Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Nicholes II (1703–1785)

Mayor of Oxford 1752/3

John Nicholes (Nicholls/Nickols/ Nickoles/ Nichols/Nickolls) the younger was born in Oxford on 4 December 1703 and baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 9 December. He was eldest son of John Nicholes the elder, who himself was Mayor in 1719 and 1731, and his wife Ruth. His next two brothers were baptised at the same church (William on 20 May 1706 and Aaron on 29 July 1708), and the family then moved to the parish of St Mary the Virgin, where his two youngest brothers were baptised (William Castell Nicholes on 5 April 1711 and Aaron Nicholes on 22 November 1713).

Nicholes’ mother, Ruth, died when he was ten. On 5 November 1718, when he was 14, he was apprenticed for seven years to his father, a gunsmith.

In March 1734 Nicholes was selected by the Mayor, John Knibb, as his Child, and he took the usual oaths and paid the usual fine of 3s. 4d. for not serving as Constable. He came on to the council in September 1734 and was given a Chamberlain’s position.

In March 1737/8 Nicholes took on Thompson Davis as an apprentice, and in April 1744 Thomas Paulin.

In about 1736 Nicholes married his wife Hannah, and they had the following children, baptised in two different parishes:

  • Mary Nicholes (baptised on 10 July 1738 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Elizabeth Nicholes (baptised on 22 May 1739 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Hannah Nicholes I (baptised on 13 September 1740 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church;
    buried there on 28 April 1741)
  • Hannah Nicholes II (baptised on 12 May 1745 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • John Nicholes (baptised on 11 February 1747/8 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Ann Nicholes (baptised on 7 September 1749 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Sarah Nicholes (baptised on 7 June 1751 at All Saints’ Church).

The baptisms indicate that at some point between 1745 and 1747 the family moved from All Saints parish to St Mary the Virgin parish.

In April 1741 Nicholes was elected Bailiff for the rest of the year, and in November 1750 was chosen as one of the eight Assistants.

When his father died on 5 November 1750, John Nicholes junior took over his gunshop.

In September 1752 Nicholes was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1752/3), naming Ralph Kirby as his Child

On 11 April 1757 Nicholes was made an Alderman.

On Guy Fawkes’ Day 1760, Jackson’s Oxford Journal reports that Nicholes’ shop was attacked by fireworks.

On 22 September 1761 Nicholes attended the Coronation of George III with the Mayor Thomas Munday.

In April 1762 Nicholes apprenticed his son John to the grocer John Dewe. In that same year he was elected Mayor again, but chose to turn down the position and pay the mandatory £50 fine.

Parson Woodforde visited Nicholes’s gunshop when an undergraduate in Oxford, and on 29 June 1763 wrote: “For a Pocket Pistol, alias a Dram Bottle, to carry in one’s Pocket, it being necessary on a Journey or so—at Nicholl’s, 0. 1. 0.”

In 1766 the City got into such debt that the council tried to sell its two parliamentary seats. As a result, the Mayor and ten councillors (including Alderman Nicholes) were committed to Newgate Prison in London for four days; they were discharged with a reprimand from the Speaker of the House of Commons on 10 February 1768.

On 19 May 1767 his wife Hannah Nicholes died at the age of 56, and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church six days later.

In 1772 a survey of every house in the city was taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771. Mr Alderman Nicholes is listed as having two houses in the parish of St Mary the Virgin, one with a frontage of 7 yards, 1 ft. and 3 in. (according to H. E. Salter the first house at the High Street end of the passage running between Brasenose College and St Mary-the-Virgin Church), and the other with a frontage of  9 yards, 2 ft. and 10 in. (at the south-west end of St Mary's Passage).

On 12 December 1781 Nicholes’s fourth surviving daughter, Ann, died in London after a short illness.

In 1783 Nicholes’s household goods were all sold “at his house near St Mary’s Church”; and in February 1785 two houses in the High Street belonging to Brasenose College and in the possession of Alderman Nicholes were advertised to let, and were taken on by an upholsterer, John Ward.

John Nicholes, by that time Senior Alderman, died at the age of 82 on 19 July 1785. He was buried four days later in St Mary the Virgin Church in the same grave as his brother William, his baby daughter Hannah who had died in 1741, his father John, and his wife Hannah.

Nicholes memorial

The above stone in the aisle of the church marks the Nicholes grave. 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 I, Mayor 1719/20 and 17331/2 (Nicholes’ father)
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 1025, 1715, 1841, and 2268
  • PCC Will PROB 11/1134/13 (Will of John Nicholes, Alderman of Oxford, proved 3 September 1785)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 18 February, 2020

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