Rigby’s Spa Town Vision

When Richard Rigby (1690-1730) made a fortune investing in the South Sea Company and selling his shares before the ‘bubble’ burst he spent some of that fortune on developing his estate in Mistley and on the building of Mistley Hall and established an impressive estate where lavish parties were held for the gentry and sometimes royalty. On his death 1730 at the early age of 40 he was succeeded by his son, another Richard, a swashbuckling politician. He set about establishing a Spa town at great expense and hired the famous architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) to transform the area. Due to financial mismanagement the Rigby money ran out and the project was halted but a few remaining works of Adam can be seen : the Mistley Towers, the Swan fountain, the remaining gate lodge at the west end of Green Lane, the Hopping Bridge etc.

spectacular parties at Mistley Hall attended by members of the government and even on occasion by royalty. When the young French aristocrat Francois de La Rochefoucauld visited Mistley in 1784 he found it ‘a very small place, fifty houses at most, which are so well built and so spruce that you see at a glance that they all belong to the same owner. Mr Rigby owns the whole town… All houses except one belong to him, but the owner of this last one would never sell it to him; and so that strangers don’t compare it with the others, he has painted his red, since the others are white.’

The French nobleman remarked on the trade of the port which he said was ‘created entirely by Mr Rigby’. His tutor and companion, Maximilien de Lazowski, was more precise in his comments, saying that ‘Newcastle ships bring coal which is either distributed by cart into Essex or Suffolk or carried on upriver by barge to Sudbury. The whole neighbourhood brings its corn here to be embarked or stored for the London markets and all the coastal ports. There are six ships at the quay – a fine sight.’

Oddly enough, that is just the number of ships shown at the quay in 1778. There is a seventh vessel, a sloop, in the ‘New Dock’ at the west end of the quay beside a large building described as ‘Store House’. Beyond that is a deal yard, and on the land behind the church (the Towers are the only surviving part of the church that was re-designed and added to by the famous Robert Adam) is a series of nasty looking heaps described as ‘Repository for Manure’, presumably the stable and street sweepings brought from London for the local farmers as a return cargo in trading vessels; such a cargo was usually entered as ‘muck’. At the other end of the quay there is a ship on the stocks and along building labelled ‘Moulding House’, in other words the mould loft in which a ships lines were laid down at full size and in which the moulds were made. The influence of Rigby was no doubt responsible for the fact that orders for warships came to Mistley from the Navy Board. Beyond that, at the bottom of the road way that was in the later days known as Batter Pudding Hill, is a lime kiln and ‘chalk house’ – doubtless the lime kiln that was mentioned by Rochefoucauld, ‘clad in brick and given the shape of a fort’.

Richard Rigby was not the most careful steward of the fortune he had inherited from his father, and he was saved from the effects of his lack of thrift by his close friendship with the Duke of Bedford, who loaned him £5,000 – and immense sum at the time – and on his death in 1771 not only released Rigby from the loan but left him a further £5,000. Rigby was Paymaster to the Forces from 1768 – 1784, and when he died in 1788 it was said that ‘he left nearly half a million of public money’. However, much of the wealth he accrued was spent very much to the benefit of the village of Mistley and its inhabitants.

Rigby’s parties at Mistley Hall became famous both for there magnificence and for the eminence of many of the guests. It is said that local people used to assemble near the front of the Hall to watch the guests arrive, and that on one wintery occasion Rigby sent his servants to serve punch to the spectators.

Here the family name crop up again. Lord Rigby II had a very public affair with Sarah Lucas, the result being a daughter also names Sarah.  Mother and daughter inherited on his death; the daughter a small fortune for those days. I have found no further mention, I guess they moved away and lived out their lives very comfortably.