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John Cherry Nicholson, the last Chairman of the Newry Town Commissioners, was born in Richhill, county Armagh, one of a family of four brothers and four sisters.  Having received ‘a sound, practical education’, he served his apprenticeship to the grocery trade in Keady, afterwards going to San Francisco.  On his return from North America he carried on business for eight or nine years in Middletown, near Armagh.  In 1873 he came to Newry, opening a wholesale family grocery trade in Kildare Street. His trade rapidly grew, and in 1892, he moved to larger and more commodious premises in Sugar Island.

Newry Town Hall in the 1900s. The construction of the Town Hall, which opened in 1894, was one of the last major achievements of the Town Commissioners.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Newry Town Hall in the 1900s. The construction of the Town Hall, which opened in 1894, was one of the last major achievements of the Town Commissioners. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

John Cherry Nicholson was first elected as a one of the Newry Town Commissioners on 15th October 1891.  Some years afterwards, on 17th February 1897, in recognition of his past services, he was unanimously appointed Chairman. During this period, he also became a Justice of the Peace (his commission as such is on display in Newry and Mourne Museum) and was President of the Newry Borough Court. Nicholson remained Chairman of the Town Commissioners until 16th January 1899 when they were dissolved and Newry Urban District Council established. 

He was returned as one of the representatives of the North Ward in the new Urban District Council, a position which he held until January 1904.  He was involved in various committees, including the Gas Committee and the Finance Committee.  He was also one of the first members of the School Attendance Committee, the Free Library Committee and the Technical Construction Committee.

The 19th- century seal of the Newry Town Commissioners featuring the mitred abbot flanked by the yew trees traditionally associated with St. Patrick.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The 19th- century seal of the Newry Town Commissioners featuring the mitred abbot flanked by the yew trees traditionally associated with St. Patrick. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

In addition to running his own business and involvement in public service, Nicholson was keen to support the commercial development of Newry in other ways. He was a member and a president of the Chamber of Commerce in the town and was an enthusiastic advocate of the Newry, Keady and Tynan Light Railway Act in 1900. He also gave strong support to the conversion of the Newry Navigation Company into a public Port and Harbour Trust.  The Trust came into statutory existence in 1902 and he was one of the first members. Other business interests included the Newry Steam Laundry Company Ltd and Newry Agricultural Society.

John Cherry Nicholson’s interests included elocution and he was the President of the Newry Elocution Class for many years. He was also Vice-President of the Mutual Improvement Association, a member of the management committee of Newry Fever and General Hospital and was on the Board of Guardians for a time. He devoted a lot of time to Sandys Street Presbyterian Church where he was a committee member and Treasurer. Sport was also an interest and he gave much support to the Newry Rowing Club, Newry Cricket Club and Greenore Golf Club.

The Board Room in Newry Town Hall where the Town Commissioners met before they were dissolved. The furniture dates from this period and each chair is carved with the letters ‘NTC’ (Newry Town Commissioners).  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Board Room in Newry Town Hall where the Town Commissioners met before they were dissolved. The furniture dates from this period and each chair is carved with the letters ‘NTC’ (Newry Town Commissioners). Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Early in his life, John Cherry Nicholson had married Miss Allen from Carnagh, near Castleblaney, with whom he had seven children.  She died in 1880 and he remained a widower until November 1899 when he married Miss D B Watty, who had lived in Weymouth in England. Nicholson died at his home in Sugar Island in November 1905 and was described in the Urban District Council’s motion of sympathy as ‘A most amiable and efficient business man, . . . [who] did everything he could to advance the prosperity of Newry.’ 

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

By Dympna Tumilty

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