Centre for Regional and Local History

Julian Pooley


The Nichols papers are scattered among over 100 repositories and libraries across the world and 26 private collections. The project is bringing them together on a searchable database which will provide scholars with an analytical guide to the range of documentation left by this remarkable and influential family of printers and antiquaries. It will comprise:

  • a calendar of the family’s correspondence between 1745 and 1873.
  • a descriptive list of other documents they accumulated.

The calendars are stored on a Microsoft Access database, allowing the original order of the undisturbed private collections to be preserved while permitting indexes to be made of the senders or recipients of letters.

  • Free-text searches also allow groups of letters to, from or mentioning a particular person, or concerning a given topic, to be seen together, even though the originals are held by several different public repositories or are in private hands.
  • There are links from the Nichols Archive Database to full transcripts of diaries, travel journals and other documents.
  • A 550 page ‘Chronology’ traces the principal events in the lives of the family from 1745 to 1873 and includes an itinerary of their travels, details of their research and a checklist of the works they printed or were associated with.
  • A link to a 340 page Union Index identifies many of the thousands of individuals named in the letters and other documents.

Although the Nichols Archive Database is not yet online, it may be consulted by prior appointment at Surrey History Centre, 130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, GU21 6ND by emailing jpooley@surreycc.gov.uk. The first stage of the project is the calendaring of the documents in private hands; the second stage, already underway, is adding calendars of Nichols papers held in repositories around the world.


Calendars of over 20,000 letters have been added to the database. They include:

  • 4,724 letters from the autograph collection of Mary Anne Nichols which was formed largely from the literary manuscripts accumulated by John Nichols and John Bowyer Nichols.
  • 5,074 letters to or from John Nichols, 1750-1826.
  • 4,418 letters to or from John Bowyer Nichols, 1777-1863.
  • 4,375 letters to or from John Gough Nichols, 1816-1873.
  • 166 letters to or from Richard Gough (1735-1809), antiquary.
  • 113 letters referring to Dr Samuel Johnson.
  • 4,647 letters that contain references to items submitted to the Gentleman’s Magazine.
  • 1,300 letters relating to John Nichols’s History of Leicestershire.
  • 1,603 letters that were used by John Nichols and his son in preparing the Literary Anecdotes or Literary Illustrations.
  • 96 letters relating to John Nichols’ Progresses of Queen Elizabeth and Progresses of King James I.
  • 76 letters to or from William Bray (1736-1832), antiquary of Surrey.
  • 54 letters to or from George Lipscomb, historian of Buckinghamshire.
  • 95 references to Andrew Coltée Ducarel (1713-1785), antiquary and librarian at Lambeth Palace.
  • 360 Nichols letters in the Butler Library, Columbia University, New York.
  • 89 letters to or from the publishers, Cadell and Davies.
  • 283 letters relating to John Nichols’ research for the life and works of William Hogarth.
  • 682 Nichols letters held by the British Library.
  • 177 Nichols letters held by the Society of Antiquaries of London.
  • 1,973 Nichols letters held by the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
  • 1,015 Nichols letters held by Yale University Library.
  • 4,605 Nichols letters held by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.
  • 90 letters relating to John Gough Nichols’ pioneering work on medieval tiles held by Bucks County Historical Society at Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
  • 309 letters relating to Robert Surtees (1779-1834), historian of Durham and the Surtees Society.


  • The Project is opening the archive to those interested in the Nichols family, their place in the eighteenth and nineteenth century book trade and their importance in a flourishing network of antiques and literary biographers.
  • The database allows us to reconstruct the epistolary conversation of the Nichols family with their friends, clients and wide network of scholars, even though the original letters are scattered among repositories on both sides of the Atlantic or in private hands.
  • Letters that once accompanied contributions to the Gentleman’s Magazine are helping to identify anonymous or pseudonymous contributors. These are being incorporated by Professor Emily Lorraine de Montluzin of Francis Marion University on her web-site publication ‘Attributions of Authorship in the Gentleman’s Magazine’.
  • Letters regarding the production of particular books illustrate the different roles of John Nichols and his son within the office and their relationships with clients.
  • Letters relating to the research and production of John Nichols’ own books show how he used the Gentleman’s Magazine and his wide network of antiquarian and literary friendships to locate manuscripts and rare books for his personal research.
  • Study of travel journals and letters written home by the Nicholses is providing important evidence for their links to the provincial book trade.

Select Bibliography

  • Surrey in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’, 1731-1754 Surrey Record Society (forthcoming).
  • ‘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 Mandlebrote and Robin Myers, eds., Craft and Capital: Training and Collaboration in the Book Trades from the 16th century. (forthcoming).
  • ‘Minutely Attentive to Every Circumstance’. John Nichols and the Culture of Genealogy in the late Eighteenth Century’ in Stéphane Jettot and Jean-Paul Zuniga, eds., Genealogy and Social Status in the Enlightenment, Voltaire Foundation (Liverpool University Press, 2021).
  • ‘The Book That Changed My Life. Discovering the Archive behind the Gentleman’s Magazine’, The Book Collector (Spring 2021), pp. 11-24.
  • ‘Handwriting is often the Index of the Mind’: Mapping Scientific Networks through the Collections of John Nichols and his family of Printers, Antiquaries and Autograph Hunters’ Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies Vol. 43 No. 4 (2020), pp. 464-488.
  • ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine: A Panoramic View of Eighteenth-Century Life and Culture’ The Book Collector (Autumn 2020) pp. 407-21.
  • With Baldwin Hamey, blog post for London Street Views: 73 ‘Nichols and Son, Printers’.
  • 'A Copious Collection of Newspapers’: John Nichols and his Collection of Newspapers, Pamphlets and News Sheets, 1760-1865.’ An essay for the 2017 digital publication of the Nichols Newspaper Collection at the Bodleian Library.
  • ‘Printers, Antiquaries and Collectors: The Nichols family and their press, 1777-1873’ an essay for the ‘Transforming Topography’ of the British Library.
  • ‘‘A Laborious and Truly Useful Gentleman’: Mapping the Networks of John Nichols (1745-1826), Printer, Antiquary and Biographer’ Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies vol. 38 no. 4 (2015), pp. 497-509.
  • ‘‘Joyous to a pitch of Baccanalian Vivacity’. John Nichols as bon viveur, good company and historian of Leicestershire.’ The Leicestershire Historian (2015).
  • Caroline Wessel, Julian Pooley and Robin Jenkins, Nichols’ History Leicestershire. A Bicentenary Celebration 2015 (Leicestershire Archaeological Society, 2015).
  • Julian Pooley is a contributing editor to John Nichols’s The Progresses and public processions of Queen Elizabeth: A New Edition of Early Modern Sources Five volume set. General editors, Elizabeth Goldring , Faith Eales, Elizabeth Clarke and Jayne Elisabeth Archer 5 vols (Oxford University Press, Jan 2014). Winner of the 2015 Roland H. Bainton Book Prize for Reference and the 2015 MLA Prize for a Scholarly Edition.
  • Conciliating His Esteem:’ John Nichols’s Contribution to Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, to Biographies of Johnson and to later Johnsonian Scholarship.’ The Age of Johnson 21 (2011) pp. 143-192.
  • ‘‘An Insatiable Thirst for Antiquities’: The Collaborative Friendship of Richard Gough and John Nichols. Bodleian Library Record 22.1 Oct 2009 pp. 142-161.
  • ‘‘A pioneer of Renaissance scholarship: John Nichols and the Progresses of Queen Elizabeth’ in The Progresses, Pageants and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I (Jane Archer, Elizabeth Goldring and Sarah Knight eds) Oxford: Oxford University Press (2007).
  • ‘The Printer, The City and the Hero: John Nichols and the Funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson’ The Nelson Dispatch Volume 9 Part 1 (Jan 2006) pp. 25-34.
  • Owen Manning, William Bray and the writing of Surrey’s county history, 1760-1832’ Surrey Archaeological Collections 92 (2005) 91-125.
  • ‘And Now a Fig for Mr Nichols!’ Samuel Johnson, John Nichols and their Circle’ The New Rambler Journal of the Johnson Society of London, Serial E VII (2003-2004), pp. 30-45.
  • The Nichols Family (1745-1873)’ (with Robin Myers) The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).
  • ‘William Bray (1736-1832)’ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).
  • ‘Beyond the Literary Anecdotes: The Nichols Family Archive as a Source for Book Trade Biography’ in Lives in Print: Biography and the Book Trade from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century edited by M Harris, G Mandelbrote and R Myers (London: The British Library, 2002).
  • Review of Emily Lorraine de Montluzin, Daily Life in Georgian England as reported in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002).
  • The Nichols Archive Project and its Value for Leicester Historians’ Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 75 (2001) 62-104.
  • The Papers of the Nichols Family and Business: New Discoveries and the Work of the Nichols Archive Project’ The Library Seventh Series, 2 No 1 (March 2001), 10-52.
  • ‘The Diary of Mary Anne Nichols, 1823-1834, a publisher’s daughter in Hammersmith’ Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archæological Society 44 (1993) [1996], 171-197.


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