After an education in Yorkshire, Nicholson joined the East India Company at the age of 15 and travelled to India and China before returning to England and securing work with the Wedgwood pottery business in the Netherlands. Trusted by Josiah Wedgwood, he later worked with him again as secretary at the General Chamber of Manufacturers where he came into contact with many of the key industrialists of the time.
His interests in science also secured him key roles with the philosophical society established by Richard Kirwan at the Chapter Coffee House, near St Paul’s Cathedral, and at the Society for the Improvement of Naval Architecture. He advised Sir Joseph Banks on the woollen laws and was an agent for Lord Pitt, Baron Camelford II who was known as the Half-Mad Lord and died in a dual
Many inventors turned to him for scientific advice, and he worked as one of the earliest patent agents from his home in Red Lion Square – most notably giving evidence in the patent dispute between Boulton and Watt v Hornblower and Maberly in 1796.
In 1799, Nicholson opened a ‘Scientific and Classical’ school in Soho Square, which he ran alongside his writing and publishing activities.
Having always had an interest in water, steam engines and hydraulics, Nicholson then tried his hand as a civil engineer on water supply projects, including one in Hammersmith. This was clearly not his forte, but he did succeed in bringing the first running water to homes in Portsmouth.