John Robb, Glasgow bookseller

In my last post I wrote about the death of John Thomson (1741 – 1818), the Glasgow saddler who was the father of the Penelope Thomson who married my probable ancestor George Robb. His will revealed that John’s second wife was Elizabeth Robb, and it seemed likely that she was the daughter of Glasgow bookseller John Robb.

This theory has received some support from other sources of information that I’ve managed to find. A list of Scottish booksellers mentions a James Robb, bookbinder, bookseller and stationer in Glasgow between 1748 and 1767, and specifically in ‘Salt Mercat’ (Saltmarket) from 1768 – 73.  Two John Robbs are mentioned in the details below this heading, though I’m not quite sure of their relationship to James. Another listing has John Robb, ‘eldest son to deceased bookbinder John Robb’ in the ‘fourth shop below the Old Vennel East side of High Street’ 1796 and in University Buildings from 1799-1800.

Old Vennel off High Street, Glasgow

I’ve yet to work out the relationships and chronology of the bookselling Robb family, but it’s interesting to note that John Thomson also had premises in the Saltmarket. Jones’ Directory for 1787 has John Thomson, saddler, selling saddlery and harness, on ‘East Side Saltmarket, a Little Below the Well’.

Saltmarket, Glasgow

Thomson also appears to be mentioned in John Robb senior’s will. He died in 1778 and the inventory of his estate includes what appears to be an outstanding debt:

There was adebted and owing to the said defunct at the time of his death foresaid the sum of fifteen pounds seven shillings and sixpence sterling contained in a bill drawn by John Thomson upon and accepted by the deceased John Robb and Isobel Muir spouse thereafter relict of William Muir late Provost of Rutherglen…

Of course, this might be a different John Thomson. But given that Robb and Thomson were both merchants in the same Glasgow street, and that (if my theory is correct) the latter would marry the former’s daughter five years later, it seems at least possible it’s the same person.

John Robb’s will also usefully supplies the name of his widow, Elizabeth Freebairn. Using this information, I’ve been able to find out that John and Elizabeth Robb were married on 23 May 1736 in Glasgow, and that they had at least five children: Margaret (born in 1738); Isobel (1741); Elizabeth (1742); another Isobel (1745), suggesting that the first one died at a young age; and John (1752). The latter is presumably the person who took over the bookselling business from his father.

If the Elizabeth Robb who married John Thomson really was the daughter of John Robb, bookseller, then she would have been 41 when they married in 1783, and 42 when their daughter Elizabeth was born in the following year. But then, John Thomson was himself 42 and a widower,  and the couple’s ages perhaps explain why they only had one child together.

My research into the bookselling Robbs of Glasgow has yet to turn up a George Robb, so perhaps I’m safe in believing that the latter was, indeed, my Aberdeenshire ancestor transferred to Glasgow, and that the shared surname was just a coincidence? Either that or, as I’ve suggested before, there might be some connection between the Aberdeenshire and Glasgow branches of the family. If the latter, then it’s interesting to note a possible historical echo: in his retirement, my father opened Robb’s Bookshop, in Chelmsford, Essex.

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