Thomas Rickman

Thomas Rickman

Thomas Rickman (8 June 1776 - 4 January 1841), was an English architect who was a major figure in the Gothic Revival.

He was born at Maidenhead, Berkshire, into a large Quaker family, and avoided the medical career envisaged for him by his father, a grocer and druggist; he went into business for himself and married his first cousin Lucy Rickman in 1804, a marriage that estranged him from the Friends [According to Alex Kerr, Rickman was disowned, in 1804, for marrying his first cousin “before a priest”, but continued to attend Meetings for Worship. He was widowed and, in 1813, applied to be re-admitted, prior to his second marriage, which was accepted, however, he later became an Irvingite. Source: “Thomas Rickman in France”, by Alex Kerr in "A Quaker miscellany for Edward H. Milligan", edited by David Blamires, Jeremy Greenwood and Alex Kerr, published by David Blamires (1985) ISBN 0-95101521-4 pp.111-120.] . The failure of his business dealings in London and the death of his first wife left him despondent: the long walks into the countryside that he took for his state of mind were the beginning of his first, antiquarian interest in church architecture. All his spare time was spent in sketching and making careful measured drawings, and classifying medieval architecture, at first through its window tracery, into the sequence that he labelled "Norman" "Early English", "Decorated English" and "Perpendicular English", names that have remained in use, which he was already employing in his diaries [Rickman's diaries are conserved at the R.I.B.A. Library.] in 1811; he gained a knowledge of architecture which was very remarkable at a time when little taste existed for the beauties of the Gothic styles. The "Encyclopedia Britannica" 1911 reported that "in 1811 alone he is said to have studied three thousand ecclesiastical buildings". In September that year he gave the first of a series of lectures on medieval architecture at the small Philosophical Society of Liverpool, which he had joined.

His first publication was an article on Gothic architecture for "Smith's Panorama of Arts and Sciences" (Liverpool), which was separately published in 1817 as "An Attempt to discriminate the Styles of English Architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation", 1817, the first systematic treatise on Gothic architecture and a milestone in the Gothic Revival. It was reprinted several times and founded Rickman's public reputation. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1829.

Rickman's architectural practice

As an architect, Rickman was self-taught. When in 1818 a large grant of money was made by the government to build new churches, Rickman sent in a design of his own which was successful in an open competition; thus he was fairly launched upon the profession of an architect, for which his natural gifts strongly fitted him. Rickman then moved to Birmingham where he designed the St Georges Church (demolished in 1960) for the city. The design also consisted of churchyard gates, completed in 1822, which remain today.cite book|author=Douglas Hickman|title=Birmingham|year=1970|publisher=Studio Vista Ltd.] By 1830 became one of the most successful architects of his time. He built churches at Hampton Lucy, Ombersley, and Stretton-on-Dunsmore, St George's at Birmingham, St Philip's, St Mary the Virgin and St Matthew's in Bristol, two in Carlisle, St Peter's and St Paul's at Preston, St David's in Glasgow, Grey Friars at Coventry, St Michael's Church, Aigburth and many others. He also designed the new court of St John's College, Cambridge, a palace for the bishop of Carlisle, and several large country houses.Rickman attracted a large share of the Church Building Committee's patronage in the new churches built in the West Midlands pursuant to the Church Building Act of 1818. Rickman's transitional Gothic style, that later designers looked down on as "Church Commissioners' Gothic", did not stand the more rigorous scrutiny of better-informed historicists in the age of photography. The "Encyclopaedia Britannica" 1911 said of his churches "These are all in the Gothic style, but show more knowledge of the outward form of the medieval style than any real acquaintance with its spirit, and are little better than dull copies of old work, disfigured by much poverty of detail." A later, more generous critic, Sir Howard Colvin, has remarked::"He was no ecclesiologist. If the detailing of his buildings was unusually scholarly, the planning remained Georgian, and the total effect of most of his churches is thin and brittle, if by no means unattractive" [H. Colvin, "A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840" 3rd ed. sub "Thomas Rickman", p 813.]

Rickman nevertheless played an important part in the revival of taste for medievalism perhaps second only to Pugin. His "Attempt to discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England" shows painstaking research, and ran through many editions.

Rickman died at Birmingham on January 4, 1841. He was married three times: first to his cousin, Lucy Rickman of Lewes; secondly to Christiana Hornor; thirdly to Elizabeth Miller of Edinburgh, by whom he had a son and a daughter. His tomb was placed in the churchyard of the church he designed; St Georges Church. The tomb was designed by R. C. Hussey and completed in 1845.

Henry Hutchinson partnered with Rickman in December 1821 and formed a practice called Rickman and Hutchinson. Rickman remained in this practice until Hutchinson's death in 1831. [cite book|author=Leslie Stephen|title=Dictionary of National Biography|year=1896|publisher=Smith, Elder|pages=267]

List of works

*Holy Trinity Church, Lawrence Hill 1832
*St. Stephen's Church, Sneinton 1837



*Howard Colvin, 1993. "A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840" 3rd ed.
*ODNB article by Megan Aldrich, ‘Rickman, Thomas (1776–1841)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [] , accessed 13 Dec 2007.

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