My father, John, the second child and the only son of Thomas Robley and Elizabeth Smith, was born at 'Coneygarth', in the village of Beckermet, in West Cumberland on the 24th. of October 1896.
As a child, he suffered rheumatic fever and was suspected to have a weak heart as a result. Consequently he enjoyed a somewhat sheltered upbringing. John did not attend a formal school but rather was privately tutored at the Vicarage in Byley, near Middlewich, in Cheshire by the Revd. Eustace George Auden M.A.
In his early days and probably as a result of his tutoring, John seemed destined for the clergy. He had a love for Latin and Greek (he owned a Latin Bible) and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible and the classics. (He later claimed that no man could claim to be educated unless he had both Latin and Greek.)
As a child he played no organised sport, although in his twenties and thirties he played tennis at Ingleberg. However, ignoring the church, he became articled to the firm of Richardson and Son, in Carlisle, where he studied for his Fellowship of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS). It was said that learning came easily to young John, and despite having a reputation for being less than industrious, he did so well in the final examinations that he passed second in all of Britain in that year.
During the First World War he joined the Royal Engineers and served with the Ports and Harbours Division. With the advent of the Second World War he again volunteered for service with the Engineers but was rejected on medical grounds.
During the General Strike, together with his sister Mary, he drove the Royal Mail services in the district.
Following his qualification as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, he set up his business as Surveyor, Valuer and Estate Manager overlooking the harbour in Lowther Street, Whitehaven. The family owned shares in Whitehaven harbour and John, at one time, was a Harbour Commissioner.
John was a physically a big man, over 6 feet tall and weighing about 19 stones, good humoured and easy going by nature. Like his father before him he was a good shot and angler.
In 1932 he married Flo Watson, the eldest daughter of Fergus and Sarah Watson of Haverigg, Gosforth. The couple were married in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Gosforth, Cumberland and later honeymooned in Edinburgh. They settled in 'Ingleberg' together with the Robley 'extended' family comprising John's mother, Elizabeth, his sister, Mary and his Aunt, Margaret Smith.
They had two sons, John Alfred Watson born on the 5th. of August 1933 and Thomas Fergus, born on the 28th. of June 1835. John had a keen interest in Local Government and served as a member of the Ennerdale Rural District Council finally becoming its' Chairman during the war. This also made him 'ex officio' a Justice of the Peace and he served as the Chairman of the Whitehaven Bench of Magistrates which held court every Thursday, (the Whitehaven market day).
Most of the cases brought before the Bench in those days seemed to involve breaches of wartime regulations such as showing a light after dark (Blackout Regulations), and illegal trading in rationed goods such as food or petrol. In this capacity, he fined the Headmaster of the Seascale Preparatory School, where his children, John and Thomas boarded, the sum of 25 shillings for breaches of the 'Blackout' Regulations. This was kept from us at the time.
In Council meetings, John had a reputation for fairness and courtesy in all his dealings, and was highly respected despite the fact that a very significant number of the Council members did not share his politics.
He became a very active member of the Beckermet Home Guard, being a Sergeant and second in command of the local company. He provided them with a meeting room and headquarters in one of his rather dilapidated farm cottages. I can also remember drill sessions in the 'Croft' field next to 'Ingleberg' and the early departures in the family Vauxhall car to carry out 'dawn patrols' on the fells above Egremont and Haile. He had a passionate enthusiasm for the Home Guard and a very strong desire 'to do his bit in the war against Germany'.
He put his very obvious talents as a Chairman to a wide range of uses ranging from the Beckermet Branch of the British Legion to the local Constituency of the Conservative Party and the Black Combe Beagles. He was an active member of the Oddfellows and the Freemasons being Master of Lodge 119, Whitehaven in 1943.
His love of trees and forests undoubtedly encouraged me to study, and later to practice forestry in Africa and Australia, and my interest in the history of the Robley family would scarcely have been possible without some very useful research and record saving on his part. He wrote that he was the first in his family to place any importance on its history and that prior to his time many valuable records were destroyed as rubbish.
He himself had a quite unique method of record keeping making use of odd scraps of paper, backs of bills and indeed going so far as to open out used envelopes so as to write on the blank surface. It demonstrated a canny if not careful approach. (This must have been a family habit as his sister; Elizabeth did exactly the same thing.)
John collapsed in the village, and died in the Whitehaven Hospital on the 6th. of October 1954. He was 57 years old.
His funeral at St. John's Church was one of the largest seen in the village, for many years, despite taking place in a downpour of almost tropical ferocity, which caused the mourners to wade their way up the street to the Church. He is buried with his father and mother in the churchyard.