Richard Rigby the elder died in 1730, leaving his estate to his eight-year-old son Richard. In 1738, Richard Rigby the younger took up a place at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge from which he passed to Middle Temple, but left with no qualifications, subsequently setting off on a Grand Tour. Following his return, in 1744 he joined White’s Club alongside his friend Horace Walpole. Shortly afterwards Walpole’s brother, Robert Walpole 2nd Earl of Orford introduced Rigby to politics, encouraging him to stand for Castle Rising in October 1745. During the early stages of his career Rigby became associated with Frederick Prince of Wales and his Leicester House circle. Horace Walpole records that the Prince promised Rigby £1,000 to stand in his interest at Sudbury in the elections of 1747, in which Rigby succeeded ‘though so populous a town, and in which he did not know one man’. Subsequently a petition was made against him, in which Rigby was accused of intimidating the electors, after he brought a group of prize fighters to the polling. The petition was rejected and £900 of the £1,000 offered to Rigby was paid by the Prince; however, the post of Groom of the Bedchamber, which had been promised with it, instead passed to William Trevanian. As a result Rigby and Walpole broke away from the Leicester House circle, and on 29 April 1749 they were struck off the Prince of Wales’ list of persons intended to receive office.
Rigby subsequently aligned his interests with John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, sitting for his pocket borough Tavistock in 1754, a seat which he held until his death in 1788. When Bedford was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in January 1757, he named Rigby as his secretary. Upon the Duke’s death in 1771, his will absolved Rigby of all debts owed to him, a sum of £5,000.
Initially a supporter of the Whig party, Rigby was seen to quarrel with Henry Fox, and eventually became a keen supporter of the North administration. In June 1768 Rigby was rewarded with the post of Paymaster of the Forces, a lucrative role which he held for twelve years. With the half-a-million pounds of public money entrusted to the post Rigby was seen to spend liberally, and Mistley Hall became the centre of lavish entertainments held for his society friends.
In October 1777 the Countess Spencer wrote to David Garrick, ‘I need not say how much we were charmed with Mistley, the place and reception we met with there were such as you have so often and so enchantingly described.’
Following the fall of the North administration, Rigby lost his position as Paymaster in March 1782. He was replaced by Edmund Burke, who subsequently demanded the repayment of a large sum of public money. Threatened with disaster and suffering from ill health, Rigby gave up his London residence in St James’s Place and retired to Bath in 1785, where he died on 28 April 1788. He was buried in the family vault at Mistley, and a monument to him was set up in Adam’s church, now preserved in the Church of St Mary and St Michael, Mistley.
Rigby was unmarried, but left legacies to his natural daughter Sarah Lucas and her mother, with a further £100 a year set aside for his mistress, Jenny Pickard. The remainder of his estate, including the house and grounds at Mistley, was inherited by his nephew, Lt Col. Francis Hale. Three years after Rigby’s death, a debt of £150,000 in public money still remained unpaid.
Following the death of Francis Hale in 1827, what remained of the Mistley estate passed to his daughter Frances, the wife of Horace Beckford, 3rd Baron Rivers. In 1844 the estate was sold off in lots, and Mistley Hall was subsequently demolished. Only parts of the late eighteenth-century stable block survive.
Adam’s earliest commission for Rigby, in 1774, was for an extensive bathing pavilion. Possibly intended to be positioned at the centre of Mistley Thorne, Adam’s fine bath house would have presented an impressive façade overlooking the river Stour. A number of spas and baths were established in Essex during the eighteenth century, yet Adam’s scheme for Mistley was never executed. It is likely that the site intended for this impressive building was latterly used for the group of houses known as Fountain Cottages, along with the swan pond, both of which Adam designed some five years later, in 1779 (SM Adam volume 41/60-63).
As Mistley Hall was demolished c1844, it is impossible to establish whether Adam’s scheme for the house and its interiors was ever executed. Bolton suggests that the alterations to the exterior may have remained unexecuted. However, a contemporary account records that under Rigby an additional wing was constructed at Mistley Hall, containing a drawing room and eating room, but no date for this is given. It is perhaps significant that the surviving drawings for Adam’s interiors are also for a drawing room and eating room. Further to this, King notes that the nature of the interior designs would suggest their execution, with the design for the drawing room carpet (SM Adam 5/43 and 17/198) complementing that of the ceiling designed some six months earlier (SM Adam volume 14/27-28). King also highlights the number of surviving Adam estate buildings, which besides the cottages include the northern lodge house which formed part of an entrance screen (SM Adam volume 51/67); a bridge for the road leading from Mistley to Manningtree (SM Adam volume 51/34); and the towers of Adam’s church. As a result the extensive work undertaken by Adam for the Mistley estate would suggest the execution of the scheme for the hall and its interiors.
See also: Mistley Church, Essex
P. Morant, The History and antiquities of the County of Essex, 1768, pp. 460-63; ‘Strawberry-Hill Aug. 2, 1750’, Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, to Sir Horace Mann, British Envoy at the Court of Tuscany, Volume II, 1833; A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, 146-155, Index pp. 23, 85; ‘Pocket Histories of Essex Parishes No. 29 Mistley’, Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury, Jan 26th, 1934, pp. 1-4; E. Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, p. 50; A. Rowan, Robert Adam catalogue of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988, pp. 99 (cat. 143); D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 29, 249, 344-46, 351, pls. 356-7, 493, Volume II pp. 106, 183, 210, 222-23, 229, 239, 245; R Cowell & A Cowell, Essex Spas and Mineral Waters, 2001, p. 71; J. Bettley & N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Essex, 2007, pp. 50, 52, 598-600; ‘Mistley Old Hall’, www.historicengland.org.uk; R. Thorne, ‘Rigby, Richard (1722-1788)’ 3 Jan 2008, www.oxforddnb.com; ‘Rigby, Richard (1722-88) of Mistley Hall, Essex’ www.historyofparliamentonline.org (accessed April 2019)
With thanks to Peter Cross for information regarding the surviving Adam buildings in Mistley.
Anna McAlaney, 2019
Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.
Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).
Contents of Mistley Hall and Village, Essex, for the Rt. Hon. Richard Rigby, c1774-82 (34)
- Preliminary designs, designs and a finished drawing for a bath house and a reservoir, c1774, unexecuted (12)
- Survey drawing and design for a house, 1777, unexecuted (1)
- Design for a dining room, 1778, possibly executed (1)
- Design for a ceiling for the dining room or a variant design for the drawing room, 1778, unexecuted (1)
- Designs and a record drawing for mirror frames for the dining room, 1778, possibly executed (3)
- Design for a drawing room, 1778, possibly executed (1)
- Alternative design, design and record drawing for a ceiling for the drawing room, 1778 (3)
- Designs for mirror frames for the drawing room, 1778, possibly executed (2)
- Preliminary design and design for a carpet for the drawing room, c1778, possibly executed (2)
- Finished drawing for a Gothic pavilion, 1778, unexecuted (1)
- Designs for cottages, 1779, as executed (2)
- Designs for a fountain, 1779, executed with minor alterations (2)
- Designs for a gateway for the New Road entrance, 1781-2 (2)
- Design for a bridge, as executed (1)