Rigby was born circa 1570 at Harrock Hall, Eccleston, near Chorley, Lancashire, the fifth or sixth son of Nicholas Rigby, by his wife Mary (née Breres). In 1600 Rigby was working for Sir Edmund Huddleston, whose daughter Mrs. Fortescue was summoned to the Old Bailey for recusancy. Because she was ill, Rigby appeared for her, was compelled to confess his Catholicism, and sent to Newgate. The next day, the feast day of St Valentine, he signed a confession saying that since he had been reconciled to the Roman Catholic faith by Saint John Jones, a Franciscan priest, he had not attended Anglican services. He was sent back to Newgate and later transferred to the White Lion. Twice he was given the chance to recant, but twice refused. His sentence was carried out. He gave the executioner who helped him up to the cart a piece of gold, saying, "Take this in token that I freely forgive thee and others that have been accessory to my death." Rigby was executed by hanging [drawing and quartering] at St Thomas Waterings on June 21, 1600.
Saint John Jones, the priest who had reconciled Rigby, had died at the same place Rigby had died, St Thomas Waterings, two years earlier, on July 12, 1598.
St John Rigby Roman Catholic Sixth Form College in Orrell, Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, Greater Manchester is named after St. John Rigby. One of its buildings, Harrock House, is named after Rigby's birthplace.
Other reports of his execution include this exchange:
Rigby's supposed conversion to Catholicism was a felony in Elizabethan England, as was attendance at the Catholic Mass--he would have just been fined and/or imprisoned for not attending Anglican services. St. Thomas's Waterings or St. Thomas-a-Watering was an execution site on the Old Kent Road, and Chaucer's pilgrims passed it on the way to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket in Canterbury.