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British Industrial History

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William Charles Rickman

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William Charles Rickman (1812-1886)

1838 Mr. Rickman of Duke Street, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1886 Obituary [2]

WILLIAM CHARLES RICKMAN, who was born on the 12th of January, 1812, met with instantaneous death on the 21st of June 1886, as the result of a carriage accident, in his seventy-fifth year. Mr. Rickman has special claim to notice from the fact that he was a son of Telford’s executor, and the editor of the magnificent work descriptive of the labours of the first President of the Institution.

The subject of this notice was educated at Dr. Buckland's, Laleham, at Westminster School, and at Christ Church, Oxford, obtaining his B.A. degree in 1831 ; he also noviciated as an architect, having served a pupilage to Decimus Burton, the well-known architect, and had made the European travelling round of study ; but, possessed of independent means, he never seriously followed the profession as a vocation. Before his school days he turned out a fire-engine and a reproduction of the Roman catapult.

In 1834 he was engaged in an experimental enquiry respecting the best position for weight as regarded draught of vessels, in which no doubt he was in touch with his intimate ally, old schoolfellow and friend, Froude.

In 1836 he was stationed at St. Catherine’s, Isle of Wight, as a volunteer, from being on very intimate terms with Mr. Walker, Past-President Inst. C.E., the Engineer to the Trinity Corporation, who was then erecting the present ornate tower and dwellings, taking the place of the early tower on the Downs from the last being so frequently obscured by fog. These buildings, designed or worked out by Mr. M. A. Borthwick, are of a bastard castellated Gothic type, and Rickman from his education was well adapted to overlook the working out of their details. The buildings mere founded on the Undercliff, a mass of rock of unusual size in the debris being selected as the foundation for the base of the octagonal tower. When the lantern was being fixed, and the keeper’s dwellings were being slated, some ugly but minute fissures made their appearance on the landward side of the site of those buildings, and it was found that the tower had inclined slightly seaward. A careful survey was made of all the surface fissures, in which Rickman assisted, resulting in the adoption of surface contour drains to assist the drainage from the upper cliffs and convey it seaward around the flanks of the site. The drains were so far successful that, after half a century’s usage, the works are intact.

Here Rickman displayed that kindness and philanthropic spirit he afterwards showed in his own neighbourhood, by directing the studies and lending books to the more ambitious of the workmen employed by the contractors to the Trinity Corporation.

In his own private circle, his intimacy with such men as Lefroy, the Secretary to the Speaker; the Rev. Cyril Page, the first incumbent of Christ’s Church, Westminster; William Froude, M. Inst. C.E., and some others, who were all members of a social club, founded by them, is indicative of the man’s character.

He passed a great portion of his middle life abroad. Marrying somewhat late, and settling down in Charles Kingsley’s nook of Hampshire, and in his own parish of Lithanger, near Petersfield, he erected schools and devoted time to the education of the children of his fellow-parishioners, and to popular readings and addresses. The great advantages he had himself derived from superior educational facilities, combined with very engaging manners and a remarkably handsome presence, rendered him essentially effective in such endeavours, which, however, mainly emanated from very earnest religious feelings.

From 1848 to 1851 he was engaged on various naval investigations and improvements ; the 'American keel' amongst others, which he tested in Wexford harbour, where he assisted a friend in 1851 to start a yard for the manufacture of drain tiles. About this period he read a Paper before the British Archaeological Association on the probable means employed to move the monoliths to and at Stonehenge.

Several national industrial exhibits were sent by him to the Great Exhibition of 1851 from Ireland, and numerous mechanical contrivances, in his house at Lithanger built by him in 1849, testify to his genius in this respect.

In a funeral sermon preached by the Rev. Evelyn Joseph Hone, MA., Vicar of St. John, Deptford, at Empshot, Hants, on the Sunday following his death, passages occur referring to his absolute integrity, his invincible kindness, his indefatigable energy, and his faith ; for although 'he had his seasons of depression - seasons of anxiety and of fear - yet his faith never failed, and for the most part it was simply triumphant.' An eloquent tribute was offered to his natural and acquired abilities, to his originality in mechanical contrivance, to his fine cultivated taste in art, to his knowledge of ancient and modern poetry, to his eminence as a reader from sympathy with author and audience, and to his grace in letter writing.

Mr. Rickman was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 24th of April, 1838.

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