, perhaps in return for Webb’s help in raising awareness of Domesday’s importance, waived the usual fee – two years later Webb’s paper on the Book was read to the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Domesday Book 11th-century survey of landholding in England as well as the surviving manuscripts of the survey

Domesday Book is a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of King William the Conqueror. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states:

Then, at the midwinter [1085], was the king in Gloucester with his council .... After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out "How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire."

Record type

Record type is a family of typefaces designed to allow medieval manuscripts to be published as near-facsimiles of the originals. The typefaces include many special characters intended to replicate the various scribal abbreviations and other unusual glyphs typically found in such manuscripts. They were used in the publication of archival texts between 1774 and 1900.

The types created by Nichols for the Domesday project were destroyed, alongside much else of value, in a fire at his office in February 1808. [6]

Other works

Nichols was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a trustee of many City of London institutions, and in 1804 he was master of the Stationers' Company.

Heirs and successors

John Bowyer Nichols continued his father's various undertakings, and wrote, with other works, A Brief Account of the Guildhall of the City of London (1819).

John Gough Nichols (1806–73), John Bowyer Nichols' eldest son, was also a printer and a distinguished antiquary. He edited the Gentleman's Magazine from 1851 to 1856 and The Herald and Genealogist from 1863 to 1874, and was one of the founders of the Camden Society. [7]

It is also understood that William Higton was given the middle name 'Nichols' by his father, the Artist John Higton, in honour of their friendship, and that Nichols was his godfather.


A full "Memoir of John Nichols" by Alexander Chalmers is contained in the Illustrations, and a bibliography in the Anecdotes (vol. vi.) is supplemented in the later work. See also Robert Cradock Nichols, Memoir of the late John Gough Nichols, F.S.A. (1874).


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  1. "Nichols, John (1745-1826)"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. 1 2 Keith Maslen, ‘Bowyer, William (1699–1777)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  3. "John Nichols History & Antiquities of the County of Leicester". Research Centre & Library. Leicestershire & Rutland Family History Society. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  4. Nichols 1812, p. 261.
  5. Nichols 1812, p. 264–265.
  6. Ellis, Henry, ed. (1816). Domesday Book: seu libris censualis, vocati Domesday Book, indices. Accessit dissertatio generalis de ratione huiusce libri. London: printed by Command. p. cvi.
  7. "Nichols, John Gough"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

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