The Argile family

The Argile (or Argyle) family

I can find nothing about the family background of Robert Argile senior. He was born in 1815 in Ripley, and clearly had enough education to be listed as an “engineer” (almost certainly at Butterley) in 1841 at the age of 25. He had probably served an apprenticeship there. He married Elizabeth Chapman in 1840 in Quorndon, near Barrow-upon-Soar; they went on to have two children, Robert and Elizabeth. Barrow produced lime, so would have been of interest to Butterley: perhaps that is the connection.

He was a Baptist, and a founder member of the church in 1833; his son followed him as an official and enthusiast in the faith.

In 1851 he was listed as “Foreman at Steam Engine Manufactory”; they were living in Wood Street and later Chapel Terrace; ordinary enough housing, though it looks like he was already buying and selling land: he even sold some land to the Local Board in 1867 to enable the widening of Nottingham Road. Also in 1867 he was elected as one of the founder members of the new Local Board; he had the previous year been one of the men petitioning for Ripley to be made a polling place in elections (along with the likes of Thomas Slack, James Crossley, George Staley and William Wain), an indication of his status in the town.

The Co-op Hall built in 1880

By 1871, he was listed as a “consulting engineer”, perhaps indicating that he was working for himself. He served on the Local Board until 1880, when he lost in the ballot to candidates opposed to the Board’s spending on the new market hall. In late 1879 he was the architect for the new Co-op buildings : “a large hall capable of holding 100 persons, a pork butcher’s shop, furniture shop, store and drying rooms, committee room, secretary’s office, reading room etc.” This indicates that he had somehow taught himself the business of building design, something he passed on to his son.

Sometime around 1881, he moved to Birmingham, becoming, oddly, a “Dairyman employing 27 men and 2 boys”. It seems likely that he might have come from a farming background; his wife certainly did. In 1891, at 75, he is a “surveyor of milk”, and he died in Birmingham in 1903.

His son, also Robert, was born in Ripley in 1841, and it seems likely that he too started work at Butterley, being listed in the 1861 census as a “fitter of steam engines”. He must have been educating himself, or being educated by his father, however, for in 1871 he is listed as a “draughtsman”, and by 1881 he is an “architect and surveyor”, living in Alfred Street.

Robert Argile Junior

He married Ellen Sarah Godkin in the Baptist Chapel in Loughborough (her home town) in 1877; there seems to be a connection, possibly a branch of the family, in Northern Leicestershire. They had three sons and a daughter.

He served on most of the public bodies in the town: not only the Local Board and RUDC, but also the Burial Board, School Board, Higher Education School Managers and Old Age Pensions Committee. He was also elected to the County Council from 1907 to 1913 and was the leader and secretary of the town’s Liberal party. He was one of the founders of the local branch of the YMCA, which eventually collapsed.

Ripley Hospital built in 1911

He was heavily involved with campaigning for and building Ripley Hospital, for which he was the architect when it was built in 1911. He was the secretary-superintendent of the hospital until 1927.

Mapperley Chapel

He is not listed as an architect in the RIBA Directory, and always styled himself as C.E. (Civil Engineer), rather than a member of any of the professional bodies. This seems to imply that he trained by being the pupil of an architect or engineer (possibly his father, or at Butterley), rather than attending university.  Nevertheless, he produced many buildings, starting locally, designing the Wesleyan Chapel at Mapperley in 1875,  perhaps helping his father with the Ripley Co-op buildings in 1880, and later more chapels: the Wesleyan Chapel in Kilburn in 1891 and the Marehay Methodist chapel in 1903.

Kilburn Chapel

At the same time he was buying and selling land and laying out new streets, including, from about 1897, Argyll Road. The spelling may be a reference to the Duke of Argyll, but Robert must have enjoyed the pun on his own name.

By far his biggest commission seems to have been Langley Buildings, the offices of the “Daily News” and the warehouses of J.D. Williams in Manchester in 1908. This was a large five-storey baroque building, long and narrow, with an elaborate terracotta tiles frontage. It still exists and is a listed building. The reason he got the job seems to lay in his Baptist connections: the wife of James David Williams, Amy Ann Coupe, was born in Ripley in 1854 and was a fervent Baptist, so must have known the Argile family, Ellen Argile being only four years older than her.

Langley Buildings, Manchester

Robert had an office in Derby by 1884 and was undertaking surveying and civil engineering tasks across the local area. He was also the engineer to the Local Board for many years and was especially concerned with the laying of drains and water supply in the town, something that had long been lacking. At the same time he bought land and buildings in the area, becoming a substantial landlord.

He was involved, with William Bembridge, the Walters brothers and others, in a protest against the new Education Act in 1903, when they objected to part of the Poor Rate being set aside for Education. This seems to have been because the schools funded in this way were mostly Church of England schools, whilst the objectors belonged to the non-conformist churches. He maintained his “passive resistance” until 1915.

He died in 1928 at the age of 87.

Of his four children, the eldest, Nellie, married Charles Parker in 1914.  Mansfield Henry, who had been articled and employed by Fletchers engineers and ironfounders in Derby, died of heart problems at the age of 25 in 1906.

Robert D, always known as Douglas, followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and carried on his father’s business interests, as well as being a surveyor for the Butterley Company at the Codnor Park and Ollerton collieries. He designed part of the New Ollerton model village built for the workers at Ollerton pit. In 1920 he married Alice Gertrude Brooks, known as Gertie, the daughter of William Arthur Brooks of The Limes, Ripley who had a shoe shop in the town and was also a lifelong Baptist. They lived at Holly Lodge on Broadway.

Douglas Argile

Harold Wilmore Argile also became an architect and surveyor who worked in Walsall and then became the surveyor for Keynsham Urban Council, near Bath for 31 years until his retirement in 1956. He clearly obtained qualifications, becoming a member of the Institute of Municipal Engineers and fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors He too was an active Baptist. He married Constance Chaplin in 1923 and his son also became a council surveyor.

Harold Argile

Thanks to Joyce Kingman for the photographs of the Argile family.