Basic Biographical Details

Name: Thomas Rickman
Born: 8 June 1776
Died: 4 January 1841
Bio Notes: Thomas Rickman was born at Maidenhead, Berkshire on 8 June 1776, the eldest surviving son of the eleven children of Joseph Rickman, surgeon and apothecary, and his wife Sarah Neave Rickman, members of the Society of Friends. Thomas Rickman was to remain a Quaker throughout his life except for two periods: one after his first marriage (1804- about 1812) and the other when he joined the Catholic Apostolic church late in 1836.

Thomas Rickman trained for a medical career and practised briefly in Lewes, Sussex where his father had moved but gave this up to go into commerce. He formed a partnership with a London corn factor, Samuel Burns, from 1803-7. In 1804 he married his first cousin, Lucy Rickman; marriage to a first cousin was against the rules of the Society of Friends and this was the reason for his break with the Society. In 1807 his business failed. He moved to Liverpool in 1808 and found work as an insurance clerk. His wife died shortly after this.

These misfortunes brought on a period of acute depression and he began to take long country walks during which he developed an interest in medieval architecture. Rickman observed the buildings in close detail and began to classify the window-tracery and other details and to arrange them in a typological sequence which he called ‘Norman’, ‘Early English’, ‘Decorated English’ and ‘Perpendicular English’. He also collected prints of Liverpool and met the publisher James Smith. Soon after 1811 he joined the Philosophical Society in Liverpool and he presented the first of a series of lectures on medieval architecture in September 1811. In 1812 having met George Harrison, an iron-founder from Chester, Rickman wrote an account of the history of Chester Cathedral (printed posthumously in the ‘Journal of the Architectural, Archaeological and Historic Society of Chester’, 1864, pp 277-8). He also wrote a long article on Gothic architecture for Smith’s ‘Panorama of Arts and Sciences’ (1812-15) which was reprinted separately in 1817 as ‘An Attempt to discriminate the Styles of English Architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation’. This was the first attempt at an accurate account of the history of medieval architecture in the British Isles. Rickman’s classifications were followed by all subsequent writers on the subject. The book was re-printed numerous times during Rickman’s life and after. It has been argued that his lack of a classical education meant that he could not read Latin and had to develop a purely visual approach to the subject. Also being outwith the Established Church, he could be more objective than some of his contemporaries.

Rickman was largely self-taught as architect. In the 1790s he is said to have drawn and cut out several thousand figures in military uniforms and placed them against a background of military buildings. He was not naturally gifted in drawing and it was only in about 1810-11 that he developed a professional hand. He began to exhibit at the annual exhibitions of the Liverpool Academy in 1812. That same year, 1812, he met the wealthy iron-founder, John Cragg, who had an interest in church building. He designed several churches for Cragg (jointly with Cragg) in the Liverpool area using cast-iron; St George, Everton (1812-14), St Michael, Toxteth (1814-15) and St Philip, Hardman Street (1815-16). Cragg was able to re-use Rickman’s designs for various elements such as the lace-like window tracery, because the elements were all designed in cast-iron.

Rickman’s first large domestic commissions came through the Liverpool architect John Slater. Slater needed assistance with the remodelling of Scarisbrick Hall in Lancashire in the Gothic style. These and the other commissions gave Rickman practical experience and in December 1817 he gave up his job and opened business on his own account in Liverpool. During the following years Rickman worked hard to secure commissions. He entered as many competitions as possible and won the patronage of the Church Building Commissioners. By about 1820 he was beginning to be known as a church architect and in the next fifteen years was one of the busiest architects in England. He opened a second office in Birmingham as a result of securing the commission for St George, Birmingham (1819-22).

Just as St George was completed, he received the prestigious appointment of architect to Worcester Cathedral as well as the commission for the church at Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire, which is considered one of his finest early works in the ‘Decorated gothic’ style.

Once his career was well established, as well as church commissions, Rickman undertook a wide range of other work including a country house in Ireland (Lough Fea, begun 1825), a town hall in Clitheroe (1820-21) and Matfen Hall, Northumberland (1832-5) in the Elizabethan style. In 1822 Rickman began his largest commission, the New Court of St John’s College, Cambridge. This included the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ over the Cam (generally attributed to Hutchinson) and interior college fittings. Along with other unsuccessful but much acclaimed designs for the Fitzwilliam Museum, the University Library and the hall of King’s College, the project brought him into contact with the University and he became a close friend of William Whewell, fellow of Trinity College. Along with St John’s, Rickman’s most ambitious building was the Exhibition Room for the Birmingham Society of Artists (1829).

Rickman made an architectural tour of Normandy and Picardy with William Whewell in 1832 and an account of this ‘Four Letters on the Ecclesiastical Architecture of France and England’ was published in ‘Archaeologia’ xxv, 1833 and another article on pre-Conquest architecture in the same journal xxvi, 1836. He also contributed to J S Cotman’s ‘Specimens of Architectural Remains’ (1838). He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1829 and was an early member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. His achievement was to apply a scientific method to a subject which had previously only been tackled by antiquaries and combine this with a close observation of the details with copious sketches and an understanding of the historical development of subject.

Rickman’s pupil Henry Hutchinson was moved to the Birmingham office after it opened to undertake the work on St George’s. Hutchinson became a partner in December 1821. Hutchison died in 1831 and Rickman’s brother Edwin Swan Rickman was taken on as a pupil and later partner in the Birmingham office to which the whole practice had transferred by the early 1830s. After Edwin Rickman developed mental illness his place was taken by Richard Charles C Hussey who became a partner in 1835. Rickman himself was suffering from ill-health by this date and he handed over the entire practice to Hussey in the spring of 1838. He died on 4 January 1841. He was buried in the churchyard of St George’s Birmingham and a monument to his memory was erected by his friends in 1845.

Rickman had re-married after the death of his first wife. However his second wife, Christiana Horner, died in childbirth in 1813. By his third wife, Elizabeth Millar of Edinburgh, whom he married in 1825, he had several children, one of whom, Thomas Miller Rickman, became a pupil of R C Hussey. Rickman himself had several pupils including J A Bell of Edinburgh.

Rickman’s success as an architect was partly due to his infinite capacity to work and his stamina. He could pass ‘two nights in three travelling’. His success was also partly due to his thorough knowledge of Gothic architecture. He and his friend Edward Blore (whom he had met in Doncaster while sketching there) were probably the first architects since James Essex with a detailed knowledge of medieval detail. Rickman also had an ability to reproduce it in his own designs. However his planning was still Georgian and his churches are what Colvin describes as ‘thin and brittle’. He made free use of cast-iron tracery which later church-builders were to scorn.

Despite his relatively disadvantaged background Rickman forged a successful double career both as the leading scholar of Gothic architecture of his day and one of the most successful British architects during the first half of the 19th century.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 2Liverpool, EnglandBusinessDecember 18171841 
Item 2 of 2Birmingham, EnglandBusiness1820 Second office

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1Rickman & Hutchinson  Partner 

Buildings and Designs

This was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 41824St David's Ramshorn  GlasgowScotlandDesign accepted and commissioned to build church
Item 2 of 41825Terraughtie HouseTroqueer DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 3 of 41825The GroveShawhead DumfriesshireScotlandOriginal house
Item 4 of 41837Scott Monument  EdinburghScotlandFirst premiated competition design, but job went to George Meikle Kemp


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this :
Item 1 of 7APSD The Dictionary of Architectureed Wyatt PapworthThe Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892)with list of works contributed by T M Rickman.
Item 2 of 7Brown, A T1937How Gothic came back to Liverpool   
Item 3 of 7Colvin, H M1995A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-18403rd editionNew Haven and London: Yale University Press 
Item 4 of 7Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 5 of 7New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography   
Item 6 of 7Port, M H1961Six Hundred New Churches  Chapter 6
Item 7 of 7Rickman, T M1901Notes on the Life of Thomas Rickman   

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this :
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Antiquaries' Journal1985lxv 'Gothic architecture Illustrated: the Drawings of Thomas Rickman in New York' by Megan Aldrich
Item 2 of 3Gentleman's Magazine1841i p322
Item 3 of 3Gentleman's Magazine1861i p523

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this :
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 5Bodleian LibraryManuscriptsMSS.Top.eccles.c.3-4Notes and sketches for 3rd edition of 'Attempt'. Also large collection of Rickman's sketches of medieval architecture purchsed by the Oxford Architectural Society in 1842 (described in Spociety's 'Report' 1842, and now in the Bodelian MS.Dep.b.140)
Item 2 of 5British LibraryAdd MSS37793-37802, 37803Rickman's work books. 37803 is a volume of sketches of medieval churches (1809-12).
Item 3 of 5British LibraryAdd MSSAdd. MS. 5258717 letters to Edward Blore, 1813-22
Item 4 of 5In possession of Mr John Baily.Thomas Rickman notebook with first draft of 'Attempt'  
Item 5 of 5RIBA Thomas Rickman Diary 57 of Rickman's diaries. Also drawings.