I have thus far been unable to find any likeness of Thomas Rickman but we are lucky in Liverpool to still be able to see two of his most notable gifts to the city, the churches of St. George, Everton and St. Michael, Aigburth (pictured left). As a self-taught and not very experienced architect a chance meeting with the Liverpool iron founder John Cragg was to provide a fortuitous first commission in his career. Cragg wanted to build several churches in Liverpool using cast iron as the principle building material. The Everton church was completed in 1814, the Aigburth one in 1815. A third church, St Phillip, in Hardman Street, was completed in 1862 but was demolished in 1882.
Rickman was born in Maidenhead in 1776 and, surprisingly for one whose career was inextricably linked to Gothic creations for the Church of England, he was a life-long Quaker. Initially trained for the medical profession Rickman chose other commercial enterprises which did not fare well and 1807 saw not only the collapse of his business interests but the death of his first wife, Lucy.
In 1808 he moved to Liverpool after securing a post as a clerk in an insurance business. A fascination with architecture burned within him and resulted in the publication in 1817 of his work An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture which is generally considered to be the first account of the history of medieval architecture in Britain. The nomenclature Rickman used, Norman, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular has remained in use ever since.
Following his work for Craggs on the Liverpool churches he was engaged for reconstruction work on the Elizabethan Scarisbrick Hall. On 22nd October 1813 he married for a second time, only to encounter tragedy again when his wife, Christiana, died in 1814 shortly after giving birth to their daughter.
His continuing success as an architect allowed him to open offices at 17 Exchange Buildings L1. The 1821 Gore’s Directory of Liverpool shows him living at 77 Christian Street L3.
Rickman moved to Birmingham in 1821, leaving his brother to run the Liverpool office. He married for a third time in 1825, his bride the Scotswoman Elizabeth Miller, by whom he had two children. His son Thomas Miller Rickman was also an architect who became the President of the Architects Association.
He died on 4 January 1841 and was buried in the grounds of St George's Church, Birmingham.
In the absence of any image of Rickman we can but fall back on this description provided by the antiquarian William Whewell in 1832
“He wears the Quaker dress, which of itself would draw some notice here, and being a little, round, fat man, with short, thick legs, and a large head, he sets off the dress to great advantage … he is perpetually running from one side of the street to the other to peep into whatever catches his attention … and we seldom move far without the honour of some special spectators … Notwithstanding this I like my companion very much. He is very good-humoured, and very intelligent and active, and I see more by travelling with him than I should do alone, besides understanding the architecture much better.”
The interior of St Michael's Aigburth showing the use of cast iron in the construction.
There is a comprehensive entry for Rickman in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
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