Sunday, 31 May 2015

So who was John Nichols?

There have been many people over the years who have written about Leicester and Leicestershire, many of whom have described their journeys from one part of the country to another, and some of these have included Leicestershire. Here's a selection:
  • William Camden (1551-1623) - a Londoner who travelled widely throughout the UK, and whilst teaching in Westminster wrote the first topographical survey of the country, county-by-county, rather than describing an individual journey. 

  • Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) - the author of Robinson Crusoe was born in London and became famous for writing political pamphlets. In the 1720s he wrote a three-volume account of his travels through the UK.

  • Celia Fiennes (1662-1741) - Celia Fiennes was born near Salisbury, and lived all her life in the south of England. Her travel journeys included two long ones to the more northern parts of the country which she did side-saddled, accompanied only by a couple of servants. Her travels were mainly for health reasons, and she later wrote up her account of her visits.

  • Karl Moritz (1757-1793) - This young Prussian clergyman visited England in 1782 and wrote letters home, which were later published as an account of his travels.

  • Arthur Young (1741-1820) - born in Suffolk, Young moved to London when he was 20, where he wrote four novels. His main interest was in agriculture, and he travelled the country, describing the changes he found in agriculture, society and politics.    

  • John Wesley (1703-1791) - although Wesley was a Methodist preacher, he travelled widely, and wrote a dairy of his travels.

There were, of course, other people who wrote about Leicestershire, even though they lived there, and these included:

  • John Throsby (1740-1803) - Throsby was interested in local history and the study of antiquities, which led to him writing the six volumes of "The Memoirs of the Town and County of Leicester"  in 1777. This was followed by "Select views in Leicestershire, from Original Drawings" and by various other writings.

But, John Nichols was a bit different!

  • John Nichols (1745-1826) - was born in London, and was a printer - and an antiquarian - and an author - and a publisher - and a literary scholar - and a bibliophile, amongst other things! He married twice, each time to ladies from Leicestershire, so he had an strong interest in, and connection to, the county. He wrote many county histories, but his History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, published in eight volumes, is one of the best. Unlike the writers mentioned above, Nichols didn't visit all the places he writes about: Of course, much of it he wrote himself, but as he had extensive connections in the county, he asked these people - clergymen, nobles, gentlemen, friends and relatives etc. - to research things for him, and much of their information appears in the books. He also incorporated some of Throsby's work in his own. Nowadays, Nichols' history of Leicestershire is often the first port of call for the researcher looking into the history of the county.

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