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George Percy STONER






The murder at the Villa Madeira
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: The family chauffeur - Jealousy
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 24, 1935
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: 1917
Victim profile: Francis Mawson Rattenbury, 67 (celebrated architect)
Method of murder: Bludgeoned to death with a croquet mallet
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death on May 31, 1935. Commuted to life in prison. 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
photo gallery

BC’s Top Architect Slain by Teenage Stoner with Croquet Mallet

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 River Avon.


Headstone at last for victim of 1930s murder

By Richard Edwards -

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 sentence.

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 1929.

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 room.

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 -

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 Célèbre.

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 Walker

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 situation.

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 murder him.

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 passengers.

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 quiet life.

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.

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 (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 architects.

Personal life

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 family friend.


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