BC’s Top Architect Slain by Teenage Stoner with
Francis Rattenbury, designer of British Columbia’s
beautiful Parliament buildings and the Empress Hotel in Victoria, and
the Law Courts in Vancouver, was bludgeoned to death with a croquet
mallet by his younger wife’s jealous 17-year-old lover, George Stoner,
the family chauffeur. Rattenbury was 67 years old at the time, his
wife Alma only 36.
Rattenbury, trained as an architect in England,
moved to Victoria as a young man and spent over a quarter of a century
designing the most famous buildings in the province before his
marriage broke up in a sensational divorce and he returned with a new
and younger wife (then only about 25 and already divorced twice
herself) to Bournemouth, Dorset.
Stoner was found guilty at the Old Bailey and
sentenced to death, but the public became convinced he’d been led on
by Alma, and the Home Secretary was persuaded to reduce his sentence.
After seven year incarceration, he was released to serve in World War
II, and won his permanent freedom through bravery in action. He died
in 2000 at the age of 83.
After Stoner’s conviction, Alma, in an apparent fit
of remorse, committed suicide by stabbing herself on the banks of the
Headstone at last for victim of 1930s murder
By Richard Edwards - Telegraph.co.uk
November 19, 2007
A celebrated architect,
Francis Rattenbury was bludgeoned to death with a croquet mallet by
his wife's 17-year-old lover in 1935.
The love triangle tragedy was one of the greatest scandals of the time
and became dubbed the "Murder at the Villa Madeira", after the name of
the Rattenburys' home in Dorset. It later inspired television plays,
novels and legal textbooks.
Teenage lover George Stoner, who had been the architect's chauffeur,
was found guilty at the Old Bailey and sentenced to death.
Consumed by shame and guilt, Rattenbury's wife,
Alma, committed suicide, plunging a knife through her heart on the
isolated bank of the River Avon.
While on death row, Stoner won vast public support
as it was felt that Alma had manipulated him "for her own pleasure and
entertainment", and the Home Secretary was forced to reduce his
He served just seven years before he was released
to serve in the war, winning his freedom through bravery. He died in
2000, aged 83.
Despite Rattenbury enjoying an outstanding career
as an architect, designing British Columbia's Parliamentary buildings
in Victoria and the elaborate Law Courts in Vancouver, he was buried
in an unmarked grave in a cemetery close to his home in Bournemouth,
Dorset. Now, 73 years later, a headstone has been erected as a lasting
memorial to him after being paid for by a family friend.
His son John, 78, who was five at the time of the
murder, said: "He was a very important architect and had an extremely
successful career. I think it's an extremely thoughtful gesture so
long after his death."
Rattenbury was a famous public figure who had
controversially left his wife of 25 years, Florence Nunn, who he had
settled with in Victoria, where he completed much of his work.
Aged 56, he had fallen in love with the 24-year-old
pianist and flapper, Alma Pakenham.
In an acrimonious split from his wife, he had the
heat and lights turned off in their home after he moved out, and his
public flaunting of his affair caused some of his clients and
associates to shun him.
After a divorce was settled, Rattenbury married
Alma, and they moved to Bournemouth, where their son John was born in
Within two months, his wife embarked on an affair
with their teenage chauffeur, who became increasingly jealous of his
mistress's famous architect husband.
In 1935, the enraged young man took a mallet and
clubbed 67-year-old Rattenbury to death while he sat in his drawing
Alma was in the house at the time and after Stoner
confessed to her, she took a concoction of alcohol and drugs, then
told police she had attacked her husband.
Alma and Stoner were jointly charged at first,
although the case was dropped against the tragic wife, who committed
suicide shortly after her lover was sentenced to death.
The case is still studied by law students worldwide,
and inspired the 1987 TV play Cause Célèbre, starring Helen Mirren.
Murder, suicide and the pain of a surviving son
John Rattenbury’s father was killed by his mother’s
lover in a case that rocked Britain. As a play based on the trial is
revived, he talks about the tragedy for the first time
York Membery - TimesOnline.co.uk
November 29, 2007
The murder of a distinguished architect by a
chauffeur who was having an affair with his wife was headline news in
the puritanical, class-conscious Britain of the 1930s.
But there was a lot more about the killing of
Francis Rattenbury that would make the world take notice. Not only
were the teenage chauffeur, George Stoner, and his lover, Alma
Rattenbury, charged with the murder, but when Stoner was alone found
guilty and at the Old Bailey sentenced to hang, Rattenbury’s
distraught young wife took her own life, stabbing herself six times in
the breast with a knife. Ironically, after a 300,000-strong petition
for clemency, Stoner was spared the noose.
It is little wonder that the 1935 murder and the
subsequent court trial inspired Terence Rattigan’s final play Cause
Now, 72 years on, John Rattenbury, the couple’s
son, has spoken for the first time about the murder and its
cataclysmic effect on his life. He breaks his silence in the week that
Cause Célèbreis being revived in London – and just days after the
erecting of a headstone to mark his father’s grave in the seaside town
where he met his grisly fate.
John’s own story is itself extraordinary and he’s
pursued his father’s profession with a passion born of the tragedy –
going on to work with one of the 20th century’s great architects,
Frank Lloyd Wright, who was to become mentor and father figure.
John can recall his early years at Madeira Villa,
his parents’ comfortable home in Manor Road, Bournemouth, scene of his
father’s murder. “It was not a happy house,” he says, talking from
Arizona, where he now lives. “My father had become reclusive and wasn’t
a happy man. I later found out that he’d started to drink a lot. He’d
had an illustrious career, but was semi-retired and frustrated because
he didn’t have anything to occupy his mind.
“My mother, who was a talented musician, had her
own problems. I have fond memories of her: sitting on her shoulders
when she went swimming and going for walks together. But the age gap
between my parents [she was 29 years younger] was a problem. He was
fast becoming an old man; she was still a vibrant, beautiful woman and
wasn’t only getting into drink, I believe she might have been getting
into drugs too.”
The couple had met in Canada where his father –
born in Leeds and known as “Ratz” – had emigrated and made a fortune
designing landmarks such as the British Columbia Parliament Buildings,
the Empress Hotel, in Victoria, and the Vancouver Courthouse (now an
art gallery). But he had returned to Britain in the late 1920s after
scandalising Victoria’s polite society by divorcing his first wife
Florrie for Alma, a vivacious Bambi-eyed pianist and flapper.
In late 1934 they had placed an advert in a
Bournemouth paper for “a daily willing lad, aged 14-18 – scout trained
preferred – for housework”. A local youth, George Stoner, 17, was
given the job, which also involved acting as chauffeur. Within weeks
Alma, 38, and Stoner had begun an affair. He became obsessed by the
glamorous, worldly, older woman and began to object to her showing
“Ratz” any affection. One evening in March, 1935, Stoner attacked
Francis in his lounge. The blows struck on that fateful night were so
savage that they removed the back of 67-year-old architect’s head.
Four days later he died.
John was just 6 then, but says: “I remember the
night my father was murdered because the lights went on in the house –
and I woke up. Nobody would tell me what had happened but I had this
cold feeling that something terrible had occurred.”
A year later he found out the truth. “I was too
young to know and everybody was afraid to tell me,” says John, now 78.
“Then one day a boy at my school rather cruelly told me that my father
had been murdered and my mother had killed herself. It was such a
shock – I’d been told they were on vacation.”
How does he view the murder and his mother’s
infidelity, which ultimately triggered his parents’ death? “It was a
tragedy for all concerned. Both my parents were tragic figures in
their way. The age gap didn’t help and by the time of his death I
think my father was probably impotent. I guess that’s why my mother
embarked on an affair.”
And what of the claim by UK lawyer Sir David Napley
in a 1988 book that the “young and besotted” Stoner covered up for
Alma? Napley alleged that it was Alma, high on drugs, who struck the
fatal blows. “I don’t believe that for a moment,” John says. “My
mother was too naive and innocent to do anything like that.”
Every detail of the Old Bailey trial was
salaciously reported. And even though Alma was acquitted of having
anything to do with the killing, after initially being co-charged with
murder, the press showed little sympathy. She was accused of being an
immoral woman who had “ensnared a hapless youth” – while Stoner was
presented as “a poor lad cajoled into the vortex of this illicit love”.
“Very few people mentioned my parents’ good
qualities – my father’s architecture and my mother’s musicianship,”
says John. “That’s how I prefer to remember them. And whatever anyone
says, I know that my mother was a good woman.”
After his parents’ death, a solicitor cousin in
London, administering the family’s estate on his behalf, acted as John’s
guardian. In the school holidays – he boarded in Bournemouth before
going on to King’s College Choir School, Cambridge – he would be
farmed out to various relatives. “I usually spent Christmas with a
great aunt and uncle and other holidays elsewhere,” he says.
However, the years after his parents’ death were
tough. “It was a difficult period for me,” he admits. “I’d sit in
class and suddenly burst into tears. Some of the teachers used to give
me hell.” But in a way he thinks his immaturity helped to shield him
from some of the emotional fallout. “On one level, it was very painful.
But at that age you’re pretty resilient. And I threw myself into my
studies and sport – I played rugger and cricket – in an attempt to
block out my parents’ death.”
Then came the Second World War. “Invasion looked
imminent – my guardian decided I should be evacuated to Vancouver,
Canada,” he says. He sailed from Liverpool, reaching Montreal several
days later. “When we disembarked I sat on my trunk and waited because
I didn’t know how I was going to get to Vancouver.” His train didn’t
leave for two days but a kindly couple looked after him until his
departure. In Vancouver, he went to live with his maternal grandmother.
However, within weeks she was dead so he was sent to live with yet
another relative. By chance, pupils at the Vancouver school he was
sent to were asked to enter a competition to design a new campus. The
young John won first place – and a five-dollar prize. “At the time I
wasn’t really aware that I was following in my father’s footsteps,” he
says. “But I guess it was in my blood. I’d also seen him at work and
that must have sown a seed.”
At 16 he left school determined to follow
his father’s profession. “I got a job working for a logging company,
and that enabled me to pay my way through an architecture course at
Oregon State College.”
While there he learnt about Frank Lloyd Wright, was
“blown away” by his architecture and applied to his architectural
school, Taliesin, in Wisconsin. Offered a place at the school’s campus
in Arizona, his eyes were opened by the genius of the man who designed
some of the most influential buildings of the 20th Century. The
architect befriended and influenced hugely the young student. “We
developed a strong mutual affection,” John says. “It’s funny: Frank
had the same Christian name as my father, was born in the same year
and had a wife about 30 years younger.”
He became a key member of Wright’s architectural
practice, working on iconic buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in
New York and the Price Tower. He also married a fellow student, Kaye
Davison (now deceased). When Wright died in 1959 John and colleagues
continued his architectural practice under a new name: Taliesin
Architects. Ever since John has continued to work, and teach, at the
commune-style school, which is devoted to Wright’s ideas. In 1997 he
designed Life magazine’s “Dream House”, reminiscent of one of Wright’s
Prairie-style homes. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” John says. “I love
what I do – and I’m still working. I think that my mother and father
would have been proud of me.”
Surprisingly, he displays no bitterness at having
his parents snatched from him and even thinks that some good may have
come from the tragedy. “It gave me an understanding from a very early
age of other people’s pain and sorrow,” he says. “And that’s a quality
I possibly wouldn’t otherwise have possessed.” Nor does he bear any
ill will to Stoner, who was released from prison after just seven
years, going on to fight at D-Day before marrying and living a quiet
life in Bournemouth until his death in 2000 aged 83.
“I’ve always thought it was such a sad business,”
says John. “I was driven to school by Stoner, but I didn’t know he’d
murdered my father until years later. He was so young, so
impressionable and he had this older, beautiful woman doting on him .
. . I’ve never felt any animosity towards him. I just felt he was a
terrible victim of circumstance. And of course he went to prison. I’m
sure that he suffered great guilt. It must have been a terrible life."
Bournemouth’s most sensational murder
The Rattenbury murder of 1935 is recalled by John
In his book, Murder at the Villa
Madeira, eminent lawyer-author Sir David Napley introduces the
Rattenbury murder as follows: ‘The sensation of the year 1935 was the
trial at the Old Bailey on charges of murder of Alma Rattenbury, an
attractive woman of perhaps 39 or 40, and her lover, George Stoner,
who had been employed in her house as a chauffeur-handyman.’ It was
certainly the biggest local sensation in Bournemouth that year, and
the biggest ever on its East Cliff.
Although the murder in question
took place in March 1935, our story really begins the previous
September when the following advertisement appeared in the Bournemouth
Daily Echo: ‘Daily willing lad, 14-18, for house-work; Scout-trained
preferred. Apply between 11-12, 8-9 at 5 Manor Road, Bournemouth.’ 5
Manor Road on Bournemouth’s East Cliff was also known as the Villa
Madeira. Five people were then resident in the house. They were 67-year-old
retired architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury, his 39-year-old wife of
ten years, Alma, her 13-year-old son by a previous marriage,
Christopher, their own 6-year-old son, John, and Alma’s live-in
companion-housekeeper, Irene Riggs.
In November 1934 the ‘Daily
willing lad’ who had answered the advertisement two months before and
become the family’s chauffeur-handyman, 18-year-old George Stoner,
also became a permanent resident. Sadly, nine months later, this
‘willing lad’ would be on trial at the Old Bailey for his very life.
Francis Mawson Rattenbury,
Yorkshire born and bred, sailed from England to Canada in 1892 at the
age of 24 to seek his fame and fortune as an architect in the
developing area of British Columbia. He was not to be disappointed.
Within a year he had won an open competition to design the Parliament
Buildings for Victoria, the town selected as British Columbia’s
capital. The resulting edifice met with widespread approval and he
came to be in great demand. His later work included the Law Courts in
Vancouver and the luxurious Empress Hotel on Victoria’s waterfront, a
venue that would play a pivotal role in his private life. In between
these successes, Francis led a roller-coaster life. Often ruthless and
aggressive in dealing with others, he received little sympathy when
failed private business ventures left him short of funds with only his
architectural talent to fall back on. To make matters worse, on 29
December 1923, while celebrating the award of an important local
contract in ‘his’ Empress Hotel, the 56-year-old Rattenbury met and
fell in love with Alma Pakenham, a divorcée half his age. Once their
affair became public knowledge, Rattenbury then married with two
children and considered a pillar of local society, was no longer
welcome in Victoria. An acrimonious divorce followed and the newly-weds,
together with Alma’s son, Christopher Pakenham, finally settled in
Manor Road on Bournemouth’s East Cliff.
Alma herself grew up in British
Columbia. In her teenage years she lived in Vancouver and, with her
mother’s guidance, became an accomplished musician, something she was
able to fall back on in later years. At 19 she married the love of her
life, Ulsterman Caledon Dolling, and followed him to England when he
enlisted in the Army in World War I. On receiving the tragic news that
Dolling had been killed at the Battle of the Somme, Alma immediately
joined a Scottish ambulance unit that she knew would be working behind
the French lines. Her bravery in this situation led to her being
awarded a leading French medal, the Croix de Guerre with Star and Palm.
At the end of World War I, she married Captain Compton Pakenham and
moved with him to America. Following the birth of Christopher, the
marriage broke up and she and her son joined her mother in Vancouver.
Alma returned to music professionally and one day, after performing in
Victoria, found herself enjoying a relaxing drink at the Empress Hotel
with a friend; it was 29 December 1923. When she married Rattenbury in
1925 at the age of 29, the now thrice-married Alma had borne one son
(Christopher), been cited as co-respondent in two divorce cases (Pakenham’s
and Rattenbury’s), enjoyed fame as a musician and received a top
French military honour. Quite a life so far!
By contrast, the third member of
our trio, 18-year-old George Stoner, was rather shy and retiring,
having been rather a loner as a child with no serious girl-friends.
His time had been spent between the family home in Redhill,
Bournemouth and his grandparents’ house in Ensbury Park, Bournemouth.
A handsome lad, the fact that he could drive and thus work as a
chauffeur-handyman was a big plus to the Rattenburys when they
employed him in September 1934. Two months later he was living in at
the Villa Madeira and embarking on a passionate affair with Alma
Rattenbury. Because of their respective backgrounds and ages, it must
be assumed that Alma was very much the instigator.
By November 1934 Francis
Rattenbury was often depressed and suicidal. Now impotent – he and
Alma had not had sexual relations since the birth of John – he took
refuge in a nightly bottle of whisky. He slept on his own downstairs
and appears not to have objected to his wife’s affair; in such a small
house it is almost inconceivable that he did not know what was going
on. For her part, Alma, still attractive and hoping to enhance her
blossoming career as a songwriter, was caught in a dreary domestic
The affair continued for a few
months, with Stoner visiting Alma’s bedroom at night. As time went on,
however, the formerly shy Stoner, quite unnecessarily, became
increasingly aggressive and possessive of Alma, expressing jealousy
whenever she and Francis spent time together. Matters came to a head
over the weekend of 23/24 March 1935, just after Alma and Stoner
returned from a trip to London. Francis was particularly depressed and
to cheer him up, Alma organised for them to visit a friend in Bridport
the following week. On the afternoon of 24 March, Stoner had borrowed
a wooden mallet from his grandparents in Ensbury Park, supposedly to
erect a screen in the garden. Later that evening, Francis was found
seriously injured, bludgeoned with a weapon that turned out to be the
same mallet. It was not until doctors had taken Francis to hospital
for examination and wiped the matted blood away from his head that
they realised foul play had taken place and informed the police.
It was therefore the early hours
of Monday morning before the police arrived at the Villa Madeira, by
which time Alma was very much the worse for wear through drink or
drugs and kept repeating that she had ‘done him in’. She repeated that
same story the following morning and was arrested for attempted murder,
Francis being still alive at this time. Two days later, Stoner
confessed to companion-housekeeper Irene Riggs that he had done the
deed and he was also arrested. On the Thursday, Francis Rattenbury
died of his injuries and the charges became ones of murder.
Alma Rattenbury and George Stoner
were tried together at the Old Bailey on 27 May 1935, there being far
too much local interest for the case to be heard at Winchester. By
this time both defendants had been persuaded to plead not guilty.
Stoner refused to say anything at the trial other than answer to his
name, while Alma put up a robust defence. Four days later, Stoner was
found guilty of murder and sentenced to death and Alma was released.
It does seem likely that he was the only one involved. A possible
explanation is that in a jealous rage, he had only intended to harm
Francis enough to stop the proposed visit to Bridport rather than to
Public sympathy was with the
convicted Stoner, led astray by a much older woman, and a haggard-looking
Alma was booed by a large crowd as she left the Old Bailey. A few days
later, she took the train from Waterloo to Christchurch and walked
across the meadows to Three Arches railway bridge, which spans a
tributary of the River Avon. After writing some notes on the bankside,
she walked towards the water and, plunging a knife several times into
her heart, died almost immediately. It is clear from the notes and
from the words of a song she wrote while awaiting trial – subsequently
published as ‘Mrs Rattenbury’s Prison Song’ – that she really did love
Stoner, who she thought was soon to be hanged. She had died of shame.
Stoner, when informed of her death, broke down and cried.
At Alma’s funeral and burial at
Bournemouth’s Wimborne Road Cemetery, a few yards from where her late
husband lay, signatures were already being collected for mercy for the
‘led astray’ Stoner. A petition containing an amazing 320,000
signatures, including those of the local Mayor and MP, was later
handed in to the Home Secretary, who commuted Stoner’s sentence to
penal servitude for life. A model prisoner, he was released seven
years later in 1942, then joined the Army for the remainder of World
War 2. He returned to live the rest of his life in the house in
Redhill he had left at the age of 18. He died in Christchurch Hospital
in 2000 aged 83, not much more that half a mile from where Alma
perished and on exactly the 65th anniversary of Francis’s murder!
Despite all this drama, the two
boys innocently caught up in the case both went on to lead happy
family lives and have successful professional careers. The only person
still alive today from the whole sorry saga is John Rattenbury, now 77
and a successful architect (like his father) in America.
"Rattenbury: The case of the murdered Victoria architect"
by Robert Fulford
Globe and Mail, May 27, 1998
Has an architect ever done more for a city than
Francis Rattenbury did for Victoria? First he designed its signature
buildings. Then he provided the raciest scandal of the 1920s by
leaving his wife for a younger woman. Finally, he took his new wife to
England, where he became the victim of the most celebrated British
homicide of the 1930s. Today both his buildings and his murder are
part of Victoria's tourist industry.
If you take a bus tour from the Empress Hotel, the
driver first tells you to look around at three Rattenbury buildings--the
1898 Romanesque B.C. legislature, which, when lit at night, resembles
a Disneyland replica of itself; the pompous old Empress itself, from
1908; and the neo-classical steamship terminal, built in 1923, now a
wax museum. He then informs us that Rattenbury came to a bad end,
which he promises to reveal later. Sure enough, before the tour is
over he's described the murder, to gratifying gasps from the
Like most who tell this story, he mentions Alma
Rattenbury only in passing, which is unfair in a way: she was no
ordinary trophy wife. A prospector's daughter, she was a child prodigy
admired for her piano recitals. She wrote songs that were published,
played by dance bands, and performed on the BBC. Her first two
marriages took her to England, France, and New York. She could have
been called Alma Wolfe Clarke Dolling Pakenham Rattenbury--Wolfe for
her father, who died young, Clarke for her stepfather, Dolling for her
first husband, killed in the war in France, and Pakenham for her
second husband, a rather dodgy member of the literary Longford family.
After separating from Pakenham in the early 1920s,
when she was still under 30 (her precise birth-year remains obscure),
she went home to Victoria and met Francis Rattenbury. His marriage was
so wretched that he and his wife lived in different wings of their
house. Alma said to him, "Do you know that you have a lovely face?" He
was conquered. In 1925 his wife divorced him, with Alma as co-respondent.
She became the second Mrs. Rattenbury, and by 1935
they were living in Bournemouth with their young son, another boy from
her last marriage, and an 18-year-old chauffeur. The chauffeur, George
Stoner, was thought to be dim, which eventually helped him. Soon after
taking the job, he began an affair with Alma, who was two decades
older. One night someone beat Rattenbury with a wooden mallet; he
remained half-conscious for some hours, then died in hospital. Wife
and chauffeur, obvious suspects, were tried together. He was convicted,
she was not.
The newspapers made all they could of the case. The
London Daily Express assigned the most famous drama critic in England,
James Agate, to cover it. He saw it in literary terms, embodying
themes from three great French novelists. "The way in which the woman
debauched the boy so that he slept with her every night with her six-year-old
son in the room, and the husband who had his own bedroom remaining
cynically indifferent--pure Balzac," Agate said. As a witness, Alma
talked just like Flaubert's Emma Bovary. "And...she described how,
trying to bring her husband round, she first accidentally trod on his
false teeth and then tried to put them back into his mouth so that he
could speak to her. This was pure Zola." Mrs. Rattenbury said when her
lover got into bed that night and told her what he had done, "My first
thought was to protect him." Agate wrote, "This is the kind of thing
Balzac would have called sublime."
The trial destroyed Alma's reputation, so acquittal
meant only that she would live permanently in disgrace; furthermore,
she expected George to be executed. Within a few days the London
newspapers had another sensational heading for their placards: MRS
RATTENBURY STABBED AND DROWNED. One Londoner, quoted in Agate's diary,
said it was the most dramatic news he had seen in the streets since
TITANIC SINKING. She had stabbed herself several times while standing
on a riverbank, then fallen in the water and drowned.
Stoner was sentenced to death, despite the jury's
recommendation of mercy. Now the newspapers depicted him as the
pathetic, slow-witted victim of a woman's lust; Alma was treated as an
evil seductress. "He was subjected to undue influence," said a
petition, meaning Alma's sexual power. "He might have been the son of
any of us." It was signed by 350,000 people.
The home secretary pleased the public by commuting
the sentence to life imprisonment. Michael Havers, Peter Shankland,
and Anthony Barrett tell us in their 1980 book, Tragedy in Three
Voices: The Rattenbury Murder, that Stoner served only seven
years. In 1942, at age 26, being a model prisoner, he was allowed to
join the army. He survived the war, married, and settled down to a
He was briefly famous again in 1977, when Terence
Rattigan based his last play, Cause Celebre, on the
Rattenbury case. Defying the conventional wisdom, Rattigan argued that
Alma (played by Glynis Johns) was manipualated by the chauffeur. The
play ran only a short time: perhaps that wasn't a message people
wanted to hear. One night at the theatre, someone recognized George
Stoner in the audience.
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.
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 (hotel), 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
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. Stoner had been recruited by Rattenbury through an
advert in the Bournemouth Echo, and had been living at 104 Redhill
Drive before moving into Rattenbury's home at 5 Manor Road,
Bournemouth. In 1935, Rattenbury was murdered in his sitting room by
blows to the head with a carpenter's mallet. His wife confessed, but
Stoner admitted to the housekeeper that it was actually he who had
carried out the deed.
She and Stoner were charged, although Alma
Rattenbury later retracted her confession. Stoner was convicted and
sentenced to death, although it was later commuted to a life sentence
following protests by members of the public who felt that the young
man had been manipulated into committing murder by the older woman.
Stoner served seven years, being released early in order to join the
Army in the Second World War. Mrs Rattenbury was acquitted of murder
and accessory after the fact; she committed suicide a few days later
on a riverbank in Christchurch, Dorset. Stoner died, after "a quiet
life", at the age of 83 in 2000, at Christchurch Hospital.
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 even 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. In 2007, 72 years
later, a headstone was erected as a lasting memorial, paid for by a