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Sam Nicholls Of Nicholls & Clarke

December 15, 2015
by Dick Hobbs

Today I publish the second of five stories by the distinguished Criminologist, Professor Dick Hobbs, whose father worked at Nicholls & Clarke for forty-seven years as a clerk & warehouseman

Now that some of the Blossom St warehouses are been saved, yet with British Land’s threat of wholesale demolition still hanging over the rest of Norton Folgate, this is the moment to recall the story of the company which occupied the place from 1875 to 2003. Currently ensconced in purpose-built premises at Chadwell Heath, Nicholls & Clarke has retained an extensive archive of documents, photographs and illustrations that chart the company’s history, tracing its footprint upon this celebrated London neighbourhood.

The founder, Sam Nicholls was born in Worcestershire in 1842 and attended a school run by glass manufacturers. He left at the age of twelve and worked as a glass cutter for four shillings a week. In 1862, the twenty-year-old Sam Nicholls moved to London and, after a brief period working for a Chiswick-based company, he was employed by James Miles, Building Suppliers of Commercial St Stepney, who later moved to Shoreditch High St. He commenced at a wage of twenty-five shillings per week but by 1875, including a bonus that consisted of seven and a half per cent of the net profit, Sam Nicholls was earning the huge sum of £537 annually.

When, in 1875 James Miles’ recklessness led to the demise of the company, Sam Nicholls became self-employed at premises in Worship St. With £500 of savings, he went into partnership with Harry Clarke, whose brother William was the wealthy agent for a large glass company and, with money put up jointly by William & Sam Nicholls and Harry Clarke, they bought the business of James Miles in July 1875 and moved into the premises in Shoreditch High St. When Harry Clarke drank himself to death nine years later, Sam Nicholls needed to find £24,000 to make the business his own. He succeeded in this task, and by 1886, Nicholls & Clarke was his.

The company expanded, spreading out from Shoreditch High St and extending through the block onto Blossom St. Vacant land and nearby business premises and even a school were purchased, and in 1890, the new warehouse buildings were completed. By the early twentieth century, Nicholls & Clarke occupied almost half of the block delineated by Shoreditch High St and Norton Folgate to the west, and by Blossom St to the east, as well as a cluster of other buildings and yards in proximity to the main warehouses. In the thirties, the Art Deco Niclar House was built at 3-9 Shoreditch High St and the adjacent late nineteenth century premises were re-fronted.

Nicholls & Clarke were ideally placed to capitalise upon London’s nineteenth century building boom, which permitted Sam Nicholls to purchase Oak Hall, near Buckhurst Hill, becoming a Governor of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and one of the founders of the Forest Hospital. Fond of horse riding, he kept a carriage and pair.

Five of Sam Nicholls’ sons came into the company and Nicholls & Clarke remains a family firm to this day. Sam was ever-present in Shoreditch until his death in 1932 at the age of ninety and was succeeded as Chairman by his son, Sydney. Such was the legacy of Sam Nicholls that, up until his death in 2014, the founder’s grandson and namesake, who had been both Managing Director & Chairman, was still known to ex-employees of a certain vintage as “Young Mr Sam.”

Portrait of Sam Nicholls above his desk at Nicholls & Clarke in Chadwell Heath

Blossom St warehouses in 1893

Blossom St, 1911

Blossom St, 1911

Blossom St, 1911

Nicholls & Clarke celebrated fifty years in business in 1925

The Shoreditch showroom

The women of Nicholls & Clarke in the sixties

Niclar House in the seventies

Samuel Nicholls (1842-1932)

Pages selected from Nicholls & Clarke’s catalogues from 1958 and 1968

Archive images courtesy Nicholls & Clarke

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News From Norton Folgate

Inside the Nicholls & Clarke Buildings

5 Responses leave one →
  1. GKBowood permalink
    December 15, 2015

    I really enjoyed this article! I found myself pouring over the catalog items with serious consideration.

  2. Margaret N permalink
    December 15, 2015

    We only got rid of our “primrose” yellow Hadrian bath and No.Y1128 low level closet suite plus wash hand basin in March this year – perhaps it was supplied by Nicholls and Clarke in 1948 when we know it was put in. What had seemed quaint and “vintage” 17 years ago when we moved to this house had become beyond grotty and how glad we were in the end to wave it goodbye as it went down the road in a skip. But oh, how smart it must have seemed when it was all first installed!

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 16, 2015

    Ah yes – had a “New World 85″ for when Natural Gas arrived ….
    Now replaced by something almost as old, but more reliable .. a “New World Rangette”
    ( Mind you, I had to take it apart, degrease it (euw) and re-assemble … )

  4. Oliver Williams permalink
    December 17, 2015

    This is so evocative! Wonderful social history.

  5. Richard Miles permalink
    September 3, 2017

    Excellent article. I’m almost certain that the James Miles you mention was my great great grandfather. All that I know about him, was that he was a lead and glass merchant. One of his children, my great grandfather, Alfred Miles emigrated to Argentina probably allied to the failure of his father James’s business and became a successful business man and landowner as well a s senator in the Congress. My grandfather never mentioned nor seem to know what happened, other than a very strange story of a flood in a glass factory. Apart from a record of James Miles, lead and glass merchant of Shoreditch, buying the stock in trade of Henry Tyzack in 1858, your reference to James in your article is the only lead that I have. I would be most grateful for further information on James, good or bad!

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