Francis Rattenbury: Wikis


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Francis Mawson Rattenbury 1924

Francis Mawson Rattenbury (1867-1935) was an architect born in England, although most of his career was spent in British Columbia, Canada where he designed many notable buildings. Divorced amid scandal, he was murdered in England at the age of 68 by his second wife's lover.


Architectural career

Rattenbury was born in 1867 in Leeds, England. He began his architectural career with an apprenticeship in 1884 to the "Lockwood and Mawson Company" in England, where he worked until he left for Canada. In 1891, he arrived in Vancouver, in the new Canadian province of British Columbia.

The province, anxious to show its growing economic, social and political status, was engaged in an architectural competition to build a new legislative building in Victoria. The new immigrant entered, signing his drawings with the pseudonym "A B.C. Architect," and won the competition. Despite many problems, including going over-budget by $400,000, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings were officially opened in 1898. The grand scale of its 500-foot (150 m)-long facade, central dome and two end pavilions, the richness of its white marble, and its use of the currently-popular Romanesque style contributed to its being seen as an impressive monument for the new province. Rattenbury's success in the competition garnered him many commissions in Victoria and other parts of the province, including additions to the Legislative Buildings in 1913–1915. In 1900 he was commissioned to design the 18 bedroom, three story Burns Manor in Calgary for his close friend Pat Burns.

Rattenbury also worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway as their Western Division Architect. His most well-known work for the CPR was the Empress, a Chateau-style hotel built in 1904–1908 in Victoria, with two wings added in 1909–1914. The architect, however, fell out with the CPR and went to work for their competition, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. He designed many hotels and stations for the GTP, but they were never completed due to the death of the president, Charles Melville Hays, in the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the company's subsequent bankruptcy. The CPR allowed him to return, however, and he built the second CPR Steamship Terminal in Victoria in 1923–1924 in association with another architect, Percy James. Rattenbury and James also collaborated in the design of the Crystal Garden at the same time, although they later had a public conflict over Rattenbury's refusal to give James credit and payment for his work on the Garden.

Just as quickly as he became popular, Rattenbury and his architecture was out of favour. Perhaps a symptom of his waning popularity, he lost the competition to build the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, built 1908–1912 in Regina, to E. and W.S. Maxwell, two Montreal architects trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In contrast to the Maxwells, Rattenbury had no formal training in architecture and, with the increasing professionalism of the field, was soon outpaced by better-trained and better-educated architects.

Personal life

Legislative Buildings At Victoria, British Columbia 1910's
Located in Victoria, British Columbia and officially opened in 1898 with a 500-ft long facade, central dome, two end pavilions, and a gold-covered statue of Captain George Vancouver, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings are home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

Soon after winning the competition for the Legislative Buildings in Victoria, Rattenbury was involved in a series of financial ventures. Most notably, he planned to supply meat and cattle to prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush and he ordered three steam trains to serve the Yukon Territory. These investments eventually became profitable. After World War I, however, his luck turned sour with the failure of some financial speculations, eventually leading to conflicts with his business partners.

His personal life also began to show strains at this time. In 1923, he left his wife Florence Nunn, whom he had married in 1898, and his children Frank and Mary for 27-year-old Alma Pakenham. His maltreatment of Florence, including having the heat and lights turned off in their home after he moved out, and his public flaunting of his affair led his former clients and associates to shun him, forcing him to leave Victoria. He married Alma in 1925 after Florence agreed to his request for divorce. He returned to Victoria in 1927 with Alma, and they had a son before deciding to move to Bournemouth, England in 1929, the same year that Florence died.


In England, his financial problems continued, causing his relationship with Alma to disintegrate. She began an affair with George Percy Stoner, her 18 year old chauffeur. In 1935, Rattenbury was murdered in his sitting room by blows to the head with a carpenter's mallet. His wife and Stoner were soon charged. Stoner was convicted and sentenced to death, although it was later commuted to a life sentence. He served 7 years. The charges against Mrs. Rattenbury were dropped; she committed suicide a few days later.

The case report is studied by law students throughout the common law world, who for the most part have no notion of Rattenbury's association with Victoria, or Canada.

Despite Francis Rattenbury enjoying an outstanding career as an architect, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery close to his home in Bournemouth, Dorset. Seventy-two years later, in 2007, a headstone was erected as a lasting memorial, paid for by a family friend.

Cultural references

In 1937, playwright and actor Emlyn Williams had suggested to producer Alexander Korda the idea of making a film about the "the Rattenbury murder case".[1]

The event was the basis of the play Cause Célèbre by Sir Terence Rattigan. It was first written as a radio play and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27 October 1975. Rattigan then recast it as a stage play, which premiered at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, on 4 July 1977.

List of his work

The Empress Hotel, Victoria, BC Canada
Victoria's Inner Harbour has three of Rattenbury's works. From left to right: The Empress Hotel, British Columbia Parliament Buildings, and the CPR Steamship Terminal (now the Royal London Wax Museum).
  • British Columbia Parliament Buildings, Victoria (1891-1898, additions 1913-1915)
  • Roedde House, Vancouver (1893)
  • Nanaimo Court House, Nanaimo (1895)
  • Bank of Montreal, Victoria (1896)
  • Bank of Montreal, Rossland (1898)
  • Bank of Montreal, Nelson (1899)
  • Lieutenant Governor's Residence, Victoria (1901, destroyed by fire in 1957)
  • Victoria High School, Victoria (1901)
  • Phoenix Hospital, Phoenix (1901, demolished)
  • Burns Manor, Calgary (1903)
  • Court House, Vancouver (1905-1913, remodelled in 1983 as the Vancouver Art Gallery)
  • Merchant's Bank, Victoria (1907)
  • Court House, Nelson (Designed 1903, completed November 1908, supervising local architect, Alexander Carrie)
  • Empress Hotel, Victoria (1904-1908, additions in 1909 and 1914)
  • Gavin John Rattenbury
  • CPR Steamship Terminal, Victoria (1923-1924; now the Royal London Wax Museum)
  • Crystal Garden, Victoria (1925)
  • Merchants Bank, Nanaimo (1909-1911)
  • Chateau Lake Louise additions (1900-1912, burned down in 1924)


  1. ^ Williams then joined the cast of Korda's film I, Claudius instead. Williams mentions this story in the 1965 BBC documentary The Epic That Never Was, about the making of the unfinished I, Claudius.

External links


  • Reksten, Terry: Rattenbury Sono Nis Press, Victoria, British Columbia, (1998) ISBN 1-55039-090-2
  • Barrett, Anthony A & Liscombe, Rhodri Windsor: Francis Rattenbury and British Columbia, Architecture and Challenge in the Imperial Age, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver (1983) ISBN 0-7748-0178-6


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