Richard was born on 4 November 1724, the son of Joseph Dixon and Mary Brookes, at Stamford, Lincolnshire.
Richard was apprenticed to his father as a carpenter in 1739. In 1747 the rector of All Saints, Stamford, the famous antiquarian and freemason Rev. Dr. William Stukeley, a great friend of the Dixons and a mighty influence on Richard, left Stamford for London, taking Richard with him. Richard already had three successful uncles in London - George, Jonathan and John. And London was the magnet, the Big Apple, as it were. It's where the money was.
By 1755 Richard was well-off enough to be able to subscribe to "The Trademan's Assistant", a book by John Barnes. A lot of books in those days went the subscription route - the author, or more usually the printer, would drum
up subscriptions from the rich folk who, in return would get their names in the front matter and - hopefully - get a jolly good read.
Richard was also comfortable enough to get married. On May 17, 1755 he applied for a license through the Archbishop of Canterbury's office, to marry Ann Gibson. On May 19 they were married by curate Henry Magill at the church of St George Hanover Square (the parish in which Ann had grown up as an orphan living with relatives). The witnesses were Richard's friend from Stamford, Richard Younger, and Richard Dixon's younger brother Joe, the stone mason, who had just finished his apprenticeship and that very year had come down to London to be where the action was.
|Joseph||Born 22 Nov 1756||London||Married Anne Partridge|
|Richard||Born 14 Jun 1758||London||Buried 10 Nov 1761|
|John||Born 30 Mar 1760||London||Buried 25 Nov 1761|
|Ann||Born 5 Feb 1762||London||Buried 25 Apr 1762|
|George||Born 31 May 1763||London||Married Elizabeth Mason|
|Charlotte||Born 1765||London||Married Anthony Bell|
b: 4 Nov 1724 c: 18 Nov 1724 Stamford, Lincolnshire
son of Joseph Dixon and Mary Brookes
b: abt 1721 c: 4 Oct 1721 Embleton, Durham
daughter of Joseph Gibson and Jane Ord
19 May 1755|
St George Hanover Square, London|
by Curate Henry Magill, Wit: Joseph Dixon and Richard Younger
b: 22 Nov 1756 c: 17 Dec 1756 St. James, Westminster, London
son of Richard Dixon and Anne Gibson, Piccadilly, London
b: 14 Jun 1758 c: 14 Jul 1758 St. James, Westminster, London
son of Richard Dixon and Anne Gibson, Piccadilly, London Buried 10 Nov 1761, Age 3
b: 30 Mar 1760 c: 25 Apr 1760 St. James, Westminster, London
son of Richard Dixon and Anne Gibson, London Buried 25 Nov 1761
b: 5 Feb 1762 c: 21 Feb 1762 St. James, Westminster, London
daughter of Richard Dixon and Anne Gibson, London Buried 25 Apr 1762
b: 31 May 1763 c: 10 Jul 1763 St. James, Westminster, London
son of Richard Dixon and Anne Gibson, London
b: 1765 c: 30 Jul 1765 St George Hanover Square, London
son of Richard Dixon and Anne Gibson, Pimlico, London
By 1758 Richard was living in Thomas Townsend's old house, at Air Street East, just off where Piccadilly Circus is today. His brother Joe was living at St Albans Street, Pall Mall. The two brothers would be a team but at the same time they led very distinct lives.
Richard had been in partnership for some time with another carpenter/builder, John Spencer. In fact Richard was London's leading carpenter by this time. In 1758 Spencer's son, John, was apprenticed to Richard Dixon for seven years as a carpenter, for 21 pounds, a fee which demonstrates the prestige Richard had already acquired by 1758. 21 pounds was a lot of money for a London apprentice to have to pay. The more esteemed the master was considered, the more an apprentice had to come up with.
The building and speculation business in London in the 1750s was dominated, as it had been since 1720 when the Mayfair boom began, by a Consortium. The Mayfair part of the parish of St George Hanover Square had largely been exhausted by the time the Dixons came to town. Mayfair comprised three wards, but the parish had a fourth ward, to the south, just beyond where Buckingham Palace is today. So few people lived there at the time that the ward, unlike the very populous wards in Mayfair, hadn't even been given a real name. It was simply termed the Out Ward.
Since 1741 John Phillips had been the boss, not only of the Out Ward, but of the Consortium too. So many Consortium members moved to the Out Ward that it became
almost their own personal ward. Ward politics was no less a big deal in those days than it would be in New York City in the 1890s.
By 1755 or so the Out Ward became known as Pimlico, and a new boom was taking place, led by John Phillips and the Dixons. But this boom was nothing compared to the one that would take place there 70 years later, when the name of the Out Ward would be changed to Belgravia. At that point Pimlico became a name without a suburb, until it found one slightly to the east. So, today's Pimlico is not the same Pimlico as in Richard Dixon's day.
On July 1, 1760 Richard was a witness to the marriage of Thomas Arch and Elizabeth Allen in St James, Westminster. Richard's brother Thomas Dixon, the Stamford wheelwright, was married to Anna Arch, and Thomas Arch was Anna's brother.
The 1760s was a fantastically busy decade for the Dixons. In many ways it was their golden period. On November 15, 1760 Tycho Wing proposed Joe Dixon as a member of the fairly new but very prestigious Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and on November 19 Richard was proposed. This society was, or would become, full of Consortium members. In 1908 it would change its name to the Royal Society of Arts. Richard would drop his membership in 1762. Joe would keep his until the bankruptcy in 1778.
In February 1760 a young, untried Scottish architect, Robert Mylne, won, from 69 submitted entries, a designing competion for one of the great public works of the 18th century - the new Blackfriars Bridge, to span the Thames. On April 28, 1760 John Phillips agreed to build the bridge for 110,000 pounds, the job to be finished within five years from the following summer. His actual mandate was to handle all the masonry and carpentry. In January 1761 Richard Dixon and John Spencer agreed to do the carpentry, and Joseph Dixon to do the masonry. At first it was agreed to pay Dixon & Spencer 21,612 pounds 5 shillings and sevenpence for the whole job, but almost immediately this was changed to a "per foot" deal.
In 1762 the Dixon Brothers subscibed to "Mathematics", by J. Rowe.
Joe Dixon got into Pimlico in a hurry in the late 1750s, but Richard was a little slower. However, by 1762 he was a major wheeler dealer in the Out Ward (never quite as big as Joe, though, who was utterly fearless, and sometimes criminally cavalier). Joe had built a huge house and yard at Pimlico, but in 1764 he moved to Battersea to begin a planned conquest of that suburb. Richard left Air Street, Piccadilly, and took over Joe's Pimlico place. Joe also kept up his St Albans Street house for years.
On October 18, 1764 Richard was elected a director of the Westminster Fire Office for Insuring Houses, for a one-year term. He would be elected periodically, either for a one-year term, or for two years, until the bankruptcy. In 1765 Dr. John Leake bought a piece of ground in Lambeth, where Waterloo Station is today. His intention was to build a hospital for poor and unmarried pregnant women.
Richard was appointed surveyor of the building, and the first stone was laid on August 15, 1765.
The Westminster Lying-In Hospital opened in April 1767, with Leake as physician, and Richard Dixon as treasurer.
On July 13, 1765 John Phillips granted his three 993-year leases of buildings on Pall Mall to Richard. Richard's brother Joe had been buying, building and selling on Pall Mall for years, as part of the Consortium.
Richard had known Lord Burghley (the Marquiss of Exeter) since he was a child. Exeter had a huge country estate three miles from Stamford, and Richard's father had done much work for the family. In 1767 Richard began a steady stream of work for Exeter, that was to last until the bankruptcy.
In the 1766-67 period Richard and Joe were involved on enlarging William Helyar's estate in Somerset, Coker Court. They also subscribed to several more books: "The Temple Builder's Most Useful Companion", by Thomas Collins Overton; James Paine's magnificent "Noblemen's and Gentlemen's Houses" (two and a half guineas); and the fourth volume of "Vitruvius Britannicus", by John Woolfe and James Gandon. They would subscribe to Vol. 5 of the last-named in 1771. They were also spending some considerable time in Stamford, partly for Lord Exeter, and partly on their own account. In 1767 they were made free of Stamford and admitted to scot and lot. This was Richard's first freedom of a city. He was 42. His freedom from the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, in London, didn't come until he was 44, when on October 3, 1769 he was made free by redemption (which means he bought his ticket).
On September 4, 1770 he would be admitted to the Livery of the Company, a rare privilege for a redemption man.
Freedom meant freedom from certain town taxes and tolls, and you got other perks as well. Scot and lot was similar. The Dixons needed these freedoms because of the large amount of work they would do in Stamford. The reason it took Richard so long to get his freedom in London was because the Consortium looked after him. By the late 1760s, however, the Consortium was beginning to disintegrate.
The Dixons spent March to September 1768 in Stamford. The 1767-70 period also saw Richard as head carpenter on the Kenwood project. Kenwood was the Hampstead estate of the Earl of Mansfield. Richard worked to the designs of his friend, the great architect Robert Adam.
While Richard and his family were out of town, staying with the old family up in Stamford, he gave his house in Pimlico for the summer to Weeden Butler. Butler had been a house guest of the Dixons, and would continue so for a while after they got back to London. The Rev. Weeden Butler had trained as a cleric under the mercurial Rev. William Dodd (who was from Bourne, incidentally, only a few miles from Stamford, and his mother was a Dixon). In fact Butler was Dodd's amanuensis from 1764 until Dodd was hanged for forgery on Tyburn Tree in 1777. In 1768 Dodd built the fashionable Charlotte Street Chapel in Pimlico, and when he was licensed to be the morning
preacher there Butler became the morning reader. Richard Dixon and his family bought a pew at this church. In 1772 Richard rented Weeden Butler one of his many houses on Queens Row, Pimlico, and in 1776 Butler it was who married Richard's niece Mary Dixon to David Watson. After the forger was executed, Butler took over Charlotte Street Chapel, and then went on to become even more famous as an educator. He lived in Pimlico until 1778, the year of the Dixons' bankruptcy.
A sort of postscript on Dodd the forger: in 1784 his widow, Mary Perkins, died poverty-stricken in Great Ilford, close to where there lived a retired and very wealthy London cordwainer named William Williams (more on whom under the Rev. Joseph Dixon).
In 1769 Richard Dixon took on Peter Smith as an apprentice, and in 1770 took on George Denshire. His going rate was still 21 pounds.
In 1769 Blackfriars Bridge was finally finished. In the 1770-73 period Richard and Joe built the new South Wing at Hitchin Priory, Herts, to the designs of Robert and John Adam. The contract began in November 1770. In 1771 Richard did some surveying work for St Mary's Church, Battersea, where Joe was not only churchwarden but political boss.
On April 16, 1772 (Maundy Thursday) Richard was nominated Senior Sidesman by the vestry of his parish, St George Hanover Square, and elected at the Easter Monday
meeting of April 20. Richard's duties, among other things, included building new watch boxes and repairing old ones. Watch boxes were the huts used by night watchmen.
In 1774 and 1775 Richard was pressing the Duke of Portland for huge debts owed for building work. This was a common danger for tradesmen, going into huge debt on a job, paying for supplies and labor, then not getting paid yourself. It could, and did, ruin many a craftsman. And what are you going to do with the Duke of Portland - take him to court? Richard and Joe had their share of this, and with the Consortium no longer in existence they were unprotected. The 1774-75 period is when financial troubles started to press in on them.
In 1774 the Dixons subscribed to "A Key to Civil Architecture", by Thomas Scaife. This would be the last subscription that they could afford. Something had to be done, and quick. That was why they had spent years infiltrating both St George Hanover Square and Battersea. Now Joe came through.
The Dixons' last big job together came in 1775-77. In 1775 tenders were invited for the re-building of St Mary's Church, Battersea, to the designs of the architect, Joe Dixon (surprise, surprise). Two building firms tied for the lowest figure of 3,500 pounds - J. Hall and Richard Dixon (surprise, surprise). Hall then went to 3,470 pounds, but Richard went to 3,450, and was awarded the contract (surprise, surprise). He came up with the 1,000 pound security, the contract was drawn up, approved on April 27, 1775, and produced on May 2, 1775, at the Swan and Falcon, the famous pub in Battersea. Work started on May 7, 1775, and Richard was paid periodically by the Church.
In 1776 Richard made his last charity donation - four guineas to the Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debts. Similar sums were given by William Dodd and John Phillips, both of whom had not long to live.
In 1777 Joe and Richard were facing bankruptcy. The scramble began to sell off what they could, and this took more of their time than was comfortable for the trustees of St Mary's Battersea, who were now getting jumpy. Not only was building still going on, but the end was nowhere in sight. The contract called for the Church to be opened in 1777. In September 1777 the trust resolved to proceed against Richard. However, with a determined effort he brought it in on time, the Church opening on November 16, 1777.
On November 2, 1778 came the bankruptcy. Robson & Norris were Richard's attorneys, but it didn't help much. Richard had already left his Pimlico house earlier that year, and gone into hiding. After it was all over, and Richard and Joe Dixon were ruined, Richard moved back to Pimlico, to Queens Row, into John Tanner's old house (originally built by Richard for his widowed sister, Mary Peake).
On December 4, 1781 he resigned his membership of the Livery of the Carpenters' Company, and just before Christmas 1785 died at his home in Pimlico. He didn't leave a will.
There were still several houses that Richard had owned with John Powell, the wonder-boy accountant, which the courts had been unable to touch. In 1783 Powell was caught cooking books, went insane, and slit his throat. The houses were then assigned by the Courts.
Died 22 Dec 1785 Queens Row, Pimlico, London
Buried 26 Dec 1785, St George Hanover Square, Westminster
|Yefterday fe'nnight died, at his houfe, at Pimlico, aged 61, Mr. Richard Dixon, formerly an eminent builder.|
|Anne (Gibson) Dixon||
Died 27 Dec 1807, in Sullington, Sussex
Burial 1 Jan 1808, in the chancel at Sullington Church