James Nicol was Glasgow's City Chamberlain from 1882. He was the son of John Nicol, a Kilwinning timber merchant. In 1866 he married Margaret Agnes Wyllie, the daughter of James Wyllie of Fairfield House, Govan. They had four sons and two daughters.
Nicol was apprenticed to the estate agent Patrick Blaire before becoming clerk to Arthur Forbes, town clerk of the Corporation of Glasgow in 1854. In 1855 he was appointed assistant secretary to John Burnet, the secretary and law agent to the city's Water Commisioners. In 1864 he became City Accountant and in 1866 manager, accountant and financier of the City Improvement Trust. Before becoming City Chamberlain in April 1882, he acted as Treasurer to various bodies including the Glasgow and North Lanark Prison Board, Lunacy Board of Lanarkshire, Court House Commissioners and City Juvenile Delinquency Commissioners. He played an important part in the Volunteer Movement and was first secretary of the 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. He published works on the screw propeller (1858), Glasgow's early Municipal buildings, statistics of Glasgow, Queen Victoria's relationship with Glasgow (1901) and Gladstone's visits to the city (1902). He was a member of the Merchants' House and Wright's Incorporation of the Trades House. In 1895 he was made an honorary member of the Glasgow Celtic Society.
In 1891 Nicol, as City Chamberlain, was in correspondence with JW regarding the city's purchase of Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137).
Who's Who in Glasgow, Glasgow, 1909, pp. 159-60; Bell, Peter, Who was Who in Edwardian Scotland, Edinburgh, 1986.