Street View: 73
Address: 25 Parliament Street

This blog post has been written jointly with Julian Pooley of the Nichols Archive Project (see here) who kindly shared his extensive knowledge of the Nichols family.

The story of the Nichols printing office starts in 1759 when John Nichols (1745-1826), the son of Edward Nichols, a baker, is apprenticed to printer William Bowyer. He obtained his freedom after the customary seven years, but did not set up business on his own. He entered into a partnership with his former master and in April 1766, their first joint publication came from the press, which was then situated in Temple Lane, Whitefriars.(1) Shortly afterwards they moved the business to Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, frequently referred to as Red Lion Court.

Lloyd’s Evening Post, 5 May 1769

When Bowyer died in 1777 Nichols inherited the business, together with Bowyer’s extensive Classical library and “the old bureau in the little back room which I give to Mr John Nichols my present partner in business to survey and preserve my papers”.(2) Nichols continued the business in Red Lion Passage, with its lucrative printing contracts to learned societies and Parliament, on his own. A year later he acquired a significant share in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which he and his successors printed and edited until 1856. Horwood does not name the small passage on his 1799 map, but it is indicated with the red circle. Nichols’s property is the one with the red cross.(3) These days the whole stretch between Fleet Street and Pemberton Row is called Red Lion Court, but the top part used to be the Passage, although that name was not used consistently. When the printing house and warehouse were destroyed by fire in February 1808, Nichols and his son, John Bowyer Nichols, rebuilt the premises and continued in business.(4)

Advertisement in The Morning Post, 11 January 1819, giving both addresses

As printers of the Votes of the House of Commons, the Nicholses sought premises closer to Parliament. An insurance record of June 1817 shows Arthur Oates Hebdin and two others, army clothesmen, at 25 Parliament Street, with Nichols as the occupier of another of their properties on the East Side of King Street, that is, the street behind Parliament Street. A year later, according to another insurance record, Nichols is in possession of both 25 Parliament Street and the adjoining printing office at 10 King Street. The 1818, 1819 and 1820 Post Office Directories, however, still list Nichols, Son & Bentley in Red Lion Passage. The partnership with Samuel Bentley, the son of John’s sister Anne, was dissolved on the last day of 1818.(5) The tax records up to and including 1819 list Nichols & Son as the proprietors of the premises in Red Lion Passage, but in 1820 Abraham John Valpy takes over. This, by the way, is two years earlier than most sources claim.(6)

The take-over of the Nichols business by Valpy was most likely not one by a new kid on the block, as Valpy had been apprenticed in 1801 to John Pridden and later, after the death of John, to Humphrey Gregory Pridden, John’s son. Another son of John, John junior married Nichols’s daughter Anne. More on Valpy in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1855. Despite his move to Westminster, Nichols remained in possession of the Red Lion Passage property and Valpy paid the tax as ‘occupier’ until 1841, by which time he had retired.

Taylor’s business was situated to the south of the Red Lion pub, but Nichols’s property was more towards the north, on the other side of the Red Lion pub. The property is sometimes considered to be the one that is still there and has the ‘Alere Flammam’ relief set into the wall, but that was the motto of Taylor & Francis. Valpy used the digamma symbol on some of his publications.

The move to Westminster was not universally popular with Nichols’s private customers. Ralph Churton (1754-1831) of Oxfordshire feared Nichols would ‘hardly know a poor country Rector’ if he should visit, and remarked, ‘In Fleet Street there are Printers, radicals or not radicals, in every court and corner; but in Westminster, and the best street in Westminster – not a printer I ween to be found within a shilling coach fare. You will have the best business and all the business without a rival.’(7)

John Nichols’s son, John Bowyer Nichols, obtained his freedom of the Stationers’ Company in 1800 and became a partner in the firm. After the death of his father in 1826, he continued and enlarged the business, which was eventually spread across 23, 25 Parliament Street and 20, 22, 24, 26 King Street. In 1896, the Office of Works requisitioned the leases of these properties in their efforts to widen Parliament Street and to build one large office which now houses Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (see the blog post on John Burder of 27 Parliament Street for more information).(8) The Nichols firm relocated to Parliament Mansions, Victoria Street, later usually referred to as Parliament Mansions, Orchard Street.

Ordnance Survey map 1893-95, showing Parliament Mansions

Between 1820 and 1827 John Bowyer Nichols and his young family lived at 25 Parliament Street. Family correspondence discusses their redecoration of the living quarters and nursery and records how family and friends joined them at upstairs windows to watch royal processions on State Occasions. Although they moved to Clapham in 1827 and then to Hammersmith in 1831, they retained their living quarters ‘above the shop’, attending St. Margaret’s church, serving parish offices and entertaining neighbours such as the family of John Burder at number 27. In 1822 a quantity of paper was stolen from their warehouse in Cannon Row by a former employee, James Thatcher(9) and on 16 October 1834 Bowyer Nichols’s son, John Gough Nichols, feared that the printing house was on fire when he saw a glow in the sky over Westminter when returning home from Piccadilly. The Nicholses premises were safe, but that evening the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire.(10)

silhouette of John Nichols (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

The census of 1841 list Thomas Brickwood, a carpenter, and his wife on the premises in Parliament Street; in 1851 James and Rachel Brown, messenger and housekeeper to Nichols & Son; in 1861 and 1871, Rachel is still there as housekeeper; in 1881, Edmund W. Howick or Horrock, a printers’ warehouseman, unemployed, and his wife Mary, housekeeper, presumably to Nichols & Son, although that is not stated in the census and why Edmund is unemployed and not working for the Nicholses is also unclear; and in 1891 Sarah Sidery, a widow, is keeping house, presumably for Nichols. According to the Post office Directory of 1856, the Nichols firm also rented out offices at 25 Parliament Street to William John Thoms, secretary of the Camden Society (established by the Nicholses in 1838), the Liverpool Water Works Company, and to Stephen William Hy, parliamentary agent. And in 1860 to William Moxon, contractor, Gilbert Thomas Field, election agent, William Paul Gale, civil engineer, William John Thoms, secretary of the Camden Society, and to Thomas F. Gilbert, secretary of the National Society for the Amelioration of the Poor Laws. The housekeeper must have been quite busy.

John Bowyer had died in 1863, but his eldest son John Gough continued the printing works in partnership with his brother, Robert Cradock Nichols, till his death in 1873. The next director was John Gough’s son John Bruce Nichols who worked in partnership with his uncle, Robert Cradock. From 1898 until his death in 1929 John Bruce was joined by his son John Cradock Morgan Nichols. In 1930 the business became a Limited Company, J. B. Nichols & Sons Ltd, but in 1939 they voluntarily wound up the company and were absorbed into the Stationery Office.(11)

The London Gazette, 8 December 1939

For further information see J. Pooley, ‘”The Most Despicable Drudge in the Universe”? Ambition, Assistance and Experience in the papers of John Nichols and his family, 1765-1830’ in Michael Harris, Giles Mandelbrote and Robin Myers, eds., Craft and Capital (forthcoming), or any of his other publications on the Nicholses (here) and The Nichols Archive Project.

(1) K. Maslen and J. Lancaster, The Bowyer Ledgers, no. 4603, James Elphinston, The Principles of the English language.
(2) PROB 11/1036/267. J. Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1812) vol. 3 pp. 277 and 285.
(3) Determined by comparing Land Tax Assessments with various Directories.
(4) J. Pooley and Robin Myers, ‘The Nichols Family (1745-1873)’ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004-ongoing). Online here, but subscription required.
(5) The London Gazette, 2 January 1819.
(6) See for instance his advertisement for Stephens’ Greek Thesaurus in The Morning Chronicle of 18 September 1820.
(7) Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. lett. c. 354 ff. 221-2. Ralph Churton to John Nichols, 16 Feb. 1820.
(8) National Archives, Kew, WORK 12/81/8.
(9) Old Bailey case t18220220-91 (online here).
(10) See www.carolineshenton.co.uk quoting Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. Lett. c. 6165/3/f. 302: John Gough Nichols to John Bowyer Nichols, 17 Oct. 1834.
(11) Anon [G.E. Dunstone], A Short History of the House of Nichols, 1699-1938 (London, 1938).


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