Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rattee, James

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RATTEE, JAMES (1820–1855), wood-carver, was born at Funden Hall, Norfolk, in 1820, and apprenticed to a carpenter and joiner of Norwich, named Ollett. In his leisure he frequented the cathedral and other churches in the city and its neighbourhood, and grew interested in ecclesiastical art. At his request his master taught him carving, and he rapidly showed unusual skill and ability. In 1842 he left Norwich and commenced business as a wood-carver in Sidney Street, Cambridge. The Cambridge Camden Society soon discovered his talent, and took him into their service. From Archdeacon Thorp, Dr. Mill, F. A. Paley, and other members of the society, he received much assistance and patronage, and soon erected extensive workshops, plant, and steam power, on the Hills Road, Cambridge. He was associated with Augustus Welby Pugin [q. v.] in restoring the choir of Jesus College chapel; the designs were made principally by Rattee, and submitted to Pugin before execution. In the choir of Ely Cathedral he carried out the designs of George (afterwards Sir George) Gilbert Scott [q. v.], and the oak screen, stalls, organ-case, and restored tomb of Bishop William de Luda or Louth (d. 1298) were exquisitely wrought. In 1852, when he travelled abroad for his health, he studied the works of Quentin Matsys and other artists. On his return the dean and chapter of Ely entrusted him with the construction of the reredos. This was composed of choice stone and alabaster, enriched with carving and inlaid with gold and gems; it is one of the finest specimens of ecclesiastical art executed in England since the Reformation.

Rattee's work is found in upwards of a thousand churches in all quarters of the world. The most attractive examples of it are in Newfoundland Cathedral; Westminster Abbey; Perth Cathedral; Merton College chapel, Oxford; St. Michael's and St. Sepulchre's, Cambridge; Eton College chapel; Magdalene College chapel, Cambridge; Trumpington church; Newton church; Westley Waterless and Comberton churches; Yeling church, Huntingdonshire; and Sundridge church, Kent. He died at his residence, Hills Road, Cambridge, on 29 March 1855, and was buried in the cemetery in Mill Road.

[Gent. Mag. 1855, p. 539; Ecclesiologist, June 1855, p. 174.]

G. C. B.