James Kirkby Riggall

From available records, it was previously been assumed that Mr. Fred Bacon had been the founder and first president of the Grimsby, Cleethorpes & District YMCA on its formal establishment in 1906. However, investigations undertaken for the book have revealed evidence of a Grimsby YMCA much earlier, established by a local grocer and businessman, James Kirkby Riggall.

Like YMCA founder, George Williams, James Kirkby Riggall was the son of a farmer. Born at The Grange, Gayton Le Wold, Lincolnshire, on 4 November 1828, he attended a private school on Michaelgate in Lincoln, a short distance from Lincoln Cathedral. It is tempting to think he may have heard Williams speak and been inspired, or that their shared farming heritage provided a point of identification. It certainly seems to have helped instil similar values of faith and determination.

In August 1850, there is a reference to James Kirkby Riggall boarding the ship “Princeton” on a voyage from Liverpool to New York. His arrival date being 14 August, 1850.

The purpose of the trip is unknown, but as the YMCA in the United States had begun to develop, it is possible that he may have visited ‘The Young Men’s Christian Association seeks to unite those young men, who regard the Lord Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts in the extension of his kingdom amongst young men. Any differences of opinion on other subjects, however important in themselves, shall not interfere with harmonious relations of the constituent members and associates of the World Alliance or witnessed the early years of the movement, perhaps in New York.

In the 1851 Census James Kirkby Riggall is listed as a journeyman Grocer working for Joseph Dales in the High Street, Grimsby.

Riggall married Anne Foster at Centenary Methodist Church, Louth on 1 March 1853

In 1855, Riggall and his business partner, Joseph Guy, a draper, acquired the real estate of Matthew Stevenson Bee, ‘tailor, woollen draper, hatter and board and lodging keeper’. Under the heading ‘Grocers and Tea Dealers’, an 1856 guide to Grimsby businesses lists ‘Dales and Riggall’ in the High Street and ‘Riggall, James Kirkby’ in Victoria Street. 

The 1861 Census lists James and his wife Anne managing the Grocer’s shop at 5, High Street, Grimsby. James is Head of house, a Grocer employing two men and two boys. James and Anne have three children, Albert [6], Mary [5] and Anne M. [11 months]. Eleanor Foster, Anne’s sister, is also living with the family.

The loss of an infant child, Edward, one of twins, on 8 September 1862, seems to have confirmed Riggall in his faith.

In the Stamford Mercury of 17 June 1864, he is named as Secretary in an appeal for tenders to build a new chapel in Stallingborough, Lincolnshire; and there is some evidence to suggest he held Bible study classes and lectures in the rooms above his premises in the Old Market Place in or around 1866.

1871 Census for the Riggall family listed at the Grocer/Coffee Shop, 5, High Street, Grimsby.

By the 1871 Census James is employing more staff to help run his thriving Grocery business. He and his wife Anne have added more children to their family. They also have a Governess and two servants. Sadly, between 1857 and 1867 five of their children had died in infancy.

An indication of Riggall’s commitment to forming a YMCA branch appears in a Grimsby Observer article, dated 8 March 1876. Under the heading ‘YOUNG MEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION’, it announced the formation of a local YMCA movement.

A newspaper article dated 16 July 1880 shows James Kirkby Riggall as Treasurer and his wife and daughter running a books & stationery stall at a Bazaar in aid of the Fisherlads Institute.

The Fisherlads’ Institute in Orwell Street. Opened in 1879 and demolished in 1963.




1881 Census for J.K. Riggall & family who are now residing at 1, Pelham Terrace, Grimsby. James & Anne are able to employ a cook/domestic servant and a housemaid.

Newspaper report – Lincolnshire Chronicle 30th December, 1881. Meeting held on 21 December, 1881, for the Inauguration of a Young Men’s Christian Association in Grimsby.

Lincolnshire Chronicle 13 June 1882. The YMCA Room is being used for Gospel Temperance Mission committee meetings, chaired by J.K. Riggall.

The 1891 Census finds the family still at 1, Pelham Terrace, Grimsby. James & Anne are now in their 60’s and their son Albert E. is listed as a Grocer by occupation.

Newspaper Report – Hull Daily Mail 5 January 1898. 

James Kirkby Riggall died at his home, 1 Pelham Terrace on 26 January 1898 at the age of 69. A newspaper report from the Hull Daily Mail dated 26 January 1898 is below.

Newspaper Report dated 4 February, 1898 – James Kirkby Riggall’s funeral.

On his death , James Riggall bequeathed £10,600 9s 4d – worth in excess of £1,100,000 by today’s value. His executors were his son, Albert, and Harold Herbert Smith, a draper; however, there is no clear record of the beneficiaries and Riggall’s death notice in the local newspaper made no mention of his connection with the YMCA.