The Nickels Family

Early C20 Nickels family history documents. Apart from the genealogical interest, they are lovely period pieces with lots of Crediton references


The Nickels family tree. Click to enlarge. Esc or click outside the image area to return.

[In 2017, the museum was visited from Australia by Sarah Nickels, who was researching her family and its connections with Crediton. CAHMS's family history volunteer David Cann carried out the research, details of which we published here. Subsequently David discovered 2 Nickels family related document in our archive, dated 1904 and 1910, which he transcribed. His transcriptions are reproduced below, with his comments in italics. The relevant part of the Nickels family tree is shown on the right. Two uncaptioned photographs found with the 1904 document are also shown.]

These are transcriptions of documents in the archive of Crediton Museum which were sent to Robin Langhorne in 2002 by Victor Borg of PO Box 77, South Britain, CT 06487-0077, USA.


The 1904 document

Transcribers notes.

Spellings as found, largely American, some comments by me in [ ].

L.A. Nickels is believed to be Lucy Ann Nickels 1838 to 1912. She lived in Crediton to her death and was the eldest of five children.

Page 1


Theodore Nickels Herbert AT CHRISTMAS 1979 FROM Esther Nickels Kent, a second cousin.

The booklet is entitled:

"An account of what I heard and all I can remember of our family"

Crediton July 23rd 1904

L.A. Nickels


Edward SMITH gent.

Such is the inscription (as was the style of yore) over the likeness of a fine looking man in riding costume, whip, and dogskin gloves which I have in my possession. We are not directly descended from him though he was one of our family. He was a bachelor with a history.

He was much enamoured of his first cousin (our ancestress). She prefered a suitor named "Bryce" or "Brice" and was married to him and all friendship between the cousins ceased.

Mrs, Bryce had 4 or 5 children and died without any reconciliation to her cousin; he (Edward Smith) made a will leaving his property to different charities and making his lawyer and steward his executors, however, when death drew near he relented and made another will in favour of Mrs. Bryce's children and sent for her husband to become reconciled before he died, leaving his will unsigned pending his coming, and though Edward was constantly asking if he had arrived, believing he had been sent for as he had desired, the lawyer and steward never sent for him until poor Edward was powerless to sign, and when at last he arrived Smith looked at him and said “Ole Bryce, Why did you not come before?" These were his last words as he expired almost immediately afterwards leaving his last will unsigned.

I have copied from a large board in the Corporation Room in Crediton Church the account of "Smith's Charity" as it is called; given each year in Crediton,

Copy: "Edward Smith of Chettle in the county of Dorset, gent: but formerly of this Parish, gave, by his last will and testament dated May 13th 1171 [sic] unto the 12 Governors of the Goods and Hereditaments of this church, and to their succession forever, the sum of one thousand pounds to be placed out at interest to be distributed by them annually at Christmas amongst such poor industrious housekeepers of the borough, town and Parish of Crediton as have no relief from the said parish in such proportions as the said governors in their descretion shall think proper."

The above thousand pounds was paid by order of the Chancery, with interest in the year of 1780 with which the said Governors purchased the thousand pounds stock in the 3 percent.

Some few years ago in Dougal's Index Register to next of kin (223 Strand, London) among the heirs of unclaimed money those for Smith’s Charity were named.

Some of the Governors or Corporations went once to our Great Uncle Richard Bryce Nickels and offered him money for the portrait of Edward Smith as they wanted to hang it in the Corporation Room. Uncle, who always called it, the likeness of Cousin Smith, felt most indigent and thanking them sarcastically said, when he was in the need of a few shillings he would send it to them.

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When Uncle died I asked a friend to purchase the portrait for me at a sale held by his second wife where many valuable old relics belonging to our family were disposed of (through serious illness in our own home we were unable to attend).

I distinctly remember when quite young a person named "Stevens” or "Stephens" a school master of cultured manners who lived in Exeter where he had a School (he had a son or two), coming to my father (with whom he claimed relationship) concerning money in Chancery which should be in possession of our family. He told Father he had proof there was a quarter of a million there. He wanted the different members of the family to combine and pay the law expenses and get it if possible. Father was to consider the matter. Mr. Stevens came a second time about it but Father thought it was better not to venture so the matter dropped.

"Nickles was the original way of spelling our name" so said the person from the Herald's College who searched for our Coat of Arms for our cousin Nellie Hearn (nee Nickels). He said there could be no mistake because of the peculiar way of spelling and our being an old Devonshire family. There was every other Imaginable way of spelling it both in and out of Devon but not one like ours.

Our family was traced back to the rign [sic] of Queen Mary as residing in and around the neighborhood of Crediton. “An Ecclesiastic of some degree officiated at a chapel in St. Laurences Green in her reign" so said Mr. Alfred Edwards who wrote "The History of Crediton” and "The Families of Note in The Parish”.

After much time and trouble and many journies to London he completed it and died shortly after. Unfortunately the manuscript was lost - either accidently [sic] destroyed or left at the Publishers without further instructions. That the Nickels were a wealthy family is undoubted and I have often heard Grandfather Nickels speak of his relations (whether his mother or grandmother I don't know) who could ride 4 miles to church on their own land and that they were the first family in the country round who drove their carriage when carriages were first used. He spoke too of one of the family who lost an estate over a game of cards. Grandfather's mother's family came from Upton Rice [possibly Upton Pyne] Devon tho I do not know their name.

Among other property Great Grandfather Nickels owned an Inn -The Prince Frederick and a row of houses situated somewhere near Crediton Church. When the road was cut uniting the East and West towns; being in the line of cutting they were sold. Grandfather was very sore about that for that part of his father's estate was entailed and being the eldest son he should have come to him but his brothers Richard and Thomas got their father to cut off the entail which meant his loss.

A fine meadow almost in town names Palace Meadow was also sold to the Bullers and more property celled "The Barton" was sold to make a street from the station. Sir Redvers Buller's father bought it with some cottages standing in it. He made the street and called it Charlotte St. after his wife. The old (Barton) Orchard is still to be seen on one side of the street. Grandfather also bought "Higher Park" an estate near Crediton and lived there until he retired; it was then sold and he bought a house in what was at that time the principal thoroughfare to Exeter; but when the Union Road was cut the neighborhood gradually went down and it is now one of the Crediton slums called Park St. I remember it when Grandfather Nickels lived there. It was built on the side of a hill. The kitchen and garden doors only opened from the street. From the former you ascended a flight of stone steps and got into a lovely old walled garden; with plenty of fruit a beautiful summer house whose walls were stained pink ornamented with large convential scrolls of white shells set In plaster of Paris, all the painted part was pure white and it was a fairy palace to my childish eyes. I remember too the sweet old fashioned flowers, the clementis [Clematis] and jasmine climbing round the drawing room door which opened into the garden. 

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Beyond all this and further up the hill were a fine orchard. All this was sold when Grandfather died but unfortunately the property had greatly deteriorated through the neighborhood going down.

Grandfather also had 2 houses in Bartholomew St., Exeter, which fell into his hands as mortgagee, when Father had to settle affairs he found to his intense surprise the rogue of a lawyer had taken a second mortgage and as the property would not make the amount of the first mortgage the poor fellow could not claim a farthing. He was an old Waterloo Veteran end all his savings were in that mortgage of £120. Having made up all the deficiencies in the legacies with his own money and as the property would not realize its value Father did not sell the houses but he felt he could not let poor old Sergeant Manley lose all his savings so he gave him £70 or £80 and I shall never forget the old man's gratitude as he felt it really was a gift and as such so much out of Father s own pocket.

This is all the property I have known or can remember hearing of but from Great-Grandfather's style of living he must have been a very wealthy man. He lived at a place called Winswood and kept an establishment large enough to have 2 dinners cooked daily, one for the dining room and one for the servant's hall. I can remember one old man who used to speak of his having lived at my Great Grandfather's as under gardener. I was also introduced to an old lady (Mrs. Lozer), then between 80 and 90 years of age when I was a young girl. She said when I was named “Mr. John Nickels daughter!" "My dear I opened the ball with your Great Grandfather when your father and two of his sisters were christened. They kept it up 3 days and 3 nights and I recollect your Great Grandfather used to wear "small clothes" as was the fashion then. He had silver buckles on his shoes and danced a new pair of black silk stockings into holes before he had finished." Uncle William Nickels recollected being taken as a little child to his Grandfather's to spend the day, he said, "There was a great deal of silver on the table and servants waited at table." Great Grandfather had three wives whose maiden names I do not know but I have always heard they were a pleasure loving lot and kept a great deal of company with the Gentry of the neighborhood which makes it easy to guess where the baubles that should have come to their decendants went. Great Grandfather's family consisted of 3 sons, William, Thomas, and Richard Bryce Nickels, and one daughter named Margaret, who was generally known as " Miss Peggy Nickels". She was a little lady who wore curls each side of her face, dressed exceedingly well in good silk and wore handsome jewelry. I can just remember her. She never married but lived with her brother Thomas in a house in a walled garden full of flowers. The house was just opposite the church at the upper end of church St. She was a particular little lady as to her associates. Great Uncle Thomas I have a faint recollection of as an old gentlemen with very grey hair who walked with a stick. He was not fond of children and I as a child returned the compliment. Great Uncle Richard (whose likeness was presented to father by his second wife after Uncle's death) was witty, sarcastic, and warm tempered, exceeding fond of music and of dogs in whose intelligence he firmly believed saying they could talk if they wished but did not lest they were made to work. He was sometimes more candid than courteous and the person who offended him received a piece of his mind that was "sharp, distinct, and perfectly finished." He was twice married - his first wife, a well educated and accomplished lady who played the spinet before pianos were made. There were no children and she died before middle age. Uncle, then getting an old man, married again, a person just suitable to be his housekeeper and attendant. At his death everything, property, furniture and many valuable family relics were left to her. The will had been very recently made. A friend told us of a former will just two years before wherein his own relations were handsomly remembered, to some of whom he had promised if they bore his name and what he would leave them. All the above relics, watches, old china, a valuable alms dish and Edward Smith's portrait were sold by the second wife. I believe Grandfather once lived at Blaydon House [?Blagdon] before they removed to

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Park. My father was born there and some of the other children. They moved to Park when Father was three years old; it was a lovely place and often I have heard him describe it with its clemantis and its monthly rose covering the front of the house and a hole was made in the bedroom glass window through which the clemantis was taken in and trained to form a cornice round Grandmother's bedroom. The lawn in front sloped down to the river Taw [this can not be the correct river]. Grandmother was a Miss Elizabeth Lake, her family being gentleman farmers. She was a fine, smart, old lady with beautiful hazel eyes. She had 13 children, 4 being sons and 9 daughters. Grandfather was warm tempered and would be severe but Grandmother was kind, no disciplemarian [sic] and always ready to shield the children who were a fun loving lot, fond of practical jokes and who under such circumstances did not make the most of their lives nor take good positions in life they were entitled to have taken.


Copy of cutting from newspaper sent me by Aunt Ford Dec. 1908 L.S.

"The Bishopric of Crediton" Crediton will shortly celebrate the 100th [sic] anniversary of the consecration of the first Bishop of Crediton. It was In 909 and at Crediton that the ecclesastical history of Devon In the present order of things began. The eccleseastical order of Wessea was then made complete by the consecration in one day of seven bishops. Of these Eadwulf was one and he became the first Saxon Bishop of Devon with a partial rule in Cornwall having assigned to him the manors of Pawton, Callington and Lawhilton [?Lawhitton]; that he might thrice yearly visit the Cornish race to extirpate their errors. The See remained at Crediton for 140 years, the original Cathedral of Crediton was dedicated in honor of the Blessed Virgin and situated on or near the present Colleg[iat]e Church of the Holy Cross.

After filling the Episcopal Chair for 21 years Eadwulf died in 931 and was buried at Crediton. Nine bishops in succession ruled at Crediton until the last but one, Lyfing, the Bishop of Cornwall was united to that of Devonshire and under his successor, Leofrie, the seal of the See was transfered to Exeter in 1050. The title of Bishop of Crediton was revived on the appointment of the present Bishop Trefusis as Suffrogan of Exeter.

Nickels house pic

This is one of the photographs which accompanied the document. Does anyone recognise the house? (27/07/2023 update: subsequent evidence suggests that this house is in Ottery St Mary)



This is the other photograph which was found with the document. Can anyone shed any light on this plate?


The 1910 document

Transcribers notes.

This is the shorter of two documents from Victor R. Borg of South Britain, CT, USA.

The document has largely American spellings and was typed using a difficult to read 'handwritten' type face.

David Cann 2 May 2018


page 1

The Corunna Independent

April 12, 11910 [sic]


possessor of book on the early history of his family

that he prizes highly - HOW ESTATE WAS LOST

The city of Corunna numbers among her citizens one who is able to trace his geneology [sic] thru a succession of generations and delving into the past finds that the blue blood of Old England flows thru his veins. The person to whom we are at present refering [sic] is non other than our well-known townsman, Thos. Nickels.

A few week ago Mr. Nickels received from a relative in England a book containing a history of the family and in it are found many interesting and valuable facts regarding their noble ancestry.

In the historical book it is found that NICKELS was the original spelling of the name, as was discovered by the Herald's College in searching for their coat-of-arms. The family has been traced back to the reign of Queen Mary, as presiding in and around the neighborhood of Crediton, England. The Nickels were a wealthy family and it is one of their traditions that they could ride four miles to church on their own land and that they were the first family in the country to drive a carriage when carriages were first used.

There is a tradition too- that one of the family lost a large estate over a game of cards. One Sunday he was playing with a rich old country squire, when the stakes ran very high, indeed, that the excitement became intense, not only between the players but among the bystanders. The onlookers saw a good deal of the game, but they were

page 2

horrified when the ancestor of the Nickels family, apparently reckless of the consequences, risked all his blood lands and lost them. That fine estate is in the possession of the family of the winner today, though the Nickels coat-of-arms is still retained over the doors and gates. There is now at the house where the games were played, stones representing the winning and losing cards as they were thrown down after the final deal.

The old homestead of the Nickels family was described as follows:

"It was a lovely place, with clemetis [sic] and monthly roses covering the front of the house and even creeping in through the windows and twining around the rooms. The lawn in front clopped [sic] down to the river. It was build [sic] on the side of a hill, the kitchen and garden doors only opening from the street; from the former one ascended a flight of stone steps onto a lovely old walled garden, with an abundance of fruit and a beautiful summer house, surrounded by sweet, old-fasioned [sic] flowers and twining jasmine. In this old home two dinners were cooked daily, one for the dining-room and one for the servants hall.

At the christening ball, given by the family, the party was kept up for three days and three nights, and the father of the children who were christened was dressed in "small clothes" which was the fashion then, and had silver buckels [sic] on his shoes, and it is said that he danced a new pair of silk hose into holes before he had finished.

An aunt, Miss Peggy Nickels, was a little lady who wore curls on each side of her face. She dressed exceedingly well, in good silks, and wore handsome jewelry [sic]. She never married but lived with her brother Thomas, in a house, in a walled garden, with many sweet-smelling

page 3


In the possession of the family is an alms dish given them by Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of their entertaining her at their home in Crediton. The dish is suitably inscribed and Mr. Nickels showed the Independent Scribe a photograph of the same.

It was our privilege to examine the records and photos thru the courtesy of Mr. Nickels, which we did with a great deal of interest.