Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ripley, Thomas

RIPLEY, THOMAS (d. 1758), architect, born in Yorkshire, is said to have walked to London, as a lad, to seek his fortune. He at first worked as a carpenter, and afterwards kept a coffee-shop in Wood Street, Cheapside. On 14 March 1705 he was admitted to the freedom of the Carpenters' Company. He owed his advancement in life to the patronage of Sir Robert Walpole, one of whose servants he married. In 1718 he was clerk of the works at the King's Mews, and undertook his first public work in that year, when he rebuilt the custom-house, which had been destroyed by fire in 1715. The new building was itself burnt down in 1814. On 10 Aug. 1721 Ripley was appointed chief carpenter to all his majesty's works and buildings in England, in succession to Grinling Gibbons. From 1722 to 1735 he was engaged in carrying out Colin Campbell's design for Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for Sir R. Walpole, introducing many improvements of his own. ‘Plans and Elevations of Houghton’ was published by Ripley, jointly with William Kent [q. v.] and Isaac Ware [q. v.], in 2 vols. fol. 1755–60. From 1724 to 1730 he was also building Lord Walpole's seat, Wolterton House, Norfolk, according to Horace Walpole ‘one of the best houses of the size in England.’ From 1724 to 1726 he was engaged in building the Admiralty, Whitehall, which R. Adam afterwards completed by adding the façade. Ripley's estimate for this building was 22,400l. In 1729 he designed the interior and roof of the chapel at Greenwich Hospital, which was burnt in 1779. Meanwhile, on 8 May 1726, he became comptroller of the board of works in succession to Sir John Vanbrugh, and held this appointment till 1738. In 1737 he was appointed keeper of his majesty's private roads, gates, and bridges, and conductor in his royal progresses. In 1742 he obtained a grant of arms from the Heralds' College. In June 1744 he paid his fine to be excused serving the office of sheriff of London and Middlesex. He died 10 Feb. 1758 at his official residence at Hampton Court, and was buried in Hampton church, where he is commemorated by a slab in the floor. His first wife died on 17 Nov. 1737. On 22 April 1742 he married Miss Bucknall of Hampton, Middlesex, who is said to have had a fortune of 40,000l. He left three sons, the eldest of whom inherited a considerable fortune, and several daughters. His portrait, by Gardiner, is at Wolterton, and a later portrait, by J. Highmore, is in the possession of his descendants. Ripley was gibbeted by Pope in the distich:

    Heaven visits with a taste the wealthy fool,
    And needs no rod but Ripley with his rule

(Epistle to Burlington, ll. 17, 18, and note). The attack is attributed by Walpole to the jealousy of Pope's patron, Lord Burlington, who wanted the comptrollership for his own architect, Kent. Ripley's designs were heavy and tasteless, but he was skilled in construction, and the interior arrangements of his buildings were convenient.

[Gent. Mag. vii. 515, 702, viii. 166, 222, xii. 274, xiv. 333, xxviii. 94; Builder, ix. 2–3, xx. 563; Dict. of Architecture; Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iii. 173; Walpole's Anecdotes, ed. Wornum, p. 769.]

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