Greystoke lies to the west of the Grizedale Fells and to the south of Skelton, Hutton and The Forest of Inglewood. The river Petrill divides the Parish, north to south, eventually joining the Eden near to Carlisle.
In the mid 1500s, Lord Thomas Dacre was the Lord of the Manor, having inherited the title and lands from the Norman family of Meschines, who were granted the County of Cumberland by King William. The family later took the name of Greystock. The Manor came to the Dacres via a daughter, Elisabeth, on the condition that the Dacres, "Would serve the King in his wars against Scotland".
In 1569, George, Lord Dacre, was killed in a most unfortunate accident. He was the son and heir to the Manor and a Ward of Thomas, Lord Howard, Duke of Norfolk. At Thetford, the home of Sir Richard Fulmarstone, he was vaulting on a wooden horse, the feet of which were not properly secured. The horse overturned, "bruising the brains out of his head'.
Having no heirs, the estate passed to his sisters, Ann and Elizabeth, the latter marrying Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel and through succession to the present Duke of Norfolk.
Service to the King was no sinecure and in 1543 it is recorded that Thomas, Lord Dacre responded to the muster raised by Sir Thomas Wharton and supplied 'horse and foot' although to what extent is not known.
In another muster in 1587, the Leath Ward, of which Greystoke was a part, supplied a total of 1590 men. No doubt the Robleys would have been caught up with the recruitment drive for this force with John, Mychaell and Robert all being of military age and could well have been caught on the receiving end of Scots' counter attacks.
These forces were also used to keep the peace on the Border and in 1537 the second Pilgrimage of Grace was put down by a force under Sir Christopher Dacre. These pilgrimages were a local response to the dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.
The Robleys were traditionally farmers although none are designated yeoman in the records. It is appropriate therefore to describe local agriculture.
The sole records, available to me, date from the late 1700s where it is recorded that enclosure was well advanced along the Carlisle to Penrith road but, generally, the area lagged behind other parts of the County. At that time farms were described as being fairly large.
In 1747 the Barony of Greystoke comprised 257 customary tenants and 106 freeholders or yeoman farmers. The parish was 85 sq. miles and there were 347 families, 15 Quakers, 16 Presbyterians and one Papist.
In 1792 there were 13,000 sheep and 5,000 lambs with 3,000 more on the Duke's lands. They were described as 'native sheep' with about six or seven fleeces to the stone (7 kilos), which sold for about 25 A cents per kilo. In the Matterdale area the quality of the sheep is described as equal or superior to any in Cumberland.
At least two thirds of the Parish is mountainous, chief among these being Saddleback, Bowseale, Souther Fell and Mell Fell. The soils are largely red loams and the main crops were oats, barley and pasture. It was considered too cold for wheat.
There was a church at Greystoke and chapels at Threlkeld, Watermellock, Matterdale and Grizedale. There were also Quaker and Presbyterian meeting houses at Penruddock. It was reported that five people only attended the Catholic Chapel which is hardly strange as there was only one Catholic family in the area. In the book, A History of Cumberland, there is comment on the meagre support from the local community enjoyed by the Curate of Greystoke in the late 1700s. "Animadversions are unnecessary on the disproportions of Church Revenues, when the poor Curate here laboured in the Holy Vinyard for sixty one pounds and nine pence a year with scanty (8 Pence) payments for the churchings".
The land and enclosures were described as 'pretty regular, interspersed with trees and sheltered by lofty peaks covered with verdure or heath'.
There were complaints at that time that the restrictive nature of customary tenancies restricted the growth of population and the following figures were used to support this contention:
|1580-1600||320 christenings||249 burials||86 marriages||1750-1770||160 christenings||84 burials||42 marriages.|
(The poor Curates' income from this source amounted to less than five shillings per annum.)
Commonage was jealously guarded, and there is a tradition from 1690 of a person from Matterdale, walking to London in 3 days in wooden-soled clogs to argue a protracted case over commonage. Clearly this story has lost nothing in the telling!
The earliest record of Robleys in Cumberland that I have been able to trace through any source is through the Parish Registers at Greystoke (or Graystock as it is sometimes known) via the IGI of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The earliest record is of the christening of John, son of Cuthbert Robley, on the 15th. April 1561 ie. The third year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First.
There were several families of Robleys in the Parish in the 1500s and I am inclined to assume that they were all children of Cuthbert as the Parish Marriage Register indicates all five of them being married in the period 1572 to 1582, which is an indication that at least they were all contemporaries. However this cannot be substantiated through records.
There was also a son William who did not marry and who died in 1594 as a young man. There are also indications that Cuthbert had at least two brothers, John and William who were buried at Greystoke as mature adults in 1583 and 1590.
Jayne Robley married William Parker in 1572 and there is no record of any issue. Robert married Agnes Rumney in 1573 and they had six children including one by the name of Syssel (Cecil?). Their youngest child Robert married Grace Atkinson in 1612 and there is a record of a daughter being christened in 1618, at Great Blencowe, in the parish of Dacre. She died in nearby Penrith in December 1696.
Agnes married Will Robertson in 1577 and I have no record in the parish register of any children being born to them. Mychaell of Beryer married Elisabeth Jackson of Grysdell (Mungrisedale) in 1578 and together they had four children before Elsapeth died in 1585. Mychaell married a second time to Elsapeth ? the couple having a further six children. The youngest, Christopher, married Elizabeth of Bampton, in Westmorland, and went on to live in that parish where both died in 1683 and 1684 respectively. Christopher appears in the 'Hearth Tax' returns for the parish of Bampton in 1674. It is through Christopher's will that we learn that his eldest sister, Elisabeth, married a man called Smith. John, son of Christopher Robley, married Isobell Murray in 1582 but again there is no record of any offspring in the parish registers. Cuthbert's daughter, Ellesse (Alice), had an illegitimate child, Thomas, in 1576. She was later married to John Banke in 1578. There was no issue from this marriage. Cuthbert's youngest daughter had an illegitimate child, Katheringe, to Thomas Bristow in 1598.
After Christopher and Elisabeth disappear from the scene, Robleys no longer appear in the Greystoke Registers. From their wills it seems that they lived at 'the Moors', Bampton and were childless. Both were illiterate and signed their wills with marks. They left only a little cash sufficient to cover their debts and household goods and were probably tenant farmers.
So what became of the Robleys after the late 1500s when they all but disappeared from the records? I believe that it is significant that the years 1597 and 1598 saw that area of Cumberland devastated by the plague.
The nearby market town of Penrith was reported to have suffered badly with an estimated one third of the total population dying. The only burial records at the time were of those lucky enough to be buried in St. Andrews Churchyard. The remainder occupied mass graves around the town with no records kept of these burials. A memorial in The church of St. Andrews records 2,266 deaths in Penrith, and a further 2,500 in Kendal. In the very much larger town of Carlisle there were 1,196 deaths. Actual deaths in the town of Penrith itself were 696 so the remainder of 1570 were from an unspecified peripheral area, possibly including the parish of Greystoke. While on these figures it seems that the major infected area was in the southern part of the county, the Carlisle figures would have related to the city and immediate environs only, as Scottish deaths were not recorded.
Some may have moved to avoid the disease and this was particularly so for the more wealthy in the community. The Queen herself fled London at the time of the plague in that city.
However there were rudimentary quarantine measures in place and escape to other, disease free, areas would not have been so easy for the farming community. I believe it would have been inevitable that some at least of the Robleys would have been victims of the Black Death and just as likely that a few at least would have made their escape.
Where the surviving Robleys may have moved to is open to speculation. There is evidence that some moved to the Great Blencowe area in the Parish of Dacre prior to the outbreak although only Margarett, the daughter of Robert Robley was christened there in 1575. Cuthbert and his son, Cuthbert, as well as his two daughters, Annes (Agnes) and Mabell moved to Penrith and their death and marriages respectively are recorded in the Registers of St.Andrews Church, again prior to the outbreak.
It is possible that one of the branches of the family may have moved north and the family preference of Christian names would point to the parish of Wetheral and the village of Cumwhinton, in particular, where Robleys continued to use the Christian names of Christopher and Robert, which were not so much favoured by Robleys elsewhere. The use of these names was continued by this branch of the Robley 'clan' into the mid 1800s.
Whatever the reason may have been, the Robleys disappeared from the Greystoke area and did not return until the mid 1800s, when the 1851 census recorded Joseph Robley and his wife and daughter working as a farm labourer at Roughton Head, Greystoke. Also in the Greystoke Parish at that time were 5 of the children of Joseph Robley of Scales, Skelton. Henry the eldest is described as 'landed proprieter', sister, Mary ,as 'housekeeper' and brothers, Thomas, Richard and Joseph as 'husbandmen".
One thing ,however, is certain, the original Greystoke Robleys were not wealthy and must have scraped for a living in the then environmentally inhospitable area of Beryer. Testimony to a certain degree of poverty can be found in the fact that four Robleys, Robert in 1583, John in 1590, Elsabeth, the wife of Michaell Robley, in 1597 and Agnes Robley in 1623 are all described as 'pore' ie. poor, meaning that their funeral expenses were paid for from the Parish 'Poor Funds'. However, all who wrote wills seemed to have a reasonable amount of money and property (mainly livestock) to bequeath. Was it a 'canny' custom at that time to seek help from the parish to bury ones dead? The later arrivals were clearly far more affluent.
John Robley, probably the son of Robert Robley, lived in the parish of Lowther in Westmoreland where two generations of John Robleys raised their families.
Of interest, also, is that the name is recorded as ROBLAY in the Greystoke entries, by the Church of Latter Day Saints, while the wills of both Christopher and Elizabeth Robley clearly show the spelling as ROBLEY. I am inclined to believe that all the family in Greystoke were, in fact, ROBLEYs and that the transposition of (a) for an (e) was either a mistake on the part of the clergy who wrote the register, or else an error by the transposer, employed by the Latter Day Saints, who may not have been familiar with the antique version of the letter (e).
John Robley. Lesmurdie, Western Australia. November, 2001