THE City Chamberlain of Glasgow is the son of the late John Nicol, timber merchant, Kilwinning, with sawmill on the Garnock. He was born at Killin in 1833, when his father had a contract for standing timber on the Breadalbane estate at both ends of Loch Tay. He received his education at Irvine Academy, and on coming to Glasgow attended morning classes at the University during the four sessions 1855-1859. He served a six years' apprenticeship with the late Mr. Patrick Blair, writer and estate agent, Irvine, father of Mr. James F. Blair C.E., the designer of the Glasgow City Union Railway and St. Enoch terminus.
    Mr. Nicol's connection with the Corporation of Glasgow dates from 1854. Early in that year he became sole clerk to Mr. Arthur Forbes, one of the three town clerks of the city, the other two being Dr. William Davie and Mr. Angus Turner. (1) Mr. Forbes had charge of the Corporation Bill for bringing awater supply from Loch Katrine, and Mr. Nicol accompanied him and the deputation to London in the sessions of 1854 and 1855, when the Act was obtained. At the same period he assisted Mr. Forbes at the initiation of other important measures, among these being the laying off and part feuing of the Corporation's first modern park, Kelvingrove, and the arrangements for putting in force the first Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act, and the first Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths Act, as these applied to the city.
    Mr. John Burnet, writer, became secretary and law-agent to the Water Commissioners, and, Mr. Forbes having died in December, 1855, Mr. Nicol became assistant secretary, and had a share in the arduous negotiations, arbitrations, conveyancing, contracts, etc., connected with the introduction of the Loch Katrine water supply to the city.
    In 1864 Mr.William West Watson succeeded Dr. Strang as City Chamberlain, and Mr. Nicol became City Accountant; and in 1866, when the City Improvement Act was passed, Mr. Nicol also became accountant and financier of the Trust, and manager of its property. Later on he had more or less connection with the financial side of most of the schemes of the Corporation upon their inception, and he is still treasurer of several of them. With consent of the Corporation he was also for some years treasurer to the Glasgow and North Lanark Prison Board, until Prison Administration was assumed by the Government. He was also treasurer of the Lunacy Board of Lanarkshire till the county was partitioned into lunacy districts; and he now holds the treasurerships of the Court Houses Commissioners and the City Juvenile Delinquency Commissioners.
In April, 1882, Mr. Nicol was with spontaneous unanimity appointed City Chamberlain.
    He has also, during more than thirty years, been honorary secretary and treasurer to a large number of subscription funds, the aggregate totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds. Corporation hospitalities and other civic functions are also mostly carried out by him, under the direction of the Lord Provost and magistrates.
    Apart from his municipal work, and in his own time, Mr. Nicol played an important part at the beginning of the great Volunteer movement. In 1859, when there appeared a possibility of invasion by the French, there was a sudden call for a citizen army. While the West of Glasgow formed a corps, and in the East another was raised at the University with Professor Macquorn Rankine at its head, Mr. Nicol and seven others resolved to start a corps on the south-side. In July, at a great public meeting in the Old Baronial Hall, Gorbals, with Mr. David Dreghorn, the City Treasurer, in the chair, and Lord Provost Galbraith and other civic dignitaries on the platform, the 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers were launched. Mr. Nicol was the regiment's first secretary, and when it became known that Queen Victoria would open the Loch Katrine water supply, he suggested that the Volunteers should form a guard of honour to Her Majesty in the wild Rob Roy country. It was on that occasion, the 14th of October, 1859, that the Queen saw a contingent of her new reserves for the first time.
    Mr. Nicol is the author of a pamphlet on the screw propeller published in 1858, of a volume descriptive of the earlier Municipal Buildings of the city and of the laying of the foundation stone of the present buildings in George Square in 1883, of two volumes of statistics of Glasgow, dealing respectively with the periods 1881-1885 and 1885-1891, and of volumes recounting Queen Victoria's personal relations with Glasgow (1901), and Mr. Gladstone's non-political visits to Glasgow (1902).
He was made a Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of the City in 1902, and has served under twenty Lord Provosts, from Lord Provost Stewart to Lord Provost M'Innes Shaw. During their reigns the Corporation revenues have grown from £100,000 to fully £4,000,000 per annum, while a like expansion has taken place in the municipal assets. He is a member of the Merchants' House and of the Wrights' Incorporation of the Trades House. He is also a member of the Glasgow Ayrshire, Perthshire, and Fifeshire Societies, and in 1895 was made an honorary member of the Glasgow Celtic Society.
    Mr. Nicol married, in 1866, Margaret Agnes, eldest daughter of the late James Wyllie, Fairfield House, Govan, lessee of the ironstone and coalfields of Craigton and Ibrox, and he has four sons and two daughters living. Mrs. Nicol died in February, 1909, and the second son was drowned in the wreck of the Roumania, on his way to India. The eldest son, Dr. Wyllie Nicol, is a physician in Glasgow.
    (1) Two years before Mr. Nicol entered the Corporation service, viz., in 1852, there were, and had been, for a number of years, simultaneously four Town Clerks:- (1) Dr.James Reddie, advocate, one of the ablest lawyers of his time, who acted nominally as assessor, but virtually was judge, in the Burgh Court. In his day civil cases of almost all kinds were brought to this Court, litigants having the choice of it or the Sheriff Court. Dr. Reddie had a very full share of cases, but on his death in 1852, after 48 years' service, this class of business was transferred to the Sheriff. (2) Dr. William Davie who acted as assessor in the Police Courts, and took precognitions, etc., for the Crown in criminal eases; but on his death in 1857 preconditions went over to the Sheriff, and assessors from outside were appointed to the Police Courts. (3) Mr. Angus Turner, who acted as clerk and law agent to the Trustees of the Clyde Navigation, the Port-Glasgow Harbour, the Clyde Lighthouses, the Bridges Trust, and the Court Houses, all of which, from being originally Corporation enterprises, had become composite in character. On his retiral in 1872 they went into outside hands, except the Bridges Trust, which merged into the Statute Labour Department. (4) Mr. Forbes, who performed most of the city's purely municipal business. All four Town Clerks sat together at meetings of the Town Council.

Back to Index of Glasgow Men (1909)