Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 23, 2019
Webpage updated: January 04, 2020




Thomas Nicholson was born in Plymouth Dock on March 14th 1803.  He was the son of Mr Benjamin and Mrs Ann Nicholson, a watch maker turned grocer.  The family originally came from Kingsbridge, where they were well-known as Nonconformists.  Mr Benjamin Nicholson was the much esteemed deacon of Pembroke Street Baptist Chapel while Thomas's older brother, the Reverend Samuel Nicholson, who for 21 years was the minister of the How Street Baptist Chapel until the George Street Baptist Chapel was opened in 1845 and continued there until his death in 1856.

With his brothers, Thomas was educated at the Quaker's School in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire.

Upon leaving school he started an apprenticeship with an ironmonger in Exeter.  When he had completed that he went to work at an ironmonger's in Southwark, London.  He left that job and became a cashier at the offices of the London "Morning Chronicle" newspaper, which Mr Charles Dickens was editing at the time.  He protested loudly against the imposition of Church Rate, for the upkeep of the Established Church, upon Dissenters.

In 1842 Mr Nicholson severed his connection with journalism and returned to Plymouth and became a manager at the British and Irish Sugar Refinery in Mill Street.   His business qualities were soon recognised and the directors offered him their agency at Cork, in Ireland.  After three or four years there he returned to Plymouth as the agent for the City of Cork Steam Packet Company and soon gained the agency for the Bristol Steam Navigation Company as well.  This business he ran on his own until 1888/1889, when he took Mr W H Webb as a partner and the business became Messrs Thomas Nicholson and Company.

Mr Nicholson's energy was still not fully exploited, however, and in 1846 he became a partner with Mr John Burnell (1793-1864) and Mr Eldred Roberts Brown (1809-1885) in a wholesale grocery and tea dealers business situated at number 4 Bilbury Street.  The firm became known as Messrs Burnell, Brown and Nicholson.

At the time of the census in 1851 he was residing at number 4 Bilbury Street with his first wife, Martha.  The household also comprised his business partner, Mr Eldred Roberts Brown (1809-1885), the  aged 41, and two "shop men" named Mr Henry Norman and Mr William Henry Elliott, both in their twenties.  There were also a cook, Miss Mary Butt, and a housemaid, Miss Luis (sic) Curtis.

Mr Burnell retired in 1853 and twelve months later the two remaining partners amalgamated with Messrs Daniel Millward and Joseph Wills (1804-1872) at the Abbey Stores, Finewell Street, and continued as Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson.

In 1859 he was elected to the Town Council to represent Charles Ward and in 1868 he was elevated to Alderman.  He helped to found the Catte Street Ragged School and was one of 45 residents summoned for not paying their School Board rate because he objected to the money being used to fund denominational schools.  As a result of his objections, his goods were seized and sold at auction.

Mr Thomas Nicholson died at his home, number 7 Alfred Place, Plymouth, at 10am on the morning of Friday January 30th 1891, at the age of 87 years and 10 months.   Some weeks earlier he had sustained a fall while descending the stairs at the Victoria Soap Works, of which he was a director, and his condition had steadily worsened.

He had been married twice, first to a Miss Martha Mursell and in 1867 to Miss Louisa Treby, the daughter of a Plymouth shipbroker.   There were children by his first marriage but they all died in infancy.  One of his sisters, Miss Mary Ann Nicolson, died only a few days before he passed away so he was survived only by another of his sisters, Mrs Tucker, of Totnes.

His funeral on Tuesday February 3rd 1891 was in keeping with the fashion of the time.  At 10.30am the Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman J T Bond, headed by his mace-bearers and a body of police under Chief Constable Wreyford, marched in procession from the Council Chamber to Alfred Place along with many notable mourners including Mr A S Harris, Mr E James, Mr W Derry, Mr J Wills, Mr F A Morrish, Mr I Latimer, Mr J A Bellamy, and Mr G D Bellamy, the Borough Surveyor.

When the procession left the house for George Street Baptist Chapel it was once again headed by the Mayor, followed by the following employees of Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson Limited and Messrs T Nicholson and Company: Mr W Lord, Mr Woodsell; Mr W H Doidge; Mr J Finch; Mr F Benney; Mr J Harris; Mr H A Penney; Mr H Loveless; and Mr J Dodridge.  The Reverends S Vincent, pastor of George Street Baptist Chapel, and Benwell Bird, pastor of Mutley Baptist, officiated and Mr Nicholson was buried in the grave of his first wife in the George Street Baptist Chapel burial ground.  The glass hearse and carriages were supplied by Mr C Watts and Mr T Kingdon, of Messrs Popham, Radford and Company, supervised the funeral arrangements.