The following notes on the Nicol family were researched by Phil Renouf and kindly sent to the Virtual Musem July 2019:
- Margaret and Gwen Nicol at Clearpoint (with "Spot"). (Kindly sent by Phil Renouf)
The Nicol family owned the Ironmongers and Saddlers at 24 High Street for over 50 years.
Noel Sibbald Nicol bought the business in 1919 and moved to Hungerford from Leicester with his wife, Emily Kate Nicol, and his two daughters, Margaret Sibbald Nicol and Gweneth Mary Nicol.
He was born on 4th September 1883 in Crowmill Lodge, Wigston, Leicestershire, and records show that his parents were Peter and Elizabeth Nicol and that, at the time of Noel’s birth, his father was a farmer and grazier. However, by the time of the 1901 Census his father was a butcher with premises in London Road, Leicester. A contemporary trade directory describing the business as, “Nicol P, family butcher. Families waited upon daily, special terms to hotels, restaurants, boarding houses etc.”
Census records also tell us that Noel had 2 brothers and 3 sisters and that in 1901 he was living with his parents in London Road but was employed elsewhere as an Ironmonger’s Assistant.
Noel’s father, Peter Nicol, was born in Wales, in the parish of Cilcennin, and according to records in the Ceredigion Archives he was the son of a farmer on the Lisburne Estate. In contrast, Noel’s mother, Elizabeth Nicol (formerly Orange), was born in Leicestershire and, according to her birth certificate, she was the daughter of a Lambs Wool and Worsted Manufacturer. Noel’s middle name also highlights his family’s Scottish connections, as Sibbald was his Edinburgh-born grandmother’s maiden name.
Emily Kate Nicol was formerly Emily Kate Thorpe. She was born on 1st March 1882 in Great Bowden, Leicester, and her birth certificate identifies her mother as Eliza Catherine Thorpe (previously Odams) and her father as Edward Thorpe, an Auctioneer. Sadly, Emily never knew her father though as he died on 13th September 1881 at the age of 32 having caught Typhoid Fever.
Edward Thorpe, was born in Uppingham, Rutland. He was one of eleven children and records show that his father, Henry Thorpe, was a Mason and Stone Engraver who for many years held the post of Parish Clerk in Uppingham. Emily’s mother, Eliza Thorpe, was from Northampton and her birth certificate describes her father as a Coal Merchant although later Census records describe him as a Railway Gate Keeper.
On 29th November 1888 Emily Thorpe’s widowed mother re-married. Her second husband was Thomas Lander, a farmer. They had a son, William Quinton Lander who was born on 6th July 1894, and Census records show that in 1901 the family were all living in Knighton, Leicester.
Noel and Emily Nicol married on 23rd December 1909 in St. Mary’s Church, Knighton. Their Marriage Certificate describes Noel as an Ironmonger, 26, and Emily simply as a Spinster, 27. The witnesses included Noel’s eldest brother, John Orange Nicol, and Emily’s half-brother, William Lander, who like so many other young men of his generation was destined not to survive the coming Great War.
Both of Noel and Emily Nicol’s two daughters were born in Mill Hill Lane, Leicester: Margaret Sibbald Nicol on 11th November 1910 and Gweneth Mary Nicol on 12th June 1913.
William Lander joined the Army on 1st September 1914 at the age of 20. He was living with his paternal uncle in Leicester at the time, his father having died in 1903 and his mother in 1905, and when required to provide details of his next of kin he nominated Mrs E K Nicol of 5 Mill Hill Lane, Leicester. His trade or calling was recorded as clerk at the Melton branch of the London City and Midland Bank. He was killed on 13th October 1915 when his unit, the 1st/4th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, took part in the disastrous assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt near Hulluch in France.
According to the Leicestershire County Council War Memorials Project website, Corporal Lander’s military records include letters from Emily Nicol asking after his personal effects and a copy of Army Form W.5080 (Information on Deceased Soldier’s Family) that is dated 8th May 1919 and witnessed and signed by WRPS Gray, Clerk in Holy Orders, Hungerford Vicarage.
William is remembered on the Loos Memorial and in a number of locations in Leicestershire including in St. Margaret’s Church, Leicester, where the tenor bell bears the memorial dedication “ Recast in 1921 in memory of W Quinton Lander, Cpl. 4th Leicesters”.
Tragically, Emily Nicol died on the 14th November 1919, soon after the family had moved to Hungerford. Her death certificate says that the cause was “Morbus Cordis 9 years” (heart disease/natural causes) and it confirms that she was aged only 37. It also states that her sister-in-law, Rosina E Howse, of West End, Pewsey, was present at her death.
She is buried in St. Saviour’s Cemetery, Eddington, where the inscription on her gravestone includes the words, “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die”.
Rosina “Rose” Emma Howse, who was present when Emily Nicol died, was one of Noel’s sisters.
She had moved to the Wiltshire town of Pewsey, with her mother and father, after her brother George Bryans Nicol had bought a business there in 1905. She married Ernest Howse in Pewsey in 1907.
Later, Margaret Elsie Nicol, another of Noel’s sisters, also moved to Pewsey and at the time of the 1911 Census she was living with Peter and Elizabeth in London House, North Street. Peter Nicol, who was not in good health, died in Pewsey on 2nd September 1911 at the age of 68.
Over the years George Nicol’s business expanded into the well-known GB Nicol department store and in the 1915 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Wiltshire he appears as “Nicol George Bryan, draper & deputy registrar of marriages, North Street”.
In the 1920s Margaret and Gwen Nicol began their long association with the Girl Guides. As Pam Haseltine explains in her booklet about the early days of guiding in Berkshire: "Margaret joined the Hungerford Guide Company in 1923 at the age of 12 when the vicar’s wife, Mrs Gray was captain…. She then ran the Hungerford Brownies from 1937 until 1946, when she transferred to the Guides. She also ran the Ranger unit from 1943 until 1953."
Margaret became Hungerford District Commissioner in 1945, Assistant Division Commissioner for South Division in 1955, then Division Commissioner from 1958 until 1969.
Gwen joined at the same time as her sister in 1923 but as she was only 10 she had to wait to be enrolled for another year. She held Guide warrants from 1934 until 1949. She then became Hungerford District Secretary until 1967 (and) from 1969 until 1973 she was South Division Secretary.
However, Pam Haseltine also says that Gwen Nicol’s greatest expertise lay in camping: "Gwen Nicol was a great camper. She obtained her licence at the age of 21 and camped for 50 years without a break … (and) between 1960 and 1973 she was District, Division and finally County Camp Advisor."
Meanwhile, Noel Nicols’s Ironmonger and Saddler business continued to do well and in 1936 the family were able to move into a house on the southern edge of Hungerford that they were to name “Clearpoint”.
Unfortunately however, Noel’s health was not good and, as Pam Haseltine explains, it was for that reason that Margaret and Gwen Nicol did not join the services or undertake other work during the Second World War: "Because their Mother had died and their Father was an invalid, Margaret and Gwen had to stay at home during the war. Thus guiding in Hungerford didn’t suffer unduly and this is why the 1st Hungerford Company has been in existence for an unbroken period since 1917. They even managed to camp in wartime in a field adjoining the Nicol’s home."
Noel Sibbald Nicol died on 6th June 1949 at the family home in Salisbury Road. He was 65 and his death certificate says that the cause of his death was “hypostatic pneumonia and disseminated sclerosis” (multiple sclerosis). He is buried in St. Saviour’s Cemetery with his wife, Emily.
His death did not signal the end of the business that he had founded however, and it continued under the management of Margaret and Gwen Nicol until 1971 when Paul Good acquired it.
Shortly after, both Margaret Nicol and Gwen Nicol received awards that acknowledged their contributions to guiding in Berkshire. Known as “Stag” Awards, and given “ for outstanding service to the Berkshire County Girl Guide Association with particular reference to special effort and long service”, they were presented to Margaret in 1973 and to Gwen in 1974. As Pam Haseltine says,
Margaret and Gwen Nicol were the mainstay of guiding in Hungerford for 50 years, helping to give the company its unbroken record.
In 1987 Margaret was appointed President of Donnington Division and Gwen was appointed President of Hungerford District.
Outside of the world of the Girl Guides the sisters were also members of the church ladies group that produced many of the hassocks in Hungerford’s St. Lawrence Church and, according to the detailed inventory of church furnishing and contents completed by the Church Recording Group in 2018, between 1968 and 1993 Margaret and Gwen personally created 65 out of the 264 hassocks that were made for the nave and choir stalls.
In addition, there are a further 3 that have a Nicol family connection, as they are identified as being the work of Ingrid Wahlman who was Gwen Nicol’s good friend from Järfälla in Sweden.
Margaret Sibbald Nicol died at “Clearpoint” on 1st September 1990 at the age of 79. Gweneth Mary Nicol died on 31st August 1999 in Swindon’s Princess Margaret Hospital at the age of 86. Both sisters are buried with their parents in St. Saviour’s Cemetery, Eddington.
Neither married although it has been suggested that around the time of her father’s death Gwen Nicol had been engaged to be married.