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Last amended 27.1.2013. Minor edits 17.2.2014. New info and some images and links added 23.3.2018.

1378, Private William NICHOLSON — 13th Light Dragoons

Birth & early life

Born at Naburn, Yorkshire, c.1829, and baptised there on the 6th of June 1830, the son of Henry Nicholson and his wife Christiane [Christiana?].

1841 Census

Parish of Naburn, Yorkshire [4 miles south of York.].

Henry Nicholson, 50, Agricultural Labourer.

Christiana [Christiane?] Nicholson, 50.

Jane Nicholson, 14.

William Nicholson, 11.

Ann Nicholson, 10.

John Nicholson, 9.

[Source: Ancestry: 1841 Census: William Nicholson, b. Naburn, c.1829. [PB]]


Enlisted at York on the 15th of December 1848.

Age: 19 years 3 months.

Height: 5' 8".

Trade: Miller.

Appearance: Fresh complexion. Blue eyes. Brown hair.


From Private to Corporal: 24th of February 1849.

Tried by a Regimental Court-martial on the 29th of August 1850. He was reduced to Private and sentenced to 20 days' imprisonment, of which ten were to be in "solitary confinement".

Marriage registered

Name: William Nicholson

Spouse: Catherine Clara Clark

Marriage Age: 23

Event Type: Marriage

Birth Year: abt 1830

Marriage Date: 28 Nov 1853

Marriage Place: Leeds, St Peter, Yorkshire, England

Father: Henry Nicholson

Spouse: Catherine Clara Clark

More info?

[Source: Ancestry: ADD REF. [PB]]

Sent to Scutari on the 16th of September 1854 and rejoined the regiment on the 3rd of October 1854.

In his "Memoirs" 1401 Albert Mitchell, 13th Light Dragoons mentions Nicholson as being a particular friend — they had travelled out to the Crimea on the same ship.

"My comrade, Nicholson, was just commencing to recover from fever and was in the sick bay. He had to remain on board, with many others, to be sent down to Scutari. I am sure that when I shook hands with him on parting I had but small hopes of ever seeing him alive again, for he was in a very low state. He was a young married man, and gave me his wife's address so that I might write to her in case anything should befall him."

Mitchell describes Nicholson rejoining the Regiment:

"I saw a party of men coming up from the harbour. What was my surprise and delight when I recognised my old comrade from whom I had parted on board the 'Jason' [no date given]".

William Nicholson

My version of the story can be told in a few words. The regiment I was in was the 13th Light Dragoons. Captain Oldham was in command, and he was shot in the charge. We knew that the order given was a blunder, and when we started we never expected to come back alive.

About half-way down the valley we could scarcely see one another, because, the ground being at the time very dry, the horses' hoofs and the shot and shell that were fired ploughed the ground making the air thick with dust and smoke. In consequence of this we could not see the enemy till we were close to them. Nothing was said by the men as they rode down the valley; but several times Lord Cardigan called out, "Keep together, men; keep steady."

When we got to the guns everything seemed in such confusion that we hardly knew what we were about. The Russians retired from the guns, and were pursued by some of us down to the river Tchernaya, into which many of the enemy were driven in their confusion. About 100 yards from the guns my horse was shot under me, and I afterwards succeeded in capturing another, which was riderless, and joined the 11th Hussars, with which regiment I returned from the charge.

I received a lance-wound in the side, and was also hurt by portions of shells striking me in the face, the scars from which I shall carry to my grave. At the time, owing to excitement and one thing and another, you don't feel the wounds that you receive; but when your blood has cooled down a bit, and you are in a calmer frame of mind, you begin to feel the wounds.

The Chasseurs d'Afrique did signal service to us in covering our retreat, and when we arrived at the top of the valley we were well-received by our comrades, many of whom, however, wore a sad expression on their faces.

Being wounded, I was afterwards conveyed, with a number of others, in the ambulance van and shipped to Scutari.

[Source: ADD INFO. I believe this must be RD's transcription.]

Mitchell also describes how, after the Charge, he went across to the wounded, and:

"there found my comrade Nicholson just about being sent on board ship. He was not severely wounded and did not want to be sent away at all. He had a lance wound in the side and had received a blow in the mouth from the butt of a lance. His horse was killed under him when going down the valley and he might have retired as others did, but being lucky enough to catch another horse he mounted it and rode down with the second line and got wounded, but he did not lose the second horse."

He also mentions meeting up with Nicholson again (having now fully recovered) on Christmas Eve of that year when Mitchell rejoined the regiment from Headquarters letter duties.

1631 William Pennington, 11th Hussars, also mentions him in his "Memoirs" as "having joined up with the 11th Hussars on the return back down the valley."

From the manuscript account of the Charge by R.S.M. George Loy Smith, 11th Hussars:

"As I galloped up to the Regiment I noticed one of the 17th Lancers in our right squadron, his was the only flag that waved with us, or with the cavalry we were pursuing, the Cossacks having no lance flags. I afterwards learned there was one of the 13th Light Dragoons there as well. His name was Nicholson...

Beyond these and one or two other stragglers that joined us on the way back we were not mixed up with any other part of the Brigade."

Discharge & pension

"Unfit for further service. Labours under ulcers of the left leg. The result of constitutional pre-disposition and most likely accelerated by exposure in the Crimea and from the fever which he suffered in this country. Not aggravated by vice or mis-conduct.

The constant re-occurrence of ulceration of the leg will be likely to interfere with his earning his livelihood."

Served 9 years 158 days.

Conduct: "Good".

In possession of one Good Conduct badge.

Aged 28 years 8 months on discharge.

Awarded a "conditional" pension of 7d. per day until the 26th of January 1864, when it was made permanent.

Intended place of residence, Barrack Street, Leeds, but he returned to the South London Pension District in 1862.


Entitled (according to the medal rolls) to the Crimean medal with clasp for Sebastopol and the Turkish medal. His name is shown on the Alma/Inkerman roll but with no qualifying clasps recorded or the usual "B" (for Balaclava) and he is not shown on the Balaclava clasp roll itself.

[Photo: EJB.]

(Click on image to enlarge)

There is considerably more information on WN's medals in the EJBA.


He attended the first Balaclava Banquet in 1875, and his portrait appeared in the Illustrated London News for the 30th of October 1875. (See copy of this in the 13th Hussar file.)

Portrait of William Nicholson in the Illustrated London News, 30th October 1875.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Life after service

William Nicholson had married Catherine Clara [nee?] the year before he left for the Crimea.

Births registered

Louisa Beatrice Nicholson, March Quarter 1859, St Pancras.

Clara Amy Nicholson, September Quarter 1860, Islington.

1861 Census

21 Bennerton Street, Islington.

William Nicholson, 30, Policeman, born Naburn, Yorks.

Catherine Clara Nicholson, 26, [born where?].

Louisa Beatrice Nicholson, 2, born St Pancras.

Clara Amy Nicholson, 10 months, born Islington.

He is shown on a "List of Persons appointed and sworn in to serve as Local Constables in that part of the South-Eastern Railway within the Metropolitan Police District" on the 12th of May 1863, and later became an Inspector in the South Eastern Railway Police.

Death & burial

William Nicholson died in London on the 26th of March 1876.

Death registered

William Nicholson, aged 45, March Quarter 1876, St Olave.

He was buried in Grave No. 1985 in the Victoria Park Cemetery on the 1st of April 1876.

The Cemetery records from its opening in 1845 until its closure in 1876 are now in the Public Record Office. It was later cleared and made into public gardens (Meath Gardens). There is no indication from the cemetery records as to whether a stone was erected to Nicholson or not, there being merely an alphabetical list of names, addresses, ages, and the number of the grave in which interred.

[EJB, 1984] There is only one tombstone actually left standing in the park and some half-a-dozen standing against one of the boundary walls.

"a plan showing the position of graves in Victoria Park Cemetery 1891 and lists of names and dates of death taken from tombstones 1893 (O/190/001-002). This cemetery was established in Bethnal Green in 1845, but never consecrated. Some years after its closure it became a park known as Meath Gardens in 1894. The National Archives holds the burial registers of Victoria Park Cemetery for 1853-1876" [Information Leaflet 5: Cemetery Records].

Gates of the former Victoria Park Cemetery, photographed in 2006 by Fin Fahey

(Click on image to enlarge)

Extracts from the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Examiner, 1st and 8th of April 1876:

"On Thursday last, Mr. Carter, the Coroner, held an inquest at St. James's Tavern in Blue Anchor Lane, on the body of William Nicholson, for many years an Inspector of Police at the Charing Cross Station of the South Eastern Railway. The jury having been sworn in, Mr. Porter, of Jamaica Road, was chosen foreman.

The first witness called was the wife of the deceased, who stated in answer to the questions put to her by the Coroner that her husband was 45 years of age and that they lived at No 8 Webster Road, Bermondsey.

Six weeks ago the deceased was attended by Mr. Freston, surgeon, of Blue Anchor Lane, he was then suffering from a severe cold, he soon recovered and had not complained since of feeling unwell.

'On Sunday he went out to Grosvenor Square to see a picture that was being painted by Miss Thompson [the future Lady Butler] of the survivors of the Balaclava Charge, of which he was one, he reached home about two o'clock and complained of feeling very ill and said that he had to run to catch the 1.30 p.m. train and it had brought on palpitations of his heart.

'He had sat down for a short while and then appeared better, being well enough to carve the dinner. After dinner he took two of the children into the park for a short while and then returned, complaining of a pain in his side, he then said he would go to Greenwich, he thought the fresh air would do him good, he left home shortly before 4 o'clock and returned about a quarter past four, saying he felt very bad and would go to bed. He was prostrated and unable to undress himself.

'I got him to bed, he complained of his feet feeling very cold. I ran downstairs to get some warm flannel and I had hardly left the room when I heard a moan as if he were trying to call. I flew back, he was sinking fast and unable to speak. I raised his head, and he was dead.'

The poor woman was much affected whilst giving her evidence and on leaving the room begged her friends to take her home.

Mr. W.T. Betteridge, ticket collector at Spa Road Station, stated that he saw the deceased coming down the stairs, looking very ill, he then fell back-wards, tried to seize the rail to prevent himself falling, he missed his hold and fell into his arms. When he recovered he left the station to go home.

Mr. Robert Freston, surgeon, of Blue Anchor Lane, stated that he was fetched to the deceased, but found him dead. There were no marks of violence on the body, he had known him professionally for some years, he had complained of having a diseased heart, and he thought he had died from some affection of the heart, brought on running to catch the train.

The Coroner having summed up the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of 'Death from an affection of the heart, accelerated by having to catch the train.' The deceased has left a wife and eight children, six of whom were very young, un-provided for. It was stated in Court that the eldest son of the deceased [Henry Nicholson?] had recently enlisted in the Army, the 16th Foot, and that the circumstances had weighed upon the mind of the father for a week previous to his death."

"A Balaclava Hero"

"The funeral of the late William Nicholson, formerly of the 13th Light Dragoons and one of the "Six Hundred," who died recently was buried on Saturday. He was interred in Victoria Park Cemetery, a large number of former comrades being present at the obsequies. The coffin was borne by four Inspectors of the Charing Cross Railway Station where the deceased was employed. The pall was carried by four of the Balaclava Banquet Committee — viz., Messrs. Woodham, Bird, Lethbridge and Cousins.

Mr. Nicholson leaves a wife and eight children — six of whom are very young — totally unprovided for. Five guineas has been forwarded to the widow out of the balance in hand from the recent Banquet. Mr. Grimstead, the Station master at Charing Cross, is collecting subscriptions."

Further information

Two of his sons [confirm names — Henry? John William? Alfred?] are known to have served in the 16th Foot (The Bedfordshire Regiment):

Henry Nicholson [son]

Henry Nicholson (referred to at his father's inquest [?]) who enlisted at London as No. 1009 on the 25th of March 1876. He became a L/Corporal ("on increase of Establishment") on the 31st of December 1876, Corporal 29th of May 1877, L/Sergeant 30th of October 1877, Sergeant 27th of November 1880. He was reduced to Private, by a Regimental Court-martial on the 25th of November 1881, again to L/Corporal 8th of September 1882, Corporal 1st of October 1882, Sergeant 1st of July 1883 and to Colour Sergeant on the 23rd of June 1887.

The last known of him was in India, on the 20th of November 1888, en route from the 1st Battalion to the 2nd Battalion as No. 2319. He was then in charge of a draft of 1 Colour Sergeant, 2 Sergeants, 1 Drummer, and 50 other ranks.

1881 Census

17 Heston Street, Deptford, Greenwich.

Catherine C. Nicholson, aged 47, widow.

Louisa B. Nicholson, 22, born St Pancras.

Clara A. Nicholson, 20, Blind, born St Pancras.

Walter E Nicholson, 19, Railway Porter, born St Pancras.

Arthur J. Nicholson, 17, Book Shop Assistant, born St Pancras.

John T. Nicholson, 15, Rail Signal Lad, born Bermondsey.

Chas F Nicholson, 13, Scholar, born Southwark.

Alfred E Nicholson, 9, Scholar, born Bermondsey.

Marriage registered

Louisa Beatrice Nicholson [daughter] married Alfred Tyler, December Quarter 1889, Greenwich.

1901 Census

6, Batsford Road, Deptford.

Catherine C. Nicholson, aged 66, widow, born Acton.

Clara A. Nicholson, 40, Blind from childhood, born Islington.

1891 Census

Sun Street, Waltham Holy Cross.

Alfred Tyler, 39, Master Baker, born Waltham Abbey.

Louisa Tyler [daughter], 29, born Harrow Weald.

Children: Louisa, 3; May, 1; Alfred, 1 month.

A nephew, a sister-in-law, three Servants and two boarders were also shown.

1901 Census

15, Sun Street, Waltham Holy Cross.

Alfred E Tyler, 49, Baker.

Louisa Tyler, 38,

Six children are also shown: Louisa 13, May 11, Alfred T. 10, Marjorie 6, Harold 5, and Donald 1.

1911 Census

41, Albyn Road, St John's, Deptford.

Catherine Clara Nicholson, 76, Old Age Pensioner, born Twickenham Green.

Clara Amy Nicholson, 50, Blind, born Islington.

[Note added: Ten children born alive, of whom 7 still living, 3 who have died.

15, Sun Street, Waltham Abbey.

Alfred Tyler, 59.

Louisa Tyler, 49.

Seven children are shown: Louisa 23, Winifred 22, May 21, Alfred 20, Marjorie 17, Harold 15, and Donald 11.

Deaths registered.

Catherine C. Nicholson, 83, December Quarter 1917, Greenwich.

Clara A. Nicholson, 79, March Quarter 1940, Deptford.

Canon Lummis, in an unpublished memo, wrote:

"The statement of the 'Graphic' and other newspapers about a John William Nicholson, who died at Darjeeling, India, probably refers to his eldest son, who had been a Colour Sergeant in the Border Regt."

(See the record of1026 John W. Nicholson of the 17th Lancers.)

[PB: I am not certain what EJB meant here. Did he mean that Canon Lummis was confusing William Nicholson's son John William with 1026 John W. Nicholson?

Also, there appear to be two "John Nicholsons" in the family: "John William", said to be the eldest son, and a "John T. Nicholson", born around 1865 (judging from the 1881 Census). Is this so?

And is there any documentation for "Henry Nicholson"?]

Canon Lummis also refers in the same memo to William Nicholson's youngest son, Alfred:

"The younger son was a Sergeant [sic] in the same regiment and was considered a smart soldier. He would have risen by promotion to high rank had he not been addicted to drink and taken his discharge. He also lost several positions (including that of a railway policeman) through his drinking habits, in civil life. Eventually, after many vicissitudes he was redeemed by the Salvation Army and appears in one of the chapters in Harold Begbie's book, 'Broken Earthenware'.

"After he joined the Army he was soon known as a young man addicted to drink, but he was also a barrack-room lawyer; he would go into the Regimental Library and pore over Queen's Regulations if he wanted to pick a quarrel. He claimed his rights in the face of Colour Sgt's, Company officers, Adjutant and Colonel. The thing was that he was perhaps the best soldier in the regiment, and exceedingly smart — handsome, energetic and clean and furthermore he was a marksman — a company shot.

While serving in India he fell in with the local corps of the Salvation Army. He would go down to the service and prayer-meeting — always in a state of liquor, sometimes very drunk -and throw out all of those worshippers whom he deemed not to have reached a standard of religious propriety. He stood up for the Salvation Army in both barrack-room and canteen, and, with pot in hand, was always ready to fight for it.He left India a very worse man than when he arrived.

He was once made a Corporal and was well on his way to Lance Sergeant, and Warrant Officer rank could easily have been his, but on the night of his arrival back in England he went out of barracks and "forgot to return" till the next morning. He was made a prisoner; this aroused the fury of his temper.

It was his first offence and he saw the ruin of any future career. He went before the Colonel, ready to fight, but he was too good a soldier to be punished. He went out of the orderly-room with a severe reprimand, but within three months he was back on a charge of "striking a policeman" and this time he was reduced to Private.

The regiment tried to do all that was possible for him; he became silver man in the Officer's Mess, an officer's servant and even a Regimental policeman, but every job failed to mitigate the bitterness of his reduction to the ranks. He threw away all caution in headlong bouts of drunkenness, and twice he came near to murder.

In Manchester he became mixed up in a sordid brawl between some sailors and a public woman. During the argument the screeching of loathsome words by the woman struck rage in his heart, he sprang upon her, seized her by the throat, threw her to the ground, and was throttling the life out of her poor body when an old tramp who had served in the same regiment interrupted him and saved him from a charge of murder.

Later, at Aldershot, he discovered that a girl with whom he had been walking-out had been associating with a man of a different regiment. This time, not in hot blood, he deliberately plotted murder. He met the girl, taxed her with the infidelity, and then set upon her. He left her dying upon a lawn and walked back to the barracks to await arrest for murder. He could hardly believe it when he heard that the girl was still living.

Soon after this he left the service, his Colonel appealed to him, argued with him to stay on and earn a pension. He not only resisted these appeals, but suddenly brought a charge against the regiment concerning his kit. A few days before, he had been served out with new things, but these had been taken away by the Quarter-master Sergeant According to a new regulation of which the Colonel knew nothing about, the kit belonged to the soldier. Claiming justice, the affair ended with the Colonel "drawing" a cheque for six pounds and giving it to the ex-soldier, with apologies. The cheque was carried to the canteen, where it was soon blown on drink. When the cab which had been waiting for him for some hours left the barracks, it was drawn by half the men in his company, mostly drunk.

He then became door-keeper of a public house in Deptford and in a single month he had made five appearances before his master for being drunk on duty. Finally he threw off his master's clothes, that is to say, his uniform, in Deptford Broadway, and threatened to fight his employer. There was a scene, and he left.

There was something very likeable about the man in spite of his army record. He was able to obtain employment as a railway policeman at one of the great railway stations in London.

It was about this time he met his future wife, a little pale-faced delicate blond, with hair the colour of straw. On the morning of his wedding day he went to meet some friends who were coming up for the event. He met some soldiers instead — they were men of his old regiment going off to South Africa. They went off to a public house, and a great deal of the honeymoon money went into the pockets of the brewery shareholders. The wedding was at St Marylebone at 11 o'clock, but the bridegroom arrived at 12.30, so drunk it was noticeable. After the service the clergyman advised the poor little bride to take her husband home, and reform him.

Some months afterwards, and the time for him to become a father fast approaching, he was drunk on duty, and a man occupying the former rank of his deceased father — an inspector of police — rebuked him, and ordered him off duty. The response was to knock the inspector down with a blow to the face.

Sacked, and not being able to find employment, he began ill-treating his wife, not physically, this taking the form of holding over her head the menace that he would murder her some day. Often he would sit quietly in his chair, his eyes blazing with hate, and saying, 'I'll kill you one of these days, you mark my words,' and another time he would come smashing and swearing into the house, his face scorching red, his eyes burning and throwing things here and there, kicking this and that out of the way and swearing that 'By God in Heaven, he could bear this woman no longer.'

"This state of affairs lasted for three years, twice his wife attempting to commit suicide. It came to the husband that the hour was fast approaching when he would surely kill his wife.

One night, after a walk in the streets, he passed a Salvation Army Hall, the door of which was open. It was the first time he had entered an Army hall in England. Abhorred at the ruinous state of his brain and mind had come to he yielded to the invitation, went to the penitent form and kneeled down. When asked if he was 'saved' he answered, 'I'm the same as when I came in.'

It was worse than ever after this occasion. At this time he was working on the 'Twopenny Tube', working long hours like a rat, and coming to the surface only at the end of a long day's shift. In a condition of drink he returned to the house one day, resolved to drive his wife and child out of the house, sell up his furniture and go out of London on the tramp, no longer caring what might happen. So he drove his wife and child out of the house, and when they had gone he found that his wife had left some money on the mantel-piece, the money for the rent, with the exception of a few shillings. This last made him think. He went back to the railway and it was whilst he was still there that he decided he would reform.

In September of 1903 he went to the Norland Castle Citadel at Shepherd's Bush, and during the last six years has worked for the Army without payment of any kind. [At this time he was living at No. 20 Saunders Grove, Notting Hill, London.] He and his wife were re-united and he has been the life and soul of his cause and has perhaps become the greatest force in all the local halls in the area.

He does not preach — preaching is not his line, but when he is forced to do it he will stand before a crowd and testify, un-ashamed, and with great deliverance. He has now advanced to a high position in the work for which he earns his daily bread."

[PB, note: The "Twopenny Tube"

The Twopenny Tube, opened 1900, was an underground electric railway running between Shepherd's Bush in the west of London and the Bank of England in the City, via Oxford Circus and the British Museum. Six miles long and 20-35 metres deep, the tunnel took four years to build. It was so-called because the cost of travel between successive stops was a standard two pence. It now forms part of the Central Line.]

In the archives of the Salvation Army are a number of photographs of men who comprised the "Terrible Ten", of whom Alfred Nicholson was one. Two of these are of him in the uniform of the S.A. (There are copies in the 13th Hussar file.) There are also a number of leaflets advertising meetings at which he spoke. His mother worked as a cloak-room attendant at Charing Cross Station and was still there in 1909.

References & acknowledgements

Additional Census information for 1841, 1861, 1881, and 1911, and a number of registrations of deaths and marriages, kindly provided by Chris Poole.

Links and other sources

New on the site Search Index of men N
For further information, or to express an interest in the project, please email the editors, Philip Boys & Roy Mills, viainfo@chargeofthelightbrigade.com