Select Robinson Miscellany

Here are some Robinson stories and accounts over the years:

The Robinsons of York

This family was descended from William Robinson, an eminent Hamburg merchant, who was mayor of York and its MP during the reign of Elizabeth.  He died in 1616 at the grand old age of ninety four.  His son Thomas was described as a Turkey merchant (probably the country rather than the fowl). 

Later Robinsons were MP’s and mayors of York during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Thomas Robinson took on diplomatic missions for the Government and was made Lord Grantham in 1760.  Subsequent Lord Granthams were
Foreign Secretary in 1782 and briefly Prime Minister in 1827.

Two Robinson Merchants from Penrith

Two Robinson merchants came from Penrith, but both worked elsewhere.

William Robinson

Robinson's School opened in Penrith as a result of a bequest from William Robinson, a native of Penrith who had gone to London and grown wealthy as a coffee merchant.  In his will of 1661 he left a benefaction of £55 to be paid annually by the Grocers' Company to the town of Penrith out of the income of his London properties. 

Included in that amount was “the sum of £20 per annum forever was to go to the churchwardens of the parish of Penrith for the educating and bringing up of poor girls to read and seamstress work or such other learning fit for that sex being the poorer sort whose parents are not able to pay for their learning." 

The School duly opened in 1670 and lasted for three hundred years until 1971.

James Robinson and Son

The first James Robinson was born just north of Penrith in 1839, the son of a village blacksmith.  As a young man he went to Carlisle and started a grocer’s shop.  The selling of groceries and provisions was not James’ only business.  In 1877 he was advertising as a miller and bacon curer as well and at some time he also made confectionery and toffee at the nearby James Street factory under the name of Eagle Confectionery Company. 

Although only one of James’ sons followed him into the business they were all well versed in the trade in their youth.  One son wrote later: 

I learnt the grocery, provision and corn trade thoroughly. These were the days when the trade had to be learned. We blended our own tea, learned to buy coffee in the bean, cured much of our own bacon etc.” 

James junior was the one who followed in his father’s footsteps. He was taken into partnership in 1903 at the age of 33, having worked in the business all of his life.  He took over the business when his father died in 1913.  The business then passed to his son Arthur in 1936.  James Robinson and Son eventually shut up shop in the 1960’s as the supermarket competition arrived

The Maid of Buttermere

Mary Robinson, born in Buttermere in the Lake District in 1787, was known as the Maid of Buttermere.  She was a shepherdess and the daughter of the landlord of the Fish Inn. 

In 1802 a certain Colonel Hope arrived in the village and wooed her.  The marriage of a celebrated local beauty to the brother of an earl (as he claimed) was widely reported.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in the London Morning Post of "the romantic marriage."  However, Colonel Hope was exposed as John Hatfield, an impostor, bigamist and forger.  He was arrested, escaped, captured in South Wales, and then tried in Carlisle for forgery and hanged in 1803. 

Mary's story captured the public imagination and subscriptions were raised on her behalf.  In 1807 she married a local farmer named Richard Harrison and they had four children

Robinsons in the Isle of Man

John Robinson was born in Liverpool and came to the Isle of Man sometime in the late 1790’s to work as a millwright at the newly-constructed Nunnery Mill.  He settled in Douglas and was the builder of a number of residences in the outskirts of the town. 

Two of his sons – John and Henry - followed in the same business, the former taking up the architectural and the latter the practical side of the building business.  Douglas was then but a small fishing village and it was just getting known as a seaside resort.  These Robinsons realized the opportunities that were available to them.  John Robinson was in fact responsible for much of the look of 1840’s Douglas, a town of wide streets and handsome houses.

John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor

John Robinson was the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers before they left for America on the Mayflower in 1620. He sent the departing company on their voyage with the following combative words: 

“I charge you before God that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry.  For I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word. 

For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of those reformed churches which will go at present no further than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of His will our God had revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.” 

John Robinson was born in the village of Sturton in Nottinghamshire in 1576 and came from a family of yeomen farmers there.   He became an early leader of the English Separatist movement and is regarded as one of the founders of the Congregational Church.

The Robinsons at Hewick

A historical marker for Hewick in Middlesex county, Virginia reads: 

"Three miles east of Hewick, built about 1678 by Christopher Robinson, clerk of Middlesex County.  It was the birthplace of John Robinson, Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer of Virginia, 1738-1766, the leading man of the colony!  Hewick has been lived in continuously since 1678 by Robinson descendants until 2005." 

In England, Christopher Robinson was the elder brother of John Robinson, the Bishop of London.  He emigrated to Virginia in 1670 and built his home, originally called The Grange (later Hewick), along the Rapahannock river.   He was one of the best known residents of the colony and his home soon became the gathering place for many of the important early families of Virginia. 

His son John Robinson served as acting governor of Virginia in 1749.  John’s son Christopher, upon inheriting the estate, renamed the plantation Hewick after the ancestral home back in England.  His brother John was Treasurer of Virginia and Speaker of the House of Burgesses.  Meanwhile Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had married Judith Robinson, granddaughter of the original owner Christopher. 

As with many fine houses in Virginia, the last few hundred years have not been kind to Hewick.  In fact it sat unoccupied by descendants from 1926 to 1990.  By 1987 neglect had left it in a sorry state.  However, since that time it has been restored to something like its earlier state. 

Hewick stands today just outside the town of Urbanna on a plot of 66 acres.  The first Robinson family reunion took place there in 1991.  The family history was recounted by a 14th generation descendant Vera Robinson Long in her 1971 book The Robinson Line 1468-1938.  A later book is Philippa Elmhirst’s 2011 The Saga of the Robinsons: 1520-2011.

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