Continuity: A Family Tradition 1700 - 1954
A Branch Of The Nicholls Family - St. Keverne

As in many rural communities, skills are passed on from one generation to the next and, so, continuity and tradition are maintained. The name of Nicholls is quite common in the parishes of Meneage and is amongst the earliest entries in some church registers. Today, almost four hundred years later, there are still many families of this name resident in the area.

William John Nicholls, stonemason of St. Keverne, was mentioned in several Trades Directories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but he was just one of several generations of stonemasons.

The first Nicholls stonemason in St. Keverne was probably Walter Nicholls who married Mildred Bossorrow at Manaccan in 1684.

The family, without doubt, moved from Manaccan to St. Keverne in the mid 1690s as the later children of the marriage were baptised at St. Keverne whereas the earlier ones had been baptised at Manaccan.

Two separate notes in the St. Keverne Church Account Books for 1722 refer to two payments of £7 being paid to Walter and George Nicholls for limeing the church and repairing the church floor. These references could be to father and son but are more likely to be to the two brothers, George (baptised 1692) and Walter Nicholls (baptised 1685), the sons of Walter and Mildred Nicholls.

In the next generation at least two of George Nicholls' sons were masons - George (baptised 1724) and Walter (baptised 1727). This Walter married Mary Mildren in 1748 at St. Keverne and, at least two of their five sons, again named Walter (1749) and George (1752) carried on the tradition.

It is likely that the other three sons, Richard, William and Hiram were masons as well. Walter (1752) married Jane Mitchell at St. Keverne in 1774 and their three sons were masons. John (1785), Walter and William (twins 1790) were masons of Churchtown according to the parish registers when their children in turn were baptised. It was these three sons who took the tradition into the Nineteenth century.

Walter, one of the twins, was a mason of Porthoustock according to the 1851 Census and was the great grandfather of the late Mr. Redvers Nicholls who with his sons carried on a building business from Porthoustock for many years.

A reference in the Church Account Book dated 1841 gives an insight into building costs a century and a half ago: " A vestry was held on February 17th. to consider rebuilding the cliff at Coverack lately broken by the violence of the sea.

It was resolved that the churchwardens, overseers and waywardens shall meet at four o'clock on Tuesday afternoon and that notices must be posted desiring the principle inhabitants to attend with them at Coverack about rebuilding the cliff...... March 3rd.

Tenders received from:-
Walter Nicholls, the whole work £18
William Mitchell and George Nicholls £21
James Penticost and brothers £23

It was resolved that Walter Nicholls shall have the rebuilding of the cliff at Coverack according to agreement.

"An agreement was made this of March 1841 by Walter Nicholls for rebuilding the cliff at Coverack. Witnesseth that the said Walter Nicholls do hereby agree to rebuild the cliff at Coverack with stone five feet thick from the face of the wall to the back and to be built level with the other work.
The work is to be firm and strong and to be inspected by Mr. Richard Trerise of Trevallack.
After the work is completed and inspected, the waywardens do hereby agree to pay him for the same the sum of eighteen pounds.
Witness our hands this of March 1841
Walter Nicholls, John Rogers, Edward Lawrence, John Mitchell, James John, Richard Bolitho".

The other twin, William Nicholls, married Eleanor Thomas at St. Keverne in 1812 and worked in the family business until his death in 1839. His sons William (1814 - 1840) and George (1816 - 1885) and his grandson Sinclair Beatty continued the trade.

Despite three marriages the mason line almost died out in this branch of the family.
George Nicholls first married Jane Nicholls of Manaccan in 1842 and they had two children who both died in infancy.
In 1846 Jane Nicholls died and two years later George married Mary James, daughter of John James butcher. There were four children by the second marriage, three daughters and one son, William John Nicholls, and all four were baptised at St. Keverne chapel.
In 1853 Mary Nicholls died and three years later George married a Jane Mitchell, widow.

It is interesting to note that the Nineteenth century Nicholls stonemasons were also musical. A note in the Church Account Book for 1820 refers to a request from William Nicholls for a new bassoon to accompany the singers at services.

Both George Nicholls and his son William John had long associations with St. Keverne Wesleyan Chapel. William John Nicholls was the organist there for over thirty years and in the minutes of a Trustees Meeting held in 1901, thanks were expressed to him for presiding at the organ for many years.

However, it is a master mason that William John Nicholls is best remembered; for sixty-five years he carried on a family business which was responsible for the construction of many important buildings in the parish, including schools at St. Keverne, Coverack and Porthallow and both Polventon and Treleague House.

He was clerk of works at the rebuilding of the Coverack Headland Hotel after fire and he was responsible for cutting the holes in the church tower for the installation of the clock in 1907.

In 1870 he married Mary Jane Tripcony at St. Keverne and their three sons worked in the business - George (1875 - 1895), Sinclair (1881 - 1896) and Richard (1880 - 1954).
Sinclair Nicholls actually fell from scaffolding at Rosenithon while building Rosenithon Dairy Farm, an accident that directly contributed to his premature death at the age of 15.

It was Richard Nicholls (1880 - 1954) and his two sons, Richard (1915 - 1975) and Rex (1909 - 1975) who continued the family tradition through to more recent times. Again the musical tradition lived on for all three were good bass / baritones as well as being bellringers at the Parish Church for many years.

With Richard Nicholls' death in 1954, this particular family business came to an end and so concluded over two hundred and fifty years of family history, nine generations of Nicholls stonemasons of St.Keverne.

For further details regarding this and other Nicholls families in St Keverne, feel free to email.

Terry Moyle