John Nichols and John Bowyer Nichols, papers

Scope and Content

Correspondence and some notes, together with printed ephemera, relating to John Nichols' Biographical anecdotes of William Hogarth (1781) and John Bowyer Nichols' compilation from his father's work Anecdotes of William Hogarth (1833). Includes details of the provenance of works by Hogarth and details of copyists and engravers of Hogarth.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Nichols (1745-1826) was born in Islington, Middlesex, the eldest of six children of Edward Nichols (1719-1779), baker, and his wife Anne (1719-1783). He attended school at John Shield's Academy for Young Gentlemen in Islington (c. 1749-1757). On leaving school he joined the Bowyer printing office, founded in 1699, and was bound apprentice at Stationer's Hall on 6 February 1759. His master, William Bowyer the younger, had been educated at Cambridge and was a respected printer, he furthered Nichols' education by setting him Latin exercises, accompanying him to scientific lectures and introducing him to the authors whose were works they were printing. Nichols had a retentive memory and was eager to learn. At the end of his apprenticeship on 4 March 1766, Bowyer returned half the apprenticeship fee to Nichols' father (an accepted practice where an apprentice satisfied the conditions) and on 7 April 1766 Bowyer took Nichols into partnership.

In June 1766 Nichols married Anne (1737-1776) with whom he had two daughters, Anne died in childbirth in February 1776 and in June 1778 Nichols married Martha Green (1756-1788) with whom he had seven children, four daughters and a son John Bowyer Nichols surviving to adulthood.

In 1777 William Bowyer died and Nichols became proprietor of one of the largest printing houses in London. Amongst his clients were the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in 1773 the government had commissioned Bowyer to press to print a type facsimile of the Domesday Book. Nichols designed the type and saw the work through the press during the ten years it took to produce. In June 1778 Nichols purchased a share in the 'Gentleman's Magazine', in 1780 he became sole printer and took over much of the editorial responsibility before securing full editorial control in 1792.

Nichols' reputation as an editor, biographer and antiquary grew the expansion of his printing business. He became interested in Hogarth through Bowyer's association with the artist and Nichols' biography of Hogarth exemplifies his editorial and scholarly method, only affordable to an author who was his own printer.

Nichols was active in the Stationers' Company throughout his career, being made master in 1804. In February 1808 his printing office and warehouse in Red Lion Passage was destroyed by fire with the loss of £30,000, £10,000 of which was uninsured. Nichols, with the assistance of his son and friends, was able to recover his business and continue his numerous personal printing enterprises. He had moved to Islington in 1803 but continued to instruct and advise his son over matters of business and retained control of the firm. He died at home on November 26 1826.

His son John Bowyer Nichols (1779-1863) spent much of his childhood with his maternal grandfather and his great uncle at Hinkley. From about 1784 to 1790 he was taught by the Revd William Brown at Stoke Golding, Leicestershire before attending St Paul's School, London from 1790-1796. On leaving school he joined the family business, his father having bound him apprentice in 1793 on being freed from Stationer's Hall in 1800 he was made a partner in the family business. He married in 1805 Eliza Baker (1784-1846) with whom he had 14 children, three sons and five daughters surviving to adulthood.

J. B. Nichols took an active role in managing the printing business and in producing the 'Gentleman's Magazine'. In 1819 he oversaw a move from the premises in Red Lion Passage to Parliament Street, where the press was more conveniently situated for printing material for the House of Commons.

On the death of his father in 1826, J. B. Nichols became sole owner of the printing house and took over many of his father's literary works, completing the fifth volume of 'Literary Illustrations', which had been left unfinished at John Nichols' death in 1826. He made use of his father's 'Biographical Anecdotes of Mr Hogarth' (1781) to compile his 'Anecdotes of William Hogarth' (1833) and owned several works by the artist.

In 1818 he was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and regularly spoke and exhibited at meetings. Following the death of his father he collected and had bound as family records thousands of letters and associated ephemera, which he identified and annotated. He followed his father's footsteps by being made master of the Stationer's Company in 1850. In his later life he went blind and was cared for by his daughter Mary who also helped him in assembling the family archive. J. B. Nichols died at his home in Ealing on 19 October 1863.

This biographical description is largely based on Julian Pooley, Robin Myers, 'Nichols family (per. c.1760–1939)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [, accessed 14 Nov 2017]

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.