Rev. William Robb in St. Andrews

I’ve just bought a copy of John Thompson’s  St. Andrew’s, St. Andrews: an episcopal  congregation 1689 to 1993 – some historical notes, which was published in 1994 and updates Oliphant’s 1896 history of the church. Unfortunately the book doesn’t have an index, but already I’ve managed to find some references to my ancestor, Rev. William Robb.

In Chapter 3, Thompson describes how the death in 1788 of Charles Edward Stuart, the ‘Young Pretender’, made it possible for the Episcopal Church in Scotland ‘to accept George III as rightful king and so free itself from most of the restraints imposed by the Penal Laws’. The bishops of the church met that same year in Aberdeen and almost unanimously agreed to petition parliament ‘to repeal the Penal Laws and to urge the clergy to pray for King George’. The petition, which was supported by most of the clergy, was successful and the disabilities imposed on the church were gradually removed: for example, Episcopal congregations could now ‘assemble legally in any number’ and ‘hold property as a corporate body’. Thompson goes on:

Mr. William Robb, who became presbyter in 1791 when Mr. Lindsay died, obviously accepted and welcomed the bishops’ decision, expressing his opinions in verse soon after he assumed the charge. His ‘Patriotic Wolves, a Fable by a Scotch Episcopalian Clergyman’ of 1793 was an elegant little fable designed to warn its readers against attempts to subvert the constitution. The opening lines, addressed to Britaniia, run:

‘Long may the monarch wear the crown!

His foes be to destruction hurl’d!

Lng may’st thou flourish in renown

The dread and envy of the world!’

It is a far cry from Bishop Robert Forbes’ toast: ‘The Scotch thistle. May the white horse choke on it’, a white horse being part of the arms of the House of Hanover.

During Mr. Robb’s ministry the congregation met in several different houses […] Oliphant states that in 1804 Mr. Robb bought Queen Mary’s house, erecting an outside stair to give access to a chapel on the first floor. This house was sold in 1821. For a time the congregation met in ‘Priorsgate’ before moving to the upper room of a house in North Street, conveniently provided with an outside stair. ‘As far as can be ascertained it was where the house number 5 North Street now stands – one of those occupied by the men of H.M. Coastguard’, to quote Oliphant. It was the last temporary home of the congregation.

Mr. Robb left St. Andrews in 1818 but apparently retained the incumbency till 1820.

As we know from other sources, William suffered from a serious illness around 1818-1820, and may well have spent some or all of this time staying with his younger brother, my 3 x great grandfather, Charles Robb, in Malton, Yorkshire.

Thompson’s book includes a couple of other anecdotes which throw light on the character of Rev. William Robb, making him spring to life from the dry pages of the official records. The author describes the ways in which the stipends of the clergy were supplemented by payments from the better-off members of the congregation:

Even with this supplement to whatever small stipend the incumbent received he was not rich. Dr. Hay Fleming tells a story he had from an old man in the town about Mr. Robb who was incumbent at the end of the 18th century. He was asked by one of the parish ministers how he managed to make ends meet with his small stipend when the questioner had enough to do with his large one. Mr. Robb replied that it was just with them as with the Israelites in the wilderness. He who gathered much manna had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.

Thompson also reproduces a story from Oliphant, to illustrate the way that, even after the abolition of the Penal Laws, Episcopal congregations were forced to meet in private homes and public halls:

Oliphant learned, at second hand admittedly, that the episcopalians met in ‘Tam Couper’s big room’ in a house on the site of the present Town Hall. He tells, too of a later meeting place, ‘St. Leonard’s Hall – the large upper room still to be seen in the old part of St. Leonards School.’  In a service there, his informant told him, something occurred which illustrates plainly how in the troubled time seemliness of service had been lost. ‘The sermon was long, and may have been dry; the minister certainly was, as he suddenly startled the congregation by calling to his servant to bring him a bottle of ale; ‘and mind, Betty’ he added, ‘that it’s well corked’. The ale having been produced and consumed, Mr. Robb – it was he who was then the minister – continued his discourse’.

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One Response to Rev. William Robb in St. Andrews

  1. Pingback: James Robb, murderer: the law officer’s story « Martin Robb’s Family History Blog

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