A neglected monument to six children who drowned on the River Ouse almost 200 years ago is to be restored as a tribute to all those who have died in York's rivers. It is just one of many small projects being carried out with the help of the York Civic Trust's City Enhancement Fund. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.

ON a summer's day in 1830, six brothers and sisters went boating on the River Ouse in York.

Nineteen-year-old Ann Rigg, her sister Eliza, 17, and her brothers Thomas, 18, John, 16, James, seven, and Charles, six, were the children of Walmgate seed merchant John Rigg and his wife Ann.

Mr and Mrs Rigg could have had no inkling of the tragedy that was about to befall them that summer's day.

Somewhere near Acomb Landing, the Rigg children's boat collided with another boat. All six children were drowned.

The tragedy caused shockwaves. Mr Rigg was a well-known local businessman: the loss he'd suffered was overwhelming. The tragedy made local and national headlines, and in York, the whole city came together to raise funds for a memorial in memory of the six children.

"The public shared the family's grief, and wanted to help in some way," says Nick Beilby, who has done some research into the tragedy.

A monument was built, in the grounds of St Lawrence's Church off Lawrence Street. It had a fine stone base and surround; a brick back with two columns, one at either side; railings around the plot; and an ornate inscription on a marble plaque.

York Press:

Nick Beilby at the Rigg Monument

"Raised by friendship in memory of four sons and two daughters of John and Ann Rigg, of this city... who were drowned by their boat being run down on the River Ouse" said the inscription.

It gave the date of the tragedy - August 19, 1830 - and then launched into a poem which tried to grapple with the enormity of the Rigg family's loss.

"Mark the brief story of a Summer's Day!

"At noon, Youth, Health and Beauty launched away; "Ere eve, Death wrecked the bark, and quenched their light; "Their parents' home was desolate at night: "Each passed, alone, that gulf no eye can see; "They met, next moment, in Eternity."

The monument was completed in 1839. And over the next few decades, while the memory of the shock of the children's deaths lingered, it was well-known in York: a visitor attraction almost on a par with York Minster.

But the years passed, those painful memories faded, and gradually the monument was forgotten. It became overgrown and dilapidated; the railings rusted; one of the brick columns collapsed; and the wording of the inscription wore away so that it is no longer legible. Until recently, visitors to the churchyard would have been forgiven for not recognising the neglected pile of brickwork and marble as a monument at all.

All that is changing, however. York Civic Trust has decided to refurbish the monument with the help of funds from its City Enhancement Fund.

Vegetation and an overhanging tree-branch have already been cleared away, and the Trust has appointed Mr Beilby to project manage the restoration.

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Nick Beilby, left, and York Civic Trust vice chairman Sir Ron Cooke beside the monument

The iron railings will be restored and repainted; the damaged brickwork repaired and repointed; the stonework reset; and the inscription recarved (although the original carving will be retained, probably on the back of the monument).

The entire restoration is expected to cost £22,500. About £6,500 of that has been raised so far, including £2,500 from local residents and £4,000 from the Civic Trust's 'City Enhancement Fund', a special fund maintained to 'pump-prime' conservation projects the Trust identifies as worthwhile (see panel). The rest will be raised through fund-raising, and possibly crowd-funding. The aim is for the restoration to be completed by May 5 next year - Ascension Day.

Sir Ron Cooke, chairman of the Civic Trust's City Enhancement Fund, says ultimately the restored monument will stand not only as a monument to the six Rigg children who died so long ago, but to everyone who has tragically died in York's rivers over the years.

There have been far too many of those recently - among them three young people who drowned in the space of a few weeks at the beginning of 2014: 20-year-old York St John student Megan Roberts, 22-year-old Ben Clarkson, and 18-year-old soldier Tyler Pearson. Other tragic deaths have included those of Lisette Dugmore, who disappeared in 2008 and whose body wasn't found in the Ouse until four and half years later, and York GP Dr Mandeep Ahluwalia, 41, who drowned in the Ouse in 2014.

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Jackie Roberts, with a photo of her daughter Megan. Restoring the monument is a 'lovely thing to be doing'

Since her daughter's tragic death, Megan Robert's mother Jackie has become a leading river safety campaigner, raising awareness about the dangers of York's rivers in the hopes of preventing further needless tragedies.

In one sense, her awareness-raising has itself been a kind of living memorial to her daughter, she says.

But she fully supports the restoration of the Rigg monument as a memorial to all those who have lost their lives in York's rivers down the years.

"It's a really good idea, and a lovely thing to be doing," she says. "It is hugely important that none of those who have lost their lives in our rivers should be forgotten."

The restored Rigg monument should ensure that they never are.


The City Enhancement Fund

The Civic Trust's City Enhancement Fund was set up a couple of years ago to provide a fund with which to 'pump prime' small conservation projects in York.

Each year, about £10,000 is available from which to make small grants to kick-start projects the Trust recognises as being worthwhile.

The fund doesn't necessarily pay for each project outright. Instead, a small grant is used as the basis for a fundraising campaign to raise the rest of the money required. Each project is approved and supervised by a Civic Trust committee. Some are carried through by the Trust itself: many others, however, are done in collaboration with other organisations, especially the city council.

"The fund, which exists for the wider benefit of the city, will be used to invest in selected projects," says Sir Ron Cooke, the chairman of the Civic Enhancement Fund. "The Trust has always worked alongside other organisations and individuals who are interested in making the city a better place. The fund can both act as a catalyst by bringing people together and ...as a vehicle for bringing together sources of funding for a common cause."

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Bile Beans advert: restored with the help of the City Enhancement Fund

Several small projects have already been completed - including restoration of the Bile Beans advert, and the refurbishment of railings outside West Offices.

Others are ongoing - such as improvements to the small garden on High Ousegate next to All Saints Pavement, which are being funded by the city council plus a grant from the city enhancement fund. A diseased chestnut tree has already been removed, and plans are to repave and grass the area, put in flower beds that echo the shape of the church windows, and open a disabled-friendly gate off High Ousegate.The garden is one of a number of 'pocket parks' in the city centre the Civic Trust has identified: small spaces which provide an opportunity for a moment of quiet and peace in the bustle of the city centre, and some of which the Trust hopes to improve with the help of the fund.

The aim of the fund, Sir Ron says, is to gradually improve the appearance and feel of the whole city centre by tackling a series of small projects.

The Trust has also put together a 'wish list' of projects to tackle through the Fund. Most of these have been suggested by Trust members. But the Trust is always willing to consider others suggestions.

Projects on the City Enhancement Fund wish list so far include, amongst many others:

  • The Rigg Monument (see above)
  • Pocket Parks. There are 30 or more of these in or near the city centre, says Sir Ron. "Some of these, such as the churchyard in Goodramgate or the garden next to St Anthony's Hall, are brilliant. But most of them are not." These include the small garden next to All Saints Pavement mentioned above, the St Helen's graveyard on Davygate, and many more. The Trust hopes to improve a number of these over time through the City Enhancement Fund and with the support of organisations such as the city council.
  • Wayfinding signposts. The distinctive fingerposts which help visitors to York find their way around could be better, the Trust believes. Some point in the wrong direction; and newer ones often have different lettering to older ones. The Trust is keen to make them more consistent, and as an initial step is conducting an audit of exactly where they are, and what style they use.

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Fingerposts 'could be better' says the York Civic Trust

  • The Fossgate banner. The Trust would like to replace the banner across the top of Fossgate with a permanent metal 'banner' more like that at the entrance to Shambles Market on Jubbergate.
  • Snickelways. Too many of these are run down and dirty, the Civic Trust says. The City Enhancement Fund's project team will be investigating suggested ways of tackling the worst of these one by one. A report will offer "design and management solutions, likely costs and identify the stakeholders involved."
  • The Leeman Road Tunnel. The state of this is 'not acceptable', the Civic Trust says. The city Enhancement Fund team will "explore options for improvement, likely costs, engage with stakeholders, and identify possible funding."

Make a contribution

To make a contribution to the Rigg Monument restoration or any other City Enhancement Fund project, or to suggest a project to be tackled by the fund, email York Civic Trust chief executive David Fraser at info@yorkcivictrust.co.uk