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Rickman, Thomas

    Full Name: Rickman, Thomas

    Other Names:

    • Thomas Rickman

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 08 June 1776

    Date Died: 04 January 1841

    Place Born: Maidenhead, Windsor and Maidenhead, England, UK

    Place Died: Birmingham, West Midlands, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), British Isles Medieval styles, English (culture or style), Romanesque, and sculpture (visual works)


    Architectural historian and architect; coiner of the term “Norman” for English Romanesque architecture. Rickman hailed from a large Quaker family. His father, Joseph Rickman (1749-1810) a surgeon and apothecary, and mother Sarah Neave Rickman (1747-1809), ardent Quakers, disallowed a university education or an interest in the arts, which they considered frivolous. Instead, his father trained him also to be an apothecary and surgeon. By 1800 his studies were completed in London and briefly practiced in Lewes, Sussex. Uninterested in medicine, however, he tried business as a partner in a corn (wheat) firm in 1803, marrying his first cousin Lucy Rickman (c.1773-1807) following year. By 1807 the business had failed and Rickman moved to Liverpool as an accountant. His wife’s death (before they could be reunited) distressed him so he found respite only by long walks in the countryside. These walks included making drawings which he annotated and expanded over the years. He wrote an essay on Chester Cathedral (published only posthumously in 1864). By 1812 Rickman was lecturing locally and to learned societies. An invitation by James Smith (1759-1828?) to write an entry in his forthcoming Panorama of Science & Art (1812-1815) led to his assisting on local building projects and designs for Gothic ironwork. These projects included renovations to Scarisbrick Hall (1813-1816) in a Gothic style, a project continued by another architect and historian of the Gothic, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin in 1836. In 1813 he married Christiana Hornor (c.1780-1814) a Quaker day school teacher, who died after the birth of their first child. With the budding Government patronage adopting the Gothic Revival style, Rickman expanded his article for Smith’s book into a book his own, An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England in 1817 which came to be known as Rickman’s Gothic Architecture. The book quickly became popular and influential particularly with scholars and architects wishing to design in antique idioms. The 1818 Church Building Act, which proscribed the building of new churches in largely industrial areas gave impetus to the book’s use. Rickman himself presented over 50 copies to influential leaders and received a commissioned to design St. George’s in Birmingham the same year (built 1820-1822). Rickman eventually designed 49 churches; his most notable public work may have been New Court, St. John’s College, Cambridge University, constructed 1825-1831. Rickman married a third time Elizabeth Miller (b. ca.1800) of Edinburgh in 1825. In 1830 Rickman was elected to the Society of Antiquaries of London, his architectural practice increased to partners and assistants. The same year he visited France with Henry Hutchinson, his partner. A second visit in 1832 to Picardy and Normandy with William Whewell resulted in his meeting the two other important leaders in medieval scholarship, the French antiquaries Auguste Le Prévost (1787-1859), and Arcisse de Caumont. Subsequent editions of his book Attempt, revised by Rickman, appeared in 1819, 1825 and 1835, the fourth and last to be worked on by himself personally. He contributed to the 1838 Specimens of Architectural Remains by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842). Rickman was confined to bed in the last years of his life, dying of liver disease in 1841. He is buried on the grounds of St. George’s Church, Birmingham. His architectural handbook was taken over in 1848 by John Henry Parker, ending with a 7th edition in 1881. His papers are held in the British Library and diaries at the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London. His son (by his third marriage) was the architect Thomas Miller Rickman (1827-1912), later president of the Architectural Association in London. Rickman was the first to use the term Norman to refer to the English Romanesque style of medieval architecture in his 1819 An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation. The book was one of the first to establish a chronology of medieval styles (Summerson) and set down the accepted terminology of Norman, Perpendicular Gothic and Decorated Gothic. The book avoided romanticism laying down a rational approach using comparative methods. His education and sensibilities outside the Church of England and British formal education (he could not read Latin) may have allowed a more objective view of the Gothic than his contemporaries (Aldrich, DNB). When Rickman’s architectural style fell out of favor with subsequent generations, his importance as an early scholar also declined (Bailey). Except for the years of his first marriage, he remained a devout Quaker in dress, language and beliefs.

    Selected Bibliography

    “Gothic Architecture.” in Smith, James. A Panorama of Arts and Sciences. vol.1. Liverpool: Printed for Nuttall, Fisher, and Co., 1815; An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture, from the Conquest to the Reformation; Preceded by a Sketch of the Grecian and Roman Orders, with notices of Nearly Five Hundred English Buildings. London: Longman, Hurst, etc., 1817; and Cotman, John Sell, and Turner, Dawson. Specimens of Architectural Remains in Various Counties in England, but Principally in Norfolk. London: H.G. Bohn, 1838; [Chester Cathedral] Journal of the Archaeological, Architectural, and Historic Society for the County of Chester 2, 1864.


    Rickman, Thomas Miller. Notes on the Llife and on the Several Imprints of the Work of Thomas Rickman, F. S. A., Architect. London: G. J. W. Pitman, 1901; Summerson, John. “Viollet-le-Duc and the Rational Point of View.” Heavenly Mansions and Other Essays on Architecture. New York: Norton, 1963, p 138; Aldrich, Megan Brewster. Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) and Architectural Illustration of the Gothic Revival. Dissertation, University of Toronto, 1983; Baily, John. “Rickman, Thomas.” Dictionary of Art 26: 361-362; Colvin, Howard. A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008; Megan Aldrich. “Rickman, Thomas (1776-1841).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Rickman, Thomas." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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