William Robley, Curate of Cumwhitton

Behind every person there is a story. This is the story of an obscure clergyman of the Church of England who, when he was young, came into contact with a highly gifted Bishop.

William Robley was born at High Blackhall, Burnthwaite and christened on 5th September, 1686 at St. Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle. The son of John and Ann Robley, he was one of six sons and four daughters. Coming from a farming background, there is no record of what led him to his life's work in the Church. The year 1703, however, brought him to his first curacy at Cumwhitton shortly after William Nicholson took up his appointment as Bishop of Carlisle. If his age is calculated from his christening date, William Robley was about seventeen years old.

William Nicolson had been consecrated at Lambeth on June 14th 1702, and his primary visitation of every church in the diocese began on 7th May, 1703. On the 29th October, 1703 he arrived at Cumwhitton, just before William's arrival there in succession to William Sommers. "Mr Robley, their new curate is not yet resident among them; but will shortly come . . ." (Miscellany Accounts of the Diocese of Carlisle)

Bishop Nicholson's report of William's arrival, in 1703, raises speculation about his status at that time. The Carlisle Bishop's Register states that he was ordained Deacon, by the Bishop of Carlisle, on May 19th 1706. Possibly then he came as an unordained curate (lay-reader), with special responsibilities for education.

Bishop Nicholson was keenly interested in education, and highly critical of the state of schooling at Cumwhitton. There had been a vacancy after the departure of William's predecessor, and the schoolmaster, for the time being, was the parish-clerk, "a man of very modest qualifications."

It was not unusual for the parish-clerk to act as school-master, in the absence of a curate, but in this case he seems to have been a particularly incompetent one and unfit for his position. Enthusiastic in his new role, and committed to reform, the Bishop looked forward to the coming of Robley, who would "take the office of teaching out of this illiterate man's hand."

There is no evidence that William had a degree, and indeed he was too young to have taken one. It is clear though that Bishop Nicholson had high expectations of him, and felt that he would make a difference to the life and educational standards of this rural parish. He must have worked under difficulties, for the conditions under which the children were taught were far from ideal. In the absence of a schoolroom classes were held within the church. As the South Window was unglazed, "it starved . . . the poor children."

There were many signs of neglect at St. Mary's Cumwhitton at the beginning of William Robley's ministry, although the Bishop did have some good things to say about it. ". . . the Altar-stead is well floored, but there are no Rails and hardly any Table." There were other defects besides the lack of communion rails.. The walls were not whitewashed, and there was not a word of writing on them. The Queen's Arms had not been set up. There was a new font, and a good pulpit but the seats needed to be backed, and the parishioners needed to buy a Bible and a Book of Homilies.

One great attraction at Cumwhitton was that a curate's house had recently been built for "the Accommodation of Mr. Sommers ye late Curate here, and he (modest and humble as long as onely Schoolmaster) quitted them soon after he had gotten Deacon's orders. Let not Robley do ye like." William was a batchelor when he came to Cumwhitton, but the house must have been an essential when he married Margaret Nevinson at Wetheral on 17th February 1808.

B.Nightingale's comments that William became related to Bishop Nicholson, through his marriage, has puzzled quite a few recent researchers. He suggests this twice in his book "The ejected of 1662." In his chapter on Cumwhitton he speculates: "Probably this is William Robley who married Margaret Nevinson Feb. 17, 1708-9, and is therefore connected with Bishop Nicholson." (p.273)

He enlarges on this, when writing about the Parish of Addingham. Thomas Nevinson, who was instituted to Addingham on October 18, 1697 had married Grace Nicholson, Bishop Nicholson's sister in 1690. This calls forth yet another comment on the Robley/Nevinson marriage.

"In the Wetheral Registers we have the marriage entry, of possibly a daughter, or sister of Thomas Nevinson in the following terms:- 1708. Mr. William Robley & Margaret Nevinson. Mar. ffeb. Ye 17." (p.356)

Who then was Margaret Nevinson? John Robley and I, by searching the IGI, came to the conclusion, independently, that the most likely candidate was Margaret Nevinson of Penrith, the daughter of Edward Nevinson and Rachel Hewer. Edward was the brother of the Thomas Nevinson who had married Grace, the sister of William Nicholson

Margaret was christened at St. Andrew's Church, Penrith on 2nd October 1684, so she met the criterion as to age. While not a "daughter, or sister, of Thomas Nevinson" she was his niece, and so quite closely related to him. The question had to remain an open one, however, because we could not think of a reason why she would have wanted to be married at Wetheral.

A query on the Cumberland Rootsweb Message-Board, in which I described William Robley as a relative by marriage of Bishop Nicholson, attracted the attention of the Nevinson researchers. Rochne Johnson, writing on their behalf, confirmed our view that Margaret could not be a daughter of Thomas and Grace Nevinson: "I have their daughters as Susannah, Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, Grace and Dorothy."

Constructively he had another suggestion, which was that William married the daughter of Caleb Nevinson of Allenwood, Wetheral. Margaret, though not on the IGI, is named in Caleb's will, and would have been of a suitable age, and from the right location, Wetheral. The connection though to Grace's husband Thomas is a remote one. The two Margarets are about sixth cousins. We are still unsure about which one married William Robley..

Clerical incomes in the eighteenth century were very low. Bouch in his Prelates and People of the Lake Counties gives the value of the living at Cumwhitton at ten pounds. It may have been augmented by teaching school, but even with a frugal life-style William cannot have earned enough to keep a wife and start a family. In 1909 he left Cumwhitton.

As well as the comments contained in his "Miscellany", the Bishop kept a diary in which he recorded the minutia of his daily life. On June 5th 1909 he notes that a new clerk has been appointed to officiate during the vacancy: "Allow'd, till ye D. and Ch. settles the Curacy." (T.C.W.A.A.C. New series. Vol. XXXV. P.100.) On Dec. 22nd of the same year he adds: "Mr. John Hodgson clerk (not in Orders) nominated to ye curacy of Cumwhitton; but cannot turn any one Article of his Creed into Latine." (p.116) On some fronts though things were moving forward: Jan.9th., 1910 "Petitioners of Cumwhitton, wth mean Thoughts (as I have) of their new Curate: For a School-House." Meanwhile William had crossed the border into Northumberland.

Margaret and William's first baby was christened Nevison in 1710 at Holy Cross Church, Haltwhistle where William had settled into his second curacy. He was subsequently to move to Simonburn in 1715, and finally to Falstone in 1736. William was ordained priest atDurham in 1723.

An interesting genealogical sideline is the use of Nevison, as a Christian name, by subsequent generations. If Nevison Robley appears often on your family tree, you are certainly descended from William, sometime curate of Cumwhitton.

Marian Robley 2001