William Robley (1747-1840), Prosperous Farmer.

Portrait of William Robley circa 1840

William Robley, the son of Joseph Robley and Elizabeth Oliphant, was born at Crown Farm, Unthank, nr. Skelton, Cumberland in 1747 and was christened at Hesket-in-the-Forest on the 23rd. February of the same year. He inherited Crown Farm from his father following the latter's death in 1770.

Crown Farm

Joseph's death must have been quite sudden as he died intestate. In those days it seemed quite normal practice to delay making a will until the last possible moment, and on this occasion he must have delayed too long! Joseph' wife, Elizabeth, died 29 years after her husband at the age of 77 years.

Parish records show William as being of "Hesket-in-the-Forest" up to 1781, and then from 1782 to 1789 as being described as of "Unthank, Skelton". He is also variously described as an innkeeper and yeoman farmer. This most likely stems from the early use of the farm premises as an inn, and the early name for the associated land being the "Crown Inn Estate". As well as the valley arable land, the family held grazing leases over portions of the Forest of Inglewood.

The name "Unthank" is interesting and means, "land taken up by incomers without proper title.". It may have taken its name from the settlement of "loyal" peasants from the south of England by King William Rufus following his defeat of the Scots in 1092, when he acted to consolidate his support in what was essentially a very wild and sparsely populated area. There are several "Unthanks" in Cumbria.

William married Sarah Kirkbride, the daughter of Thomas Kirkbride, the Vicar of Skelton. Their first 3 children, christened at Hesket-in-the-Forest, were Joseph on the 3rd December, 1778, William on the 7th October, 1779 and Mary on the 3rd June 1781. The next 4 children were christened at Skelton, Jane on the 26th September, 1782, Thomas on the 2nd February 1785, Elizabeth on the 16th October, 1786 and Isaac on the 17th April, 1789. The latter died as a child and was buried at Hesket in 1790.

At this time the parish comprised 678 persons among 135 families. However, ten years later this had declined to 631 persons among 126 families. The decline can be partly attributed to the enclosures of common land, which denied many of the poorer cottagers an adequate living. This was coupled with an increase in manufacturing industry, in the north, causing many people to migrate to the larger towns.

About this time doubts were cast on the future of the enclosures, as the soil seemed too cold and wet and too close to the mountains. The enclosed land produced only moderate crops of wheat, barley and peas and did not suit turnips or potatoes. Of the 4000 acres of enclosed land much was poor and barren. About 600 sheep were summered on the Patterdale and Penrith fells and wintered in Skelton.

In 1790, and for reasons unknown, William and his family moved from Crown Farm to Bankend Farm, near Ennerdale Lake in the Parish of Lamplugh.

Bankend Farm.

Bankend Farm today has been subdivided into two semi-detached cottages, and the land is farmed in conjunction with Mollins Farm about a half mile away. There are views to the fells and Ennerdale Lake from the farmhouse itself. My own observation, made in 1997, was that the land looked inferior to that belonging to Crown Farm. It must be remembered, however, that Crown Farm and the grazing leases remained the property of William Robley and were leased out. It may well be that William was merely extending his holdings, and taking advantage of the enclosures to further his interests. William seems to have been a fairly hardheaded businessman, and I think it can be safely assumed that the move was made for sound economic reasons.

There may be another clue to the move in the inscription on a stone, over the doorway of Bankend Farm, which has the letters EFR inscribed, together with a heart carved upside-down. However, my research leads to the conclusion that this most likely refers to an early family named Rotherie/Rothery. Although the name appears close to Robley, I doubt if there is a connection.

The move to Bankend must have been a major undertaking. William had a young family of six children, between the ages of four and eleven years, and he would have had to make arrangments for the lease or management of Crown Farm, and the grazing in the Forest of Inglewood as there was no way that this could be combined with farming at Lamplugh.

This was the greatest geographic relocation that our branch of the family had made for at least 200 years. As the crow flies, the distance is about 36 miles, but even today the distance by road is round about 80 miles, and on the other side of the Cumberland Lakes and Fells. While at Bankend, William and Sarah had two more children, John, christened on the 18th March, 1782 and Isaac in 1795.

There is no record of exactly how long the Robleys remained at Bankend before they moved to Marlborough Farm, near St. Bees on the West Cumberland coast. Certainly, they did not live there very long, and I feel that Bankend was used merely as a staging post in William's quest for more and better land. William was well estabished at Marlborough Farm by 1809, and the family must have moved shortly after the birth of his last child, Isaac, in about 1796. At that time his eldest son, Joseph was 17 years old, and quite capable of playing a significant role in farm management. Unlike the previous move from Crown Farm, Bankend was not retained, and was probably sold about the time of the move to St. Bees.

Marlborough Farm

William appears to have been a shrewd business man and, over time, expanded his farm holdings to quite a considerable area including nearby Gill Farm and Howbank Farm, near Egremont. At the height of their farming activities the Robleys had interests in at least four farms, as well as Bridgend House in the town of Egremont, situated beside the river Eden.

one of William's sons, the Rev. Isaac Robley one time vicar of St. Philip's, Salford, is described elsewhere in this web-site, as is the most successful of his offspring, his son, John, who went on to become very wealthy through his participation in the then booming cotton trade in Manchester.

In 1819, William wrote to his nephew, John Robley, in Manchester, who was acting as his son John's mentor at the time. He was making arrangements to assist financially the development of his son's business dealings. In it he confessed that he was feeling his age, he was 65 years old, nevertheless he went on to live to the ripe old age of 93 years. His portrait, painted round about his 90th birthday, shows a remarkably young face and full of character.

William wrote his will in 1833, seven years before his death, probably wishing to avoid dying intestate like his father. The will was written while he was living with his daughter, Mary Robley, at Bridgend House in Egremont.

Bridgend House, Egremont

William had retired by then and had left farming to his sons. He left Mary all his furniture and effects, except for his desk and a grandfather clock which went to his grandson, William. The clock is still going strong, and striking the hours, in the care of Thomas Robley, his great great grandson.

William appointed his son Thomas to be his Executor, leaving him all his personal estate, including Crown Farm. His allotment of common land at Bleas Fell in the Parish of Lazonby, in the Forest of Inglewood, and legacies of 250 each were left to his sons, John and Isaac and 350 each to his son, Joseph and daughters, Mary Robley and Jane Moor, the wife of James Moor of Cartgate, Hesket-in-the-Forest.

William died in 1840, and is buried in the cemetery in Egremont.

John Robley of Lesmurdie, W. Australia.2001