This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)
THOMAS NICHOLS and SARAH BENNET (9)
THOMAS NICOLS was the third generation of this surname in Rose Ash. On his grandmother’s side, the line stretched back to at least the 16th century. He was the eldest child of Thomas Nicols , born in 1699 in the reign of William III, who was now sole monarch after the death of his wife Mary II.
Baptism. Rose Ash.
1699 Nicholls, Thomas s. Thomas 6 July
We do not know how or where he was educated, but he became confidently literate and must have had a good singing voice.
His father was a carpenter. In a churchwardens’ account book, starting in 1712, the name of Thomas Nicols appears nearly every year, usually several times. Thomas senior did a great deal of work in and around the church. When this account book was begun, the younger Thomas Nicols was a boy of 13. Very probably he was already at work, helping his father.
SARAH BENNETT was not born in Rose Ash, but was living there by the time of her marriage.
The couple were married in Rose Ash in 1722 in the reign of George I.
Marriage. Rose Ash
1722 Nichols, Thomas jnr. & Sarah Bennett
They had ten children.
Baptisms. Rose Ash.
1723 Nichols, Sarah d. Tho. 13 May
1724 Nichols, Thomas s. Thomas junior 20 Aug
1725 Nicholls, John s. Thomas the younger 17 Oct
By 1733, and probably earlier, they were living in Church House, beside the churchyard. In front of it lay the village green. They may well have been there in 1726, when the elderly rector, Lewis Southcomb, wrote a declaration in the parish register affirming that the Green had, since time immemorial, been a place of sport and recreation for all the parishioners. He objected to the fact that a pond and saw-pit had lately been dug on it and was strongly of the opinion that they should be filled in and the Green returned to its former public use.
The reason they were living in Church House gradually becomes apparent. In 1713 Mathew Beare had been paid 6s for cleaning the church. Most other years, the church cleaner’s name is not specified, but in 1727 we find:
Pd Thomas Nickels for Cleaning the Church severall times after the masons £0.1.0
And the following year;
Pd Thomas Nickels fo r Cleaning the Church & Lining (linen?) £00.06.06
This seems an unusual employment for a carpenter like Thomas Nicols senior, and these payments continue in subsequent years. It is likely that they were made to Thomas junior .
In 1731, accounting for the previous year, we find:
Pd Thomas Nickels £2.10.0
No reason for this payment is given, but £2.10s is the standard fee, throughout this account book, for the parish clerk. It is followed by a payment of 6s 6d for ‘cleaning the Church and Linning’, as well as 6s.6d for ‘1100½ shindle’ (wooden shingles for the roof).
Thomas senior was now 62. We do not know if he was still climbing ladders to mend the church roof, or whether Thomas junior had taken over full responsibility for the carpentry business. The account book does not distinguish between the two Thomases. The younger Thomas certainly combined the trade of a carpenter with his duties as parish clerk.
Before the Reformation, parish clerks were clergy in minor orders. Their principal function was to assist the priest at services. Once Henry VIII established the Church of England, the role passed to laymen, or very exceptionally and uncanonically, to a laywoman. Canon 91(1603) stated that the parish clerk “should be at least 20 years old. Known to the parson as a man of honest conversation and sufficient for his reading, writing and competant skill in singing”. His functions were: “reading the lessons and epistles, singing in the choir, giving out the hymms, leading the responses, serving at the altar and other like duties, opening of the church, ringing the bell, digging graves if there be no sexton.”
In country parishes, the parish clerk often doubled as sexton. This was probably not the case at Rose Ash. In 1733 we find payments for:
The Clarck his salary £2.10.0
Pd the Sexon £0.6.0
No doubt Sarah was helping Thomas with the church cleaning and the washing of church linen.
Meanwhile, their family continued to grow.
1727 Nichols, William s. Thomas junior 25 May
1729 Nicols, Joan d. Thomas 20 Apr
1731 Nicols, George s. Thomas (privately) 4 May. George was probably not expected to live, and was baptised soon after birth. He did, in fact, survive to start a family of his own in the parish.
On August 5th, 1733, young Robert Yealand was baptised in the parish church. There was evidently a crisis over supplying water for the font, as well as for the Nicols’s house. The Rev Southcomb, who waxes eloquent in the registers on a number of occasions, records this baptism, followed by:
Memorandum: This is so dry a Summer, & water so very scarce, that this Day Aug 5 th the Parish Clerk’s wife Sarah Nicols came hither to y e Parsonage to fetch water from our Well. They live at Ash-Town in y e House adjoining to y e Stile by ye Ch-Yard call’d ye Church-house.
Ash Town was the cluster of houses around the church. High Ash Town lies a little to the east and Lower Ashtown to the west. The old Rectory was about half a mile from the church. A new rectory was built fronting the Green in 1718.
Thomas, and probably Sarah too, would have worked closely with the Rector. The Southcomb family supplied rectors for Rose Ash through eight generations, in an unbroken sequence from 1675 to 1948.
More children followed for Thomas and Sarah:
1734/5 Nicols, James s. Thomas 24 Feb
1736 Nicols, Hugh s. Thomas 29 May
1738 Nicols, Dorothy d. Thomas 17 September
1741 Nicols, Mary d. Thomas 5 Apr
Unusually, especially in such a large family, no evidence has been found of any of the children dying in infancy. Some, at least, of his children were taught to write as confidently as their father.
In 1738, Thomas’s father died, aged 69. The long list of payments to Thomas Nichols, for carpentry done for the church, continues throughout a second churchwardens’ account book, which starts in 1736. This must now be the younger Thomas . His own older sons, including the third Thomas , were now in their teens and able to work.
Thomas’s work for the church included: ‘making ye Kneeling forms in ye Desk and pulpit and at ye Communion Table’, ‘flooring of the seats’, ‘Righting ye Gate’, ‘Righting ye Roof of the Church’.
The accounts for 1745-6 at last distinguish between one Thomas Nichols and another.
Pd Thomas Nichols his sallary £2.10.0
Pd Thomas Nichols for righting the Church=yard Gates £1.1.0
Pd Thomas Nichols junr for A new Key for the Tower Door and A New Clatcher and other work for the Church Gate £0.1.4
Pd Thomas Nichols the Elder for Righting the said Gate £0.0.4
Pd Thomas Nichols the Elder for cleaning ye Church £0.6.6
Pd Thomas Nichols for Righting ye Bier £0.0.9
With his father dead, he is now ‘Thomas Nichols the Elder’. His son, the third Thomas, has become a smith. While the father is mending the woodwork of the gate, the son is fixing the metal fastenings. There must have many such jobs on which they could work together.
In 1746-7 ‘Thomas Nicholls Carppenter’ is paid for cleaning the church. John Nicols, who is paid for ‘six days work’ in 1751-2, is very likely his second son. He may have been a day-labourer, or a carpenter like his father.
In 1746, Thomas Nicolls witnessed an apprenticeship indenture. He wrote his name in a large, confident and stylish hand. Three others signed their names, while one made his mark.
In 1756, Thomas would have had to prepare the church for a solemn service of remembrance.
February ye sixth, being ye Fast-Day on account of ye Dreadful Earth-quake that happen’d at Lisbon November ye first 1755 & also on account of ye Approaching War.
The Lisbon earthquake occurred on All Saints Day. Large numbers of people were in church that morning, and were killed when the buildings collapsed. All Lisbon’s large public buildings were destroyed, as well as 12,000 private dwellings. An estimated 60,000 people died in the Portuguese capital alone. The earthquake produced a tsunami with waves 60 ft high and the city was on fire for six days afterwards.
The impending conflict for which prayers were made was the Seven Years War, which involved most of Europe, and saw Protestant Britain and Prussia opposing the advances of Catholic France and Austria. It also stemmed from rivalry between England and French interests in North America and India.
Thomas would also have prepared the church for a happier occasion the following year.
N.B. The first time of Preaching in ye new Pulpit was on Revel-Sunday 1757. The cost sixteen Guineas. The cushion cost four Guineas.
A carved pulpit would not have been work for the village carpenter.
In the 1760s Thomas’s son John is again paid for ‘a day’s work about the church’, ‘for three days work’ and ‘for putting up ye pose’. This suggests that he was working independently of his father. But Thomas’s younger son Hugh was certainly helping him.
1761-2 pd Tho: Nichols & his son Hugh for 2 days & Half abt Roof of Church £0.3.4
In the same year is a payment to the older son ‘for Thos. Nichols ye Smith his Bill’,.
Both Thomas and his sons feature in a list of the men of Rose Ash and their obligation to work on the parish roads.
A List of the Names of the Inhabitants of ye Parish of Rose Ash that are lyable to do their Statute Duty in & upon the Highways & what Chargeable with towards ye Same.
Tho: Nicholls 1
Tho: Nicholls jun. 1
These are the hours required. There are 36 names on the list and their hours range from 1-4. There are crosses beside some names, probably recording the hours actually worked. There are no crosses beside either Thomas’s name.
A List of the Day Labourers of Rose Ash
Henry Nicholls XX
John Nicholls X
Again, there are 36 names on the list. Henry is this Thomas’s cousin, son of his unmarried aunt Elizabeth. He married in Rose Ash in 1728, but had no children baptised there. John Nicholls is Thomas’s son, born in 1725. It is not clear why his younger son Hugh has been crossed off.
Thomas died in 1769, aged 70.
Burial. Rose Ash.
1769 Nicols, Thomas (the Clark) 29 Jan.
Sarah survived him by at least five years, and possibly eleven. Because there were at least two Sarah Nicols, including the wife of Thomas’s cousin Henry, her burial could be either of these.
1774 Nicols, Sarah 18 Dec
1780 Nicols, Sarah 4 Feb
Henry Nicols died between these two. It is possible that if the first Sarah was his wife, this fact would have been recorded, and that this earlier one would have been Thomas’s widow. But information about the status of wives and widows was often not given in the Rose Ash registers at this time, so it remains uncertain. There were also Sarahs in the next two generations, who might have died unmarried.
In 1785, his son John Nickells put his name to an apprenticeship indenture, as his father had done earlier. He too makes his signature with an assured hand.
John appears to have followed his father as parish clerk, either immediately or later. The church accounts for 1793 record:
Paid John Nichols towards his salary £1-1-0
Paid John Nichols again 9s
Paid John Nichols for 44 Weeks Clerking at 1s per Week which is … 14s
There is a letter dated 1786 which indicates that their other son Hugh had fallen ill and needed help from the Overseers of the Poor.
If you think that Hugh Nicols is so ill as the bearer mentions, the Parishioners I think cannot be agst your letting him have 4 shillings at present. I am
Your humble Servt
Mar: 16 th 1786
Next Generation: 8. NICHOLS-LANGE
Previous Generations: 10. NICOLLS