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Armitage Rigby

Epithet: MHK, architect who restored Castle Rushen (1864-1910)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

Of all the architects who came to the Island to work, very few made the Isle of Man their home for the rest of their lives. Of these, Armitage Rigby is probably the one who integrated into the Manx way of life more than any other.

Born into a strong nonconformist family in Altrincham in 1864, he was the son of John and Sarah Rigby. His father was a founding partner in the cotton firm of Armitage & Rigby which had weaving sheds in Ancoats, large mills at Warrington and a warehouse in the middle of Manchester. The two families were related, and several members shared an artistic bent which extended beyond fabric design.

At the age of seventeen Armitage became articled to J. Medland Taylor, an architect in Manchester, for the five years of his articles attending construction classes at Manchester Technical School. At the end of his articles in 1885 he spent two weeks in New York studying local methods of construction and then continued as an assistant to his principal for another year. He also spent eight weeks touring Germany, Holland and Belgium to study the architecture, and then worked a year in London as assistant to the firm of Milne & Hall. In 1887 he joined his cousin Faulkner Armitage who had commenced his own practice in the early 1870s and in 1878 bought a coaching inn at Altrincham, converting part of it into a design studio. He also had an office in London and it is possible that part of Armitage Rigby's two years with his cousin was in the London office.

It was at this time that his marriage took place in London to Edith Leece, who was four years his senior and daughter of Paul Leece MHK of Ballamona Farm near Port Soderick, Braddan.

In 1889 he was obliged to give up professional work due to ill health. Coming to the Isle of Man he lived for a short while at Annacur before moving, early in 1891, into Ballamona Farm off Quine's Hill in Braddan, having purchased the property from his brother-in-law the Revd Charles Henry Leece.Armitage Rigby at this time was only 27 and he brought to the Island with him his youngest brother Reginald. Between them they set about improving the farm, which had been tenanted for some time. Rigby introduced into the Island the most up-to-date methods of dealing with dairy produce. He was a good horseman, took part in riding competitions and gymkhanas, and was a keen member of the Isle of Man Hunt both on horseback and on foot.

After taking up residence at Ballamona Farm both Rigby and his wife became involved with the Anglican chapel of ease at Oakhill. Armitage gave lectures there on various subjects including 'The History of England', 'A Visit to Paris' and 'Manners and Customs of the Jews'. He became part of the committee to raise funds for the organ at the parish church at Braddan, and was also Sunday School Superintendent at Kewaigue. He was appointed Licensed Lay Reader and was a hardworking member of the Church of England Temperance Association; all this despite his strong nonconformist upbringing.

Although retired from architectural work, in 1892 he produced a plan for an extension to the old St Matthew's Church in Douglas market square. In 1896 he decided to enter an architectural competition for the design of a new public house to be built on North Quay to replace several that had been swept away by the six-acre clearance carried out by the then newly-established Douglas Corporation. His design won, and the British Hotel was built in distinctive half-timber construction with a red clay tile roof. Rigby christened this style 'new antique'. Having produced one plan the call was on for him to produce more: alterations to the Athol Hotel, a warehouse in Lake Road, alterations to the Palace Ballroom and then a commission that gained him much publicity - a printing works for the Isle of Man Examiner. He took the brief and produced a set of plans that were deposited with Douglas Corporation just in time for a meeting of the council - later the same day - at which they were approved. For several years the Isle of Man Examiner carried a print of their Rosebery Buildings complex in the Examiner Annual, and the praise for the 'plans in one day' was repeated year after year.

Armitage Rigby went on to design many other properties, took on assistants, set up office in Athol Street and then entered into partnership with Frank Laidman Heslop, having offices in both Douglas and Port Erin. In 1905 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He also formed a company to develop part of the Ballamona farmland at Keristal as it adjoined the Marine Drive and the Douglas Southern Electric Railway. Only three houses were built here as the roadways belonging to the Douglas Head Marine Drive Company were private and access was denied.

Rigby's company was very much a family affair of Armitages and Rigbys as shareholders and directors.

He was a member of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society and his ability to survey and produce plans of archaeological sites proved most useful. He was engaged by Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan to produce a scheme for the restoration of Castle Rushen. This was a labour of love for Rigby, who visited most of the castles of the United Kingdom and read widely to provide himself with the appropriate knowledge. After the works were carried out he wrote a guide to the castle. He was also involved in the restoration of St Trinian's Church at Marown, and he designed the cross shelter in Maughold Churchyard and the combined cross shelter and lych gate at Kirk Michael.

With his partner he designed the Moore family's new mansion at Billown, Malew, with its model farm, and several houses in Port Erin.

In November 1908 he stood for the House of Keys in North Douglas, topping the poll, and was a founding member of the Manx Political Association (later named the Manx Constitutional Association). He was also a vice-president of the Douglas Progressive Debating Society and senior lieutenant in the Isle of Man Volunteers.

August 1910 saw Rigby camping with the Volunteers at St Johns during a week of wet weather, despite his previous years of ill health. When he returned home he suffered an abscess of the jaw coupled with a cold contracted at the camp. His ailment resulted in blood poisoning from which he died on 31st August at the age of 46. His hearse was followed by 36 carriages carrying the great and the good of the Island as they made their way to his last resting place in Braddan Cemetery.

Biography written by Peter Kelly.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.411-3.)

Culture Vannin


Nationality: English

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1864

Date of death: 31 August 1910


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