Robert Nicol Trust

Robert Nicol Trust

The Robert Nicol Trust is an educational charity which makes small financial awards to support students from or based in the Aberdeen region who are undertaking courses of one kind or another at the post-school level.

Robert Nicol himself was a native of the City of Aberdeen who developed a textile business in Manchester in the second half of the nineteenth century. In his will, he directed that, on the death of his wife, the major part of his fortune should be entrusted to a group of trustees 'for the advancement and promotion of education in the City and County of Aberdeen'.

Please read the Robert Nicol Scholarship Rules and then, if you consider you may be eligible, download the application form, complete it and then send it by post to:

The Secretary,
The Robert Nicol Trust,
100 Union Street,
AB10 1QR.

If you have any queries please contact Robert Marshall by phone on 01224 428256 by email at, or by post as above.

Download the Application Form

The Robert Nicol Fellowships and Scholarships, also known as The Robert Nicol Trust Scottish Charity Number: SC037689 Charity Commission Registered Number: 313881 A Registered Charity

Important Notices

The next meeting of the Trustees is scheduled for Friday 3rd May 2024. It is hoped that the meeting will go ahead as normal but will depend on the prevailing circumstances. Full details will appear here.

Applicants should hold themselves ready to attend for an interview at that time and ensure that their application forms and references reach the Secretary of the Trust by 1st April 2024.

Robert Nicol Scholarship Rules

  1. Candidates must have been born in the City or in the County of Aberdeen, or in the case of those born elsewhere must have continuously resided in the City or in the County of Aberdeen for a period of not less than five years immediately before the dates of their application.*
  2. Candidates must satisfy the Trustees that they are fully qualified to pursue with profit the course of study proposed, and should be undertaking a course of study at post-school level.
  3. Candidates must submit a written statement of the course of study or research proposed. In any case study shall be carried on in such places and institutions and under such tuition or supervision as the Trustees shall approve. While the Trustees will normally expect an Applicant to be registered with or intending to register with a recognised establishment in the North-east of Scotland, they recognise that circumstances may make it necessary for study to be conducted outwith the region and will accordingly consider proposals which envisage this. Scholarships may be awarded for part time courses.
  4. Scholarships will be given for such period as the Trustees may determine, but in the first instance for a period of not more than a year. A Scholarship may be renewed at the discretion of the Trustees. The amount to be awarded shall be determined by the Trustees. Any application for a renewal of funding should be accompanied by a report on progress to date.
  5. Applicants are required to attend for interview by the Trustees on the day of the Meeting.
  6. At least one of the referees asked for under (12) on page 4 of the application form should be an academic or professional person acquainted with the applicant's educational studies.
  7. The Robert Nicol Trust is a relatively small Trust with limited income. Scholarships awarded by the Trustees reflect this fact, generally being within the range of £100 to £1,500.
  8. The decision of the Trustees will be binding on any interpretation of the Trust rules.

Application forms and Referees' Reports should be submitted to the Secretary to the Trustees, The Robert Nicol Trust, 100 Union Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1QR. Telephone 01224 428256. E-mail by the closing date of 1st April (for the May meeting) or 1st August (for the September meeting). The date of the next meeting will be advertised on the Important Notices section of this website.

* For the purposes of this rule, the area is defined as that constituting the local authority areas of the City of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.

History of the Trust


1831 - 1879

Andrew Rose

Robert Nicol was born at Upper Anguston, Peterculter on 1 March 1831, the second son of Elizabeth Fiddes and David Nicol, a well-to-do farmer.

After attending Aberdeen Grammar School, Robert won a bursary in 1845, entering Marischal College, where he was a prize man. He graduated MA in 1849.

By 1855, Robert had moved to Manchester, joining James Houldsworth, then the leading manufacturer of machine embroidery in Britain. Houldsworth's company employed an innovative process developed in the 1840s by Louis Schwabe, a talented German immigrant. The company's silk products appeared in Queen Victoria's wardrobe, were also ordered on behalf of King Louis Philippe of France, and featured at the Great Exhibition of 1851

In February 1856, Robert sailed for New York on board SS Africa, an early Cunard line paddle steamer. The voyage lasted eighteen days. As Houldsworth's agent, Robert had the aim of exploiting the growing American market for high quality embroidery and upholstery. He would spend most of the next twenty years in New York, during which time his enterprise employed leading Aesthetic Movement designers such as Bruce Talbert and Walter Crane.

Robert became a partner in and driving force behind James Houldsworth & Co. In 1868, Houldsworth retired and the firm became known as Nicol, Cowlishaw & Co of New York (and Cowlishaw, Nicol & Co in the UK and continental Europe).

Proud of his Aberdeenshire roots, Robert was an active member of the St Andrews Society of New York, often taking part in curling on the frozen Hudson river. He was also elected to the exclusive Century Association and the New York Riding Club.

Surviving correspondence reveals a determined personality, hardworking and focussed, a 'capable Scot' with a strong religious identity, exemplifying the calvinist work ethic. There was a lighter side to his nature, illustrated in a letter written to his young sister: Our strawberries are all gone...I wish I were a strawberry, a rich, large, luscious, beatified beauty of a strawberry - to live a short & fragrant life, be coffined in cream, and buried with a benediction!

Robert's letters contain vivid references to the American Civil War. A lively description of victory celebrations in New York ended with a dramatic postscript: News of nameless horror have just come in from Washington making all men pale. I have not heard a laugh this morning and have caught the gloomy infection. The President is dead!

In New York on 22 November 1871, Robert married Mary Edla ('Mollie') Prentice, then aged 27, the only daughter of Frederick Prentice, an Ohio-born venture capitalist. Prentice, who was said to have made, lost, and regained a fortune of $12,000,000, had interests in oil, minerals and brownstone quarrying. The marriage was childless.

Robert bought Highfield House, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, formerly the home of Robert Gladstone (first cousin of the Liberal Prime Minister, W E Gladstone), with the aim of settling in England, perhaps because his health was beginning to fail.

In May 1877, the Nicols travelled to Nice, in a vain attempt to cure Robert's worsening throat condition. He retired from business in February 1878, finally moving to Geneva. At the end, Robert became unable to speak (he may have been suffering from the complications of pulmonary tuberculosis or from cancer of the larynx). On 15 January 1879, he died at the newly built Hotel National, later renamed the Palais Wilson and now the headquarters of UNHCR.

Mollie lived on until 1943, a New York grande dame, whose name appeared frequently in the Society columns of the New York Times and other publications, alongside Astors, Roosevelts and Whitneys. Mollie's charitable work, notably for the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital, was considerable. She also hosted concerts of Scottish music in memory of her Aberdonian husband.

Robert left assets worth around £80,000 (£8,000,000 today). The scheme of his will was to leave approximately half his estate for the advancement and promotion of education in the City and County of Aberdeen, subject to a life interest for Mollie. Some family members agreed with this aim, others disputed the legality of the bequest. Complex legal proceedings lasted from 1879 to 1946, when the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) ruled that the charitable scheme was lawful.

Three years later, the Robert Nicol Trust began its valuable work, which continues to this day.

Andrew Rose is a great-great-nephew of Robert Nicol

©Andrew Rose 2019


Although the Robert Nicol Trust is a small Trust with limited funds and income, it has nevertheless been able to assist a large number of students, to varying extents, over the years. The calls for financial assistance are now being received in greater numbers than the Trust can adequately service. The Trustees would like to think that perhaps students who have received assistance from the Trust might, in years to come when they are in gainful employment, consider making a donation to the Trust which could then help another student facing financial difficulties similar to those they themselves had experienced.