Little is known about Thomas Nicholls's early life except that he was born in Westminster. By his later twenties, he was well established. For example, the Chichester section of the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle mentions him as having been "much employed in the neighbourhood of late," and praises his "admirably executed" stone-carving at Red Hill Church (3 December 1853). The same newspaper next reports that he completed the restoration of St Olave's Church, Chichester, by carving the gargoyles on the west front (8 September 1855). He was still working in the area a few years later, when he is commended for his work on the entrance gateway, chapels, tower and so forth, of Chichester Cemetery, in the early decorated style (4 July 1858). His reputation must have spread. By 1860 he was working for William Burges on the restoration of Waltham Abbey in Essex. Then the Art-Journal of 1 June 1862 picks up his work under the heading "Decorative Sculpture," describing him as an "artisan-sculptor," and praising him for a series of "small life-size" statues of fairytale and other characters, such as Cinderella and Guy Fawkes, executed for a private Gothic mansion in Sydney: "They are carefully carved in Caen stone; and in design, character, and execution, are far above ordinary works of a similar kind" (128). From now until Burges's death in 1881 (and even afterwards, in the completion of earlier designs such as those for the Animal Wall at Cardiff Castle) most of his work seems to have been for Burges. However, one of his last projects was the beautiful and characterful woodcarving for J. L. Pearson's 2 Temple Place, London.

As was Burges's habit with members of his hand-picked team, he and Nicholls worked closely together. In this case, the usual procedure was for the architect to make rough sketches of the stonework, but to give Nicholls a free hand with the individual carvings and their details — although Burges could sometimes be "more minutely instructive" (Read 263), as is known to have been the case with carvings at St Fin Barre's, in Cork, and much later at his own home, Tower House. Sometimes the process could have an extra stage. For example, for St Finn Barre's, Burges's many detailed drawings for the sculptural work were modelled in Nicholls's Lambeth studio, and the full-size plaster models were then sent to Cork where they were carved in stone in the workshop of a local stone-carver called MacLeod (see Read 263).

As for Nicholls's personal life, census records show that he lived in Lambeth, and unlike Burges was a family man. He had at least two sons, one of them another Thomas Nicholls, who followed the same profession as their father (see "Thomas Nicholls"). — Jacqueline Banerjee.


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"Decorative Sculpture." The Art-Journal, Part I . Google Books. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle. Various dates as mentioned. British Newspapers 1800-1900.. British Library. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.

Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1982.

"Thomas Nicholls." Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951. University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.

Last modified 1 November 2018