Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rickman, Thomas (1776-1841)
RICKMAN, THOMAS (1776–1841), architect, born at Maidenhead on 8 June 1776, was the eldest son of Joseph and Sarah Rickman. On leaving school he assisted his father in business at Maidenhead as a grocer and druggist until 1797. He then went to London, where he was assistant to a chemist and to a medical practitioner, and also to a grocer at Saffron Walden. At his father's request he went through the usual course at the London hospitals, and in 1801 began to practise medicine at Lewes, but gave up his profession in two years. From 1803 to 1808 he was engaged in a corn-factor's business in London, and from 1808 till August 1818 was clerk in an insurance broker's at Liverpool.
As early as 1794 Rickman had shown some taste for drawing, and about that time, though he had no teacher, drew and coloured minutely five thousand toy-figures of costumes in the army. These he cut out and arranged in front of architectural backgrounds of military buildings. In the broker's office at Liverpool he had a good deal of leisure, and in March 1809 he began to sketch the churches in the neighbourhood. In 1811 he minutely examined numerous churches in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Lincolnshire. In the course of these and subsequent ramblings he is said to have personally studied three thousand ecclesiastical buildings. In December 1812 he wrote an essay on Chester Cathedral for the Chester Architectural Society (printed in the ‘Journal of the Archæological, Architectural, and Historic Society for Chester,’ Chester, 1864, pp. 277–8), and in the same year wrote a series of lectures on architecture for ‘Smith's Panorama of Science and Arts’ (Liverpool, 1812–15), which he republished separately in 1817 under the title of ‘An Attempt to discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England from the Conquest to the Reformation.’ Rickman's book was noticed in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (xxv. 1821) as ‘an unostentatious but sensible tract,’ and it soon became well known, being reprinted, with additions, several times during the author's lifetime. A seventh edition (ed. J. H. Parker) appeared in 1881. The work had a very considerable influence in promoting the study of Gothic architecture in England, and, besides being the first systematic treatise on the subject, had the merit of simple nomenclature, involving no theory (cf. Fergusson, Hist. of Architecture, iv. 361).
Rickman had already designed some small monuments for his friends, and enriched the shop-front of his sister—a confectioner in Liverpool—with a design taken from the choragic monument of Thrasyllus. In 1815 he built two private residences in Liverpool, and in December 1817 took an office in that city for architectural work. In June 1818 he received Henry Hutchinson as his pupil. In 1819 he was employed by the commissioners for building additional churches in the erection of St. George's, Birmingham, and from this period had an immense number of commissions for the building of churches and other edifices in all parts of England. Rickman's churches—all in the Gothic style—have been justly criticised for their want of character and originality, and as displaying ‘more knowledge of the outward form of the mediæval style than any real acquaintance with its spirit.’ In June 1820 he took an office in Birmingham, and his brother, Edwin S. Rickman (d. 1873), was for a time his partner. On 8 March 1826 Rickman and his partner, Henry Hutchinson (d. 1831), were appointed the architects of the ‘New’ court of St. John's College, Cambridge, which was finished in 1831 at a cost of 77,878l., the style being Perpendicular Gothic. In this connection Rickman had much advice and help from William Whewell, master of Trinity College. On 1 Nov. 1829 Rickman and Hutchinson sent in plans for the new library and other buildings in the university of Cambridge. These plans, as emended in 1830, were recommended by the syndicate, but the scheme being laid aside in 1834 for want of funds, Rickman received an honorarium of 105l., and in April 1836 submitted new designs, when, however, those of Charles Robert Cockerell [q. v.] were selected by a large majority. Rickman also competed (unsuccessfully) for King's College, Cambridge (1823), the Fitzwilliam Museum (1835), and the Houses of Parliament (1836).
Early in 1835 Rickman took R. C. Hussey, F.S.A., into partnership. From about that time his robust constitution gradually gave way, and he died at Birmingham on 4 Jan. 1841. He was buried in the churchyard of St. George's, Birmingham, where a tomb was erected in 1845 by several of his friends. Rickman was a man of vivacious temperament, though unostentatious in his habits; a keen observer, and energetic in business. He was—like his parents—a member of the Society of Friends, but a few years before his death became a follower of Edward Irving. Rickman married, first, his cousin, Lucy Rickman of Lewes; secondly, Christiana Hornor, sister of Thomas Hornor, the painter of the Panorama of London in the Colosseum, Regent's Park; thirdly, Elizabeth Miller of Edinburgh, by whom he had a daughter and a son, Thomas Miller Rickman, F.S.A., who became a pupil of R. C. Hussey, and adopted his father's profession. Rickman's pupils comprised Broadbent, G. Vose, D. R. Hill of Birmingham, A. H. Holme of Liverpool, Jonathan A. Bell of Edinburgh, Thomas Fulljames of Gloucester, Zugheer of Zurich, S. C. Fripp of Bristol, and John Smith of Cambridge.
Rickman's buildings included, besides those already mentioned: 1819–22, Birmingham, St. George's; 1820, Clitheroe town-hall; 1822–6, St. Peter, Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire (since altered); 1823–5, Preston, St. Peter and St. Paul; 1829, Drapers' Hall, Carlisle; 1831–6, Tettenhall Wood, Staffordshire (for Miss Hinckes).
Rickman published: 1. ‘Tour in Normandy and Picardy in 1832’ in the ‘Archæologia’ of the Society of Antiquaries (of which Rickman was a fellow), vol. xxv. 2. ‘Four Letters on the Ecclesiastical Architecture of France and England,’ ‘Archæologia,’ vol. xxv. 1833; cf. ib. vol. xxvi. 1834. 3. Dawson Turner's ‘Specimens of Architectural Remains … with Architectural Observations by T. Rickman,’ 1838, fol.
Rickman's drawings, consisting of upwards of two thousand examples of Gothic work, chiefly English, were purchased in 1842 by the Oxford Architectural Society, and, though not of artistic merit, are instructive from their care and accuracy—qualities which, according to John Henry Parker, will prevent his ‘Styles of Architecture’ from being superseded.[Dictionary of Architecture (Architectural Publ. Soc.), art. ‘Rickman,’ where a full list of his buildings is given; Gent. Mag. 1841, pt. i. pp. 322 f. 1861 pt. ii. p. 523; Willis and Clark's Architectural History of Univ. of Cambridge; Ecclesiologist, May 1842; Encyclop. Brit. 9th ed., ‘Rickman.’]