Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Nicholes I (1671–1750)

Mayor of Oxford 1719/20 and 1731/2

John Nicholes (Nicholls/Nickols/ Nickoles/ Nichols/Nickolls) was born in Oxford in 1671, the son of the landlord of the Half Moon pub, which stood on part of the present site of University College.

John Nicholes became a gunsmith, and took on Thomas Pavier as an apprentice in June 1698, John Nicholls of Ferry Hinksey (possibly a relation) in February 1698/9, and John Smith in February 1705/6.

On 22 November 1697 at Cogges Church, “John Nichols” of Oxford married Ruth Castwell of Witney. They had the following five children:

  • John Nicholes the younger (born on 4 December 1703 and baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 9 December 1703)
  • William Nicholes (born on 14 May 1703 and baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 20 May 1706)
  • Aaron Nicholes I (born on 26 July 1708 and baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 29 July;
    buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 2 February 1713).
  • William Cast[w]ell Nicholes (baptised on 5 April 1711 at at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Aaron Nicholes II (baptised on 22 November 1713 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church.

John Nicholes served as Constable for the South West Ward in 1698, and was elected on to the Common Council on 30 September 1704.

It appears from the baptism record of his children that some time between 1708 and 1711 Nicholes and his family moved from the parish of St Michael to that of St Mary the Virgin.

Nicholes was chosen Mayor’s Chamberlain by Daniel Webb in September 1712, and Senior Bailiff in September 1714.

On 30 March 1714 his first wife, Ruth Nicholes, was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church.

Less than seven months later, on 12 October 1714, Nicholes married his second wife, Elizabeth Denton, a widow of the parish of St Mary the Virgin, at St Cross Church. They had the following child:

  • Martin Nicholes (baptised on 28 June 1716 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church and buried there five months later).

Nicholes was selected one of the eight Assistants in January 1718. In November of that year he took on his own son John, aged 14, as his apprentice.

In September 1719 Nicholes was elected Mayor of Oxford for the first time (for 1719/20), and chose John Williams as his Child. At the end of his year of office, Thomas Hearne wrote that he “gave a Breakfast, wch was so splendid that the like hath not been known many Years”.

On 14 December 1724 Nicholes was made an Alderman, taking the usual oaths and giving the macebearer a Jacobus piece of gold and one of the keykeepers £10. Thomas Hearne wrote on 15 December 1724:

Yesterday Mr Nicols, Gunsmith of St. Marie’s Parish, was elected Alderman, without opposition of the City of Oxford…. The said Mr Nicols is Son of the late old Mrs. Nicols, & Brother to the wife of Mr. Francis Harding, the Cook, who are both dead. The said Mr. Nicols’s Father formerly sold Ale at the Half Moon, an Ale House lately pull’d down on the West side of Logick Lane, just where the Master of Univers. College’s Lodgings (as they are now) are built, and ’twas pull’d down on purpose for those lodgings”.

(The register of St John the Baptist Church duly records that Nicholes’ sister “Joanne Nicholls” had married Francis Harding there back on 27 July 1696.)

On 28 March 1726 his son William Nicholes was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Magdalen Hall at the age of 15. He was awarded his BA from Corpus Christi College in 1729, his MA in 1732, and his BD on 26 February 1741/2.

In September 1731 John Nicholes was elected Mayor a second time (for 1731/2), choosing James Croney as his Child. Thomas Hearne says that on this occasion Nicholes was opposed by Robert Vicaris.

On 13 April 1745 his son William Nicholes, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, died at the age of 33 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church five days later.

John Nicholes himself died on 5 November 1750 at the age of 79, and was buried in St Mary the Virgin Church four days later in the same grave as his son William and his son’s baby daughter Hannah.

The above stone in the aisle of the church marks the Nicholes grave. Neither of John Nicholes I’s two wives is mentioned, presumably because they were buried elsewhere. It reads:

[John Nicholes I]
[Fellow] of C.C.C.
Who died April 13 1745
Aged 33 Years
[Younger son of
John Nicholes I]
Also of HANNAH the Daughter of
Who Died in Her Infancy
[Granddaughter of
John Nicholes I]
Senr. Alderman of this City
who died ye 5th of Nov 1750
aged 79
Also of HANNAH the Wife of JOHN NICHOLES
Who died May ye 19th 1767,
Aged 51
[Daughter-in-law of
John Nicholes I]
JOHN NICHOLES Senr. Alderman of
this City who died July ye 18th 1785
Aged 82
[John Nicholes II,
elder son of
John Nicholes I]

See also:

  • John Nicholes II, Mayor 1752 (Nicholes’ son)
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 160, 412, 1025, and A41
  • MS Wills Oxon W. Cod. 96.493; 48/3/28

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 23 September, 2018

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