John Robley was a farmer who owned the property known as 'Woodhouse' situated to the north of the village of Wreay in Cumberland. He married Ann Dixon in 1702 and the couple raised 4 children, John born 1704, Thomas in 1706, Isaac in 1708 and Mary in 1710.
His son, John, inherited 'Woodhouse' from his father and continued to farm there, remaining unmarried until his death in 1771.
John senior's son, Thomas, moved south to the Croglin/Kirkoswald area, where he continued to work as a farmer.
Isaac was educated at Oxford University, where he graduated as MA and became the vicar of the church at St. John's in the Vale near Keswick.
Mary married a farmer, Joseph Scott, of Brisco Hill, a farm just to the north of 'Woodhouse'.
The future of the family farm,'Woodhouse' was determined in John Robley's will signed by him on the 9th of July 1768. There is a hint that he anticipated problems arising with the family as the preamble to this will contains the following passage:-"---- calling in mind the uncertainty of our time here in this world and that all flesh must yield to death and for the prevention of Differencies amongst my relations after I have departed this life I do hereby publish ordain and declare ----"etc.
By 1768 his brother, Thomas, had died, however both his brother, Isaac and sister, Mary were still living. His final decision was to leave his Woodhouse farm and estate to his brother Thomas' son, Isaac, who at that time was described as a Merchant and Oilman of London.
Both his brother, Rev. Isaac, and sister, Mary, he recognised by legacies of one shilling each; his brother Thomas' eldest son, William, by a legacy of one hundred pounds and there was one hundred pounds to be divided between Thomas' other children, John, Joseph and Mary.
It was his clear intention that 'Woodhouse' be preserved intact as he made the proviso in his will that should Isaac try to dispose of any part of it, in any way,then the estate should go to Isaac's brother, William, who in fact was Thomas' eldest son.
John's brother, the Rev. Isaac, had 2 sons, John and Joseph and in 1768 John had become, or was about to become, a very successful merchant associated with the West Indian trade in London. His brother, Joseph, was an established plantation owner on the Island of Tobago. The two were to work together in close partnership.
Being both cousins and London Merchants, John and Isaac would have been well acquainted with each other and were, in all probability, competitors.
Whether John Robley of Woodhouse made an earlier will is not known, but on 7th March 1768, his nephew, John Robley wrote to his father, the Rev Isaac from London;
Since my last inclosing Jos. I am informed that cousin Isaac set off for Cumberland on the 26th. of July (the previous year?) and I find he had an express (letter) that uncle (John) at Woodhouse was very ill and had made a will contrary to his ( Isaac's) expectations, which from Isaac's going without saying anything to us, may have been in our favour, and that he wanted it altered. If you have heard anything of it, would you go down immediately as it seems some foul play was intended to be acted. If your brother should be alive and well enough to be talked to, present my duty to him---- If you see Isaac, take no notice that you have heard from us, except that you find it necessary to let them know that we are quite susceptible of such conduct.
I am your son
Again in June of the same year he wrote;
I am extremely sorry to hear that Isaac has behaved so ill in the late disagreeable affair but imagine it may in a great measure proceed from his---- share of ignorance and to the revenue which I fear he will ever continue a stranger."
The letter is signed,
'Honoured parents, your affectionate son Jo. Robley.
To what extent the will of the 9th July was influenced by Isaac's visiting Thomas the previous year is not known, but the outcome was clearly favourable to Isaac.
About 18 months later, the Rev. Isaac's son, Joseph joined in the fray. Writing from Tobago in the West Indies where he had established his cotton and sugar plantations, he says;
"Honoured Paents--- As to my uncle and cousin, I think they merit pity, much more than any other portion, at least I am sure that envy for their wealth never once attacks my head, and when I consider it as ill-gotten wealth. I praise God I am so far out of any possibility or profitability of it reaching me that it cannot rust the fruits of my own industry, which I am sure their wishes can never prevent me the enjoyment of ---.
Your most dutifull And affectionate son ]oseph Robley"
Thomas died at Woodhouse in January 1771and the content of his will must have been known to the Rev Isaac's family well before he died.
The will was proved on the 29th January 1771 and signed by both Isaac, as executor, and his elder brother, Willam Robley described as 'of Woodhouse'.
It would seem that William had returned to Woodhouse in about 1768 as all but one of his very large family were christened in Wreay between 1769 and 1789. In John's declining years and with his ill health William almost certainly returned to assist with managing the farm at Woodhouse.
It is not clear why Isaac, who was the younger brother, should be chosen to inherit Woodhouse and particularly as the eldest brother, William, was already there and assisting his uncle.
Could it have been that John saw his nephew Isaac as much more able to cope with any troubles the family of the Rev. Isaac could bring to bear? Was the proviso in the will about disposal of the Woodhouse estate designed to safeguard William's position in the event of Isaac wanting to 'cash in'?
Isaac did in fact move from London to live in Cumberland for a period between about 1774 and 1783 and his son Henry Robson Robley was born Kirkoswald, Cumberland in 1774.
Five other children were born in Carlisle between 1768 and 1782.
Later he returned to the south and died in Bermondsey, London. Woodhouse remained in the hands of the Robley family until about 1835 when it was sold by Richard Robley, William's youngest son, who moved to live at nearby Birkthwaite Farm.
Henry Robson Robley served his apprenticeship with Mr. John Martin, who was his Uncle, before he continued in his father's business in London, the Company being listed in Robson's London Directory of 1832 as 'Robley and co. Oil and Colourman'. From 1833 onwards Henry Robson is listed as Ship's Chandler by occupation although in 1836 he is mentioned again as 'Oilman and Ships Chandler'.
It is probable that from around 1811 he was in partnership with Tennant and Dalziel based on Limehouse Hole on the river Thames. He eventually became very wealthy. Little is known of him other than he married Ann Davidson of Wapping circa 1794 and lived and died at a most fashionable address in Clarendon Place, Maida Vale. He conducted his business from Emmett Street, Poplar, Middlesex, an address which places it in the heart of the London docklands.
They had no children. Ann died on the 4th. of July 1847 after 53 years of marriage and Henry Robson shortly afterwards on the 6th. of August 1847. Henry who had left his entire estate to his wife was without an obvious heir. There followed a search by Henry's solicitors who obviously cast a wide net.
It is ironic that later in 1847 they approached Henry Robley of Clifton near Bristol who was descended from the family of Rev. Isaac Robley of St. John's in the Vale. He in turn wrote to John Robley (my great uncle) in Cheltenham;
'---can you inform me whether you are any relation to my great-grandfather, the Rev.I.Robley of Keswick? My reason for asking is this, a short time ago, Mr. Foreman of 280 Whitechapel Road called on me to advise that he was anxious to discover next-of-kin to a Mr.Henry Robson Robley, who died without a will or any relations. His property was upward of 20,000 pounds. Now Robson Robley's father was Isaac and they say his father was Thomas Robley. Some Robleys at Carlisle have claimed to be his next-of-kin. I give you this information so that if you should be an albeit belated party to the discussions, you may have a claim on some of the money.'
The next of kin was eventually identified as Henry Robson's cousin, Thomas Robley of Scarrowmanwick, Kirkoswald, who was sworn as next of kin in January 1849. However Thomas died the following month in February 1849 and his sister Margaret Worthington was later sworn in his stead.
Memories of old feuds remained and, some 80 years after the troubles started, Isabella Robley on holiday in the Keswick area wrote,' The naughty Isaac fled away and was never seen or heard of again' (In all probability he returned to his business in London).
There is another inference from the same source that a part of Henry Robson's fortune was' ill gotten wealth'.
Through all this, Isaac, merchant and oilman and his son Henry Robson, remain cast in the role of villains whilst Isaac's uncle John Robley and cousin William Robley, the eventual heir to Woodhouse are never mentioned.
The original voice of complaint appears to come from John Robley, son of the Rev. Isaac, so perhaps the root of the bad feeling can be placed at his door!