The Monteith and Thomson families of Glasgow

I’m still trying to trace the family of my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Robb née Monteith, who was born in 1782 and died in 1843. In the last post, I wrote about the Ricketts family of England and Jamaica, with whom I believe there may be a connection, given that other members of the Robb family had links with the colony. However, I’ve yet to find a direct connection between the Monteith and Ricketts families. Frustrated by running up against this brick wall, I’ve turned back to the Monteiths. We still know very little about Margaret’s father, John Monteith, except that he is said to have married a woman named Matilda, who (according to family tradition) was the daughter of Viscount Stormont.

Monteith is a fairly common name and there were a number of prominent John Monteiths living in Glasgow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I’m assuming that my Monteith ancestors were from Glasgow, since that is where my 3rd great grandparents, Margaret Ricketts Monteith and Charles Edward Stuart Robb, were said to have been married in 1802, and we know that Charles was originally from Aberdeenshire. 

Perhaps the most famous John Monteith of this period was the manufacturer of that name, who established a power loom factory at Pollokshaws, to the south of the city. I’m intrigued by this particular John Monteith, in part because he married into the Thomson family. George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who I believe to have been the brother of my ancestor Charles Robb, also married a Thomson, though I’m unsure whether the two Thomson families are linked. John Monteith married a woman named Isabella Thomson, and they had a daughter of the same name. Charles and Margaret Robb named one of their daughters Isabella: a tenuous connection, perhaps, but it may provide an additional clue.

Power loom weaving (via

Interestingly, John Monteith and Isabella Thomson were first cousins. John was the son of James Monteith, who was in turn the son of Henry Monteith, the son of another James Monteith. According to one source:

James Monteith was a small Perthshire laird in the Aberfoyle area, whose livelihood was under constant threat from the depredations and blackmailing of Highland reivers. After his death his son Henry moved south and set up as a market gardener at Anderston, then a village near Glasgow. He fought against the Jacobites at Falkirk and died ‘a staunch Presbyterian of the old school’. His eldest son James Monteith, who was born in 1734, took up handloom-weaving. He prospered, especially when he began to import fine French and Dutch yarns, and became a cambric manufacturer on a large scale, with a bleach field near his house and warehouse in Bishop Street. 

On 8th October 1754 James Monteith married Rebecca Thomson, the daughter of John Thomson of Anderston, Glasgow, and his wife Isobel Yuill.  As yet, I’ve been unable to discover any connection between this John Thomson and the John Thomson of Hillhead whose daughter Penelope married George Robb. James and Rebecca Monteith had four sons: John (1760); James (1763?); Henry (1765); and Adam (1769).

Robert Thomson senior (via

Rebecca Thomson had a brother Robert Thomson, who married Christian Strang on 22nd April 1766. Robert and Christian Thomson had three children: Isabella (1765); Robert (1771) and Janet (1773). It was this Isabella Thomson who on 9th January 1785 John Monteith, the son of James Monteith and Rebecca Thomson. John and Isabella Monteith had three daughters: Rebecca (1786); Christian (1788); and Isabella (1791).

Three of the sons of James and Rebecca Monteith followed their father into the cotton manufacturing business:

John Monteith, the eldest, formed his own company in 1801 and established the first Scottish power loom factory at Pollokshaws. James Monteith, the second, was initially a dealer in cotton twist at Cambuslang and in 1792 bought David Dale’s Blantyre cotton mill…He died in 1802. Henry Monteith, the youngest son … took the family business to new heights of success and prosperity. He was trained early in the art of weaving, and by 1785, when he was not quite of age, he was running a large cotton weaving mill, Henry Monteith and Company, at Anderston … In 1802 he established at Barrowfield a factory for producing bandana handkerchiefs, and on the death of James that year he took on the principal management of the business, which encompassed bleaching, turkey red dyeing and calico printing, as well as cotton spinning and weaving…He bought the Fullerton estate of Carstairs, four miles from Lanark, and from 1824 had a mansion built there.

In addition to his success in business, Henry Monteith also achieved fame as a politician:

Unlike his father and brothers, Monteith was a staunch church and king Tory. At the general election of 1818 he stood belatedly for Linlithgow Burghs against a Whig, with the backing of the Buccleuch interest. He secured the votes of Lanark and Peebles, but was beaten by the casting vote of the returning burgh, Selkirk. On the death of George III in late January 1820 he declared his renewed candidature for the district…He narrowly won Selkirk, whose vote, together with those of Lanark and Peebles, gave him victory (at the age of 66) over Robert Owen, the socialist cotton master of New Lanark. 

The pattern of repeated intermarriage between the Monteith and Thomson families is reminiscent of a similar practice between the Robb and Thomson families, also in Glasgow at this period. George Robb married Penelope Thomson in 1805. In 1831 their son George married Jane Sharp Thomson, the daughter of Penelope’s half-brother Henry Thomson. After George Robb senior’s death, his widow Penelope married John Young, and in 1832 their daughter, also named Penelope, married John Thomson, another of the children of Henry Thomson.

If I could establish a link between the two Thomson families of Glasgow – the one that married into the Monteith family, and the one that was connected by married to the Robbs – then I might be closer to discovering the origins of my ancestor Margaret Ricketts Monteith née Robb.


The pattern of intermarriage between the Monteith and Thomson families was even more extensive than I’d realised. Not only did John Monteith marry his first cousin Isabella Thomson, but it seems his brother Adam Monteith married her younger sister Janet Thomson. I’m indebted to the White-Thomson family tree at Ancestry for this information.


The Ricketts family of England and Jamaica

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles’ attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

The above quotation is taken from a memorandum written by my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888) and copied into the family Bible. His son Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934), my great grandfather, added the following information:

Grandfather: Charles Edward Stuart Robb. Born in Aberdeenshire. Grandmother: Margaret Ricketts Monteith. Married at St. Mungo’s Glasgow, 15th October 1802.

This is all the information we have about the early life of my 3rd great grandmother Margaret Robb née Monteith (1782 – 1843). As I’ve noted in previous posts, I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to find any trace of Margaret or her family in online records, which means that the alleged connection to the Scottish aristocracy remains, for now, a supposition unsupported by corroborating evidence.

However, as I also noted recently, my interest in tracing Margaret’s origins has been revived by a message from Malcolm Sandilands, who has been researching the connections between Scotland and Jamaica in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Malcolm writes with regard to Margaret Ricketts Monteith:

From several years of studying Jamaican records, the name strongly hints at some kind of Jamaican connection. The Ricketts family was one of the earliest settled in Jamaica, and also one of the best-connected by marriage.

Glasgow towards the end of the eighteenth century

As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, there were strong links between the family of George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who I believe was the brother of my ancestor Charles, and Jamaica. The family of George’s wife, Penelope Thomson, included a number of men who lived and worked on the island, and George and Penelope’s four children claimed compensation on Jamaican estates following the abolition of the slave trade. All of this makes a connection between the family of Margaret Ricketts Monteith – George Robb’s sister-in-law – and Jamaica more likely, particularly given that her family also seem to have been associated with Glasgow.

I had always assumed that Ricketts must be the name of a Scottish family with whom the Monteiths had intermarried in a previous generation. However, a search for Ricketts in the Scottish parish records produces only one instance: a marriage on 13th May 1770 in Kelso in the Scottish Borders between Richard Ricketts and Mary Ormston, both of them said to be of the parish. I can find no further trace of Richard Ricketts in the Scottish records, leading me to wonder if he was actually English, since most other incidences of the surname occur in England.

There are a number of reasons why parents might use another family’s surname as their child’s middle name. For example, Bowes John Gibson (1744 – 1817), the East India Company merchant who was the brother of my maternal 5th great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson (1733 – 1809), seems to have given three of his sons (George Milsom Gibson, Edmund Affleck Gibson and Carleton Gibson) the names of military and naval personages of his acquaintance.

However, by far the most common reason behind the practice was to honour families with whom there was a connection by marriage. This is certainly true of the Glasgow families that I have been researching recently. For example, Marion Thomson, the eldest daughter of John Thomson, saddler, and the sister of Penelope Thomson who married George Robb, married Simon Pellance and they named their son John Thomson Pellance. Her brother Henry Thomson married Jane Sharp and they named their daughter Jane Sharp Thomson. Jane, the daughter of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, married Archibald Graham Lang and they named one of their daughters Elizabeth Robb Lang.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the family legend cited at the beginning of this post, linking Margaret Monteith’s mother Matilda to the family of Viscount Stormont – whose surname was Murray – we might reasonably conclude that her maiden name was actually Ricketts. I’ve begun to research the Ricketts family of Jamaica, but so far I haven’t come across a Matilda Ricketts, or any evidence of a marriage with a Monteith, though Malcolm Sandilands informs me that the Monteaths of Kepp in Stirlingshire had a number of Jamaican connections. However, I’ve decided to explore the Ricketts family further, in the hope that some kind of link to my 3rd great grandmother and her family might eventually emerge.

Captain William Henry Ricketts

The story of the Ricketts family of Jamaica begins with Captain William Henry Ricards, later known as Ricketts. It is said his commission was mistakenly drawn in the name Ricketts and the family retained that spelling. William was born in Twyford, Hampshire in either 1618 or 1633, depending on which source is to be believed, and served as an officer in Cromwell’s army during the Protectorate. According to one source:

Cromwell wanted to expand his influence and territory, so he sent out an expedition, large enough, it is said, to have included 3000 marines. It was led by Admiral William Penn (father of the founder of Pennsylvania) and General Robert Venables. William Henry Ricketts went with the expedition. Its original purpose was to conquer Hispaniola (Haiti), but that didn’t happen. Rather than go home and admit they were unsuccessful, they decided to attack Jamaica instead. On 10 May 1655, they landed at the capital, Santiago de la Vega, and the Spanish government surrendered the next day, May 11. The city was burned shortly afterwards. Later rebuilt and renamed Spanish Town, it was the capital until 1872 when the capital was moved to Kingston.

Celebrating the end of slavery in Spanish Town, Jamaica

William Henry Ricketts married Mary Godwin and they had eleven children. When William made his will in 1699 he was living in St Elizabeth parish, Jamaica. He died in the following year. William and Mary Ricketts had two surviving daughters, Violetta (b. 1690) and Rachel (b.1692). Violetta never married, while Rachel married Thomas Johnson and they had one son, named Jacob. William and Mary also had the following sons who survived. Thomas Ricketts was born in England in 1659 and died in Maryland in 1722. William Blackiston Ricketts was born in Jamaica in 1672 and died in New York in 1735. John Thomas Ricketts was born in England in 1674 and died in Maryland in 1760.

George Ricketts of Jamaica and his descendants

Another of Captain Ricketts’ sons, George Ricketts, was born in Jamaica in 1684 and died there in 1760. He seems to have been the only one of Captain William Henry Ricketts’ children to have maintained the connection with Jamaica, and he appears to have inherited the Canaan estate in Westmoreland parish, to the west of the island. George also served as a Major-General in the Jamaican militia. He married firstly Sarah, daughter of Raynes Waite of Chertsey, Surrey, in 1714, then Sarah, widow of John Lewis of Cornwall parish, and finally Elizabeth Cleaver. In all, George Ricketts fathered twenty-seven children. These included the following sons:

John Ricketts was born in about 1715 in Cornwall parish, Jamaica. In 1750 he married Anne Crawford in Hanover, Jamaica. She was the daughter of Alexander Crawford of Crail, Fife: the first Scottish connection that I’ve come across in the Ricketts family history. John and Anne Ricketts had at least seven children: George Crawford Ricketts (1751 – 1811), who married Frances Mary Teague Bourke; John Ricketts (b.1752); Alexander Ricketts (b. 1753); William Henry Ricketts (1755 – 1799), who married Ann Elizabeth Beckford; Sarah Ricketts (b.1757); Anne Ricketts (b.1759); and Jacob Ricketts (b. 1761).

A Jamaican plantation in the early nineteenth century by James Hakewill, from ‘A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica’ (via

Jacob Ricketts was born in 1719 on the Midgham estate in Jamaica. In 1748 he married Hannah Poyntz at the Temple church in London. Their children included James Ricketts, who was born in 1746 but about whom nothing further is known. Another son, George Poyntz Ricketts, was born in 1749. He served as Governor of Barbados, and married Sophie Watts of Berkshire, with whom he had five children: Charles Milner (1776 – 1867); Isabella (b. 1782); Mordaunt (1786 – 1862); Frederick (1788 – 1843); and Edward Jenkinson (b. and d. 1793). George died at Rhode Island in 1800. A third son, Jacob Ricketts the younger, was born in 1750 and was apparently christened at Lewin’s Mead Society of Protestant Dissenters, a Unitarian Meeting in Bristol.

William Henry Ricketts was born in 1736. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and then at Grays Inn. In 1757 he married Mary Jervis, the sister of John Jervis, the first Viscount St Vincent. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website:

The movements of William Henry Ricketts between England and Jamaica are detailed in a number of accounts of ‘hauntings’ in England which include the experiences of Mary Ricketts nee Jervis (and her brother, John Jervis, later 1st Viscount St Vincent) at their rented house at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire between January 1765 and 1771. In 1772 Mary Ricketts wrote a Narrative, which she left to her children: a version was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and a pamphlet version published by the Society for Psychical Research in 1893.

You can read a chilling account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner here. The children of William Henry Ricketts and Mary Jervis were George St John Ricketts (1760 – 1842); Mary Ricketts (1763 – 1835), who married Admiral William Carnegie, Earl of Northesk (another possible Scottish – and aristocratic – connection?); Captain William Henry Ricketts (1764 – 1805), who married firstly Lady Elizabeth Jane Lambert and secondly Cecilia Jane Vinet, and who drowned off the coast of Brittany; and Edward Jervis Ricketts (1767 – 1859), who married Mary Cassandra Twistleton.

Mary Carnegie née Ricketts, Countess of Northesk, with two of her children

George Ricketts’ posthumous son George William Ricketts, was born in 1760, the year of his father’s death, at New Canaan in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. Having been educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1791 he married Letitia Mildmay, daughter of Carew Mildmay and Jane Pescod of Shawford House, Hampshire, and they had nine children. George Ricketts served as Receiver-General of Hampshire and died in 1842.

Coincidentally, there is a link here with the research I’ve recently undertaken into the part of Essex where I grew up. Five years before George Ricketts married Letitia Mildmay, the latter’s sister Jane had married Sir Henry Paulet St John, Bart, of Dogmersfield, Hampshire, who then took the surname Mildmay by royal warrant, the family being known from that time as St. John Mildmay. In 1795 Jane Mildmay inherited Moulsham Hall in Essex from her aunt Anne, the sister of Carew Mildmay. The Mildmays of Moulsham had a long history stretching back to the sixteenth century, when the estate was bought by Thomas Mildmay, an official at the court of Henry VIII. Sadly, Sir Henry and Jane Mildmay were the last owners of Moulsham Hall: it was requisitioned for military use during the Napoleonic wars and thereafter fell into disuse and was pulled down.

Next steps?

So far, I’ve been unable to find any trace of a connection between the Ricketts family and any of my known ancestors. However, the wills of a number of members of the Ricketts family are still extant – for example, those of Captain William Henry Ricketts, of John and Jacob Ricketts, two of the sons of George Ricketts, of Jacob’s son George Poyntz Ricketts, and of George William Ricketts. I’m hoping that closer examination of these and other available documents may provide clues that will help me in my quest to understand why my 4th great grandparents, John and Matilda Monteith, gave their daughter Margaret the middle name Ricketts.

‘John Robb, late of Scotland, a gentleman’

In the last post I wrote about the links between the Thomson and Robb families of Glasgow and the island of Jamaica, including their involvement in the ownership of slaves. I was particularly intrigued to discover the names of George, Elizabeth, Jane and John Robb in the list of those claiming compensation after the abolition of slavery in 1833. I’m fairly certain that they were the children of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, the latter belonging to a family with numerous Jamaican connections, and the former being (I believe) the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb.

Old House of Assembly building, Spanish Town, Jamaica

I noted that John Robb’s claim to compensation was entered by the administrator of his estate, since John is described in the claim notes as ‘late of Scotland, a gentleman’. The name of his administrator is given as J.G.Vidal. This was John Gale Vidal, whose profile on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website describes him as ‘a resident planter and attorney in Jamaica, long-serving Clerk of the House of Assembly, eldest son and principal heir of John James Vidal and Elizabeth Wade Vidal.’ John James Vidal is described on the Legacies site as a ‘slave-owner and then annuitant of Berkshire Hall estate in Jamaica’ who died in Clifton, Gloucestershire, in 1823. His wife Elizabeth’s maiden name was Allwood; she was born in Jamaica and died in Devon in 1858.

John James Vidal (father of J.G.Vidal)

John Gale Vidal was born in Jamaica in 1792, the eldest of seven children. Two of his younger brothers – Francis and George – became clergymen. John served in the Jamaican militia, rising to the rank of Captain. He became an attorney at the age of 20 and held a number of important offices in the colony up until the time of his death from cholera in 1850.

The fact that a Jamaican attorney acted as administrator of his estate suggests to me that John Robb was either a fellow resident of the island, or an absentee owner with interests there. I’ve yet to find a record of John’s birth, but I believe he was probably born in Glasgow 1808 or thereabouts (his parents married in 1805, and his siblings were born 1806, 1807 and 1810; his father George died in about 1811). Nor have I come across a record of John’s death, but obviously it predated the claim, which was made in 1836, meaning that John was probably a young man in his late twenties when he died. As we have seen from the experience of John Vidal and others, his relative youth would not have precluded John Robb from already having qualified as a lawyer and/or establishing himself as a merchant or plantation owner.

The possibility that John Robb lived and worked in Jamaica before his early death makes the connection between the colony and my direct ancestors closer than I had imagined. Perhaps John’s father George Robb, a Glasgow merchant, also had interests in the island? And if George was indeed the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb, then might the Jamaican connection throw light on the mysterious origins of my 3rd great grandmother Margaret Ricketts Monteith, whose middle names hints at an association with another prominent Jamaican family?

The Caribbean connection

In the last post I summarised what I’d been able to find out about the Thomsons, a family of merchants and lawyers in Glasgow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. My interest in the family arises from the marriage between Penelope Thomson (1777 – 1847), daughter of saddler John Thomson (1741 – 1818), and George Robb (died c. 1811), who I believe was the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb (1779 – 1853). I noted that a number of Penelope Thomson’s siblings had connections with the Caribbean colonies, and particularly with Jamaica.

Penelope’s brother Thomas Thomson, who was born in Glasgow in 1766, served as an attorney in St Elizabeth parish in Jamaica. He is said to have fathered a mixed race son named George and had him baptised there in 1803. Thomas Thomson died in the same year, at the age of 37, in Bermuda, where he had travelled for his health.

Another brother, Colin Thomson, who was born in 1768, was a merchant in Glasgow, but as a young man spent time in Jamaica, also in St Elizabeth parish, where he is recorded as serving in the local militia in 1788. He may also have lived and worked for a time in St Kitts, before his return to London and eventual death there in 1819. We know from his will that Colin fathered a daughter named Ann by a mulatta woman.

Archibald Thomson, the youngest of the Thomson siblings, was until his death in 1821 the proprietor of the Hillhead estate in St Elizabeth parish, Jamaica, and the owner of a considerable number of slaves.

Another link with Jamaica was provided by Penelope Thomson’s second husband John Young, who had previously served as Receiver General of the colony. He was the son of a previous postholder of the same name, and connected via his mother to the Mitchell family, a number of whom were prominent sugar plantation owners in Jamaica.

A Jamaican sugar plantation in the early nineteenth century

Their Jamaican ties meant that members of the Thomson family were, like many other merchants with roots in Scotland, implicated in the slave trade. Their names are listed among those who claimed compensation after the trade was abolished. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website:

In 1833 Parliament finally abolished slavery in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. The slave trade had been abolished in 1807, but it had taken another 26 years to effect the emancipation of the enslaved. However, in place of slavery the negotiated settlement established a system of apprenticeship, tying the newly freed men and women into another form of unfree labour for fixed terms. It also granted £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers to the former slave-owners. 

The Legacies project has published a list of Scottish former slave owners who claimed compensation in the 1830s. As I’ve noted before, it includes Archibald Graham Lang and his wife Jane or Jean née Robb, who was the daughter of Penelope Thomson and her first husband George Robb. Their claim is numbered 107 and relates to the ‘May Day’ estate in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica, which was to the east of St Elizabeth parish.

Also associated with this claim are the names Elizabeth, George, Jane and John Robb. I believe that these were the four children of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, and that the name of Jane, who by this time had been married to Archibald Lang for three years, has been counted twice by mistake. The claim was made in 1836 when George Robb would have been 30 years old, Elizabeth Robb 29, and John perhaps 28, if still living (though see below). By this date their mother Penelope was twice a widow: her first husband George Robb senior had died in 1811 and her second husband John Young had died in 1827.

Slaves working on a Caribbean sugar plantation

The details of the claim itself are illuminating. Made on 4th April 1836, it relates to ownership of 66 slaves and is for a total of £1299 14s 6d. The notes in the Parliamentary Papers, reproduced on the Legacies website, read as follows:

Claim from James McCatty, of Manchester, as executor of John Thompson (deceased). Counterclaim inter alios from Herbert Jarrett James, ‘for his taxed bill as Master in Chancery’, withdrawn conditionally on Messrs Hawthorne & Shedden receiving £900 from a Mr Morrice (the agent of the claimant). Counterclaim also from George Robb, Archibald Graham Laing & Jane (his wife, formerly Jane Robb, a spinster), and Elizabeth Robb, all of Scotland, by J.G. Vidal, as administrator of John Robb, late of Scotland, a gentleman. 

From this we learn that the compensation claim made by Archibald Graham Lang or Laing and his wife, together with the other Robb siblings, was actually a counterclaim against the estate of the late John Thompson (elsewhere spelled Thomson). We also learn, incidentally, that John Robb had died by 1836, and that the claim was made in part on behalf of his estate.

Could the John Thomson named here be the father of Penelope, Thomas, Colin and Archibald, and the grandfather of Jane, Elizabeth, George and John Robb? Alternatively, might it be his son, born in 1772, about whom we know very little? Without further information, it’s difficult to determine whether the claim by Lang and his Robb in-laws was as descendants and heirs of John Thomson, or whether they had an interest in the estate in their own right. Certainly, the inventory published on the death of John Thomson senior in 1818 makes no mention of any property in Jamaica, and he died intestate. A John Thomson of Montrose, late of Jamaica, made his will in 1814, but James McCatty’s name does not appear in that document.

Apparently James Ingham McCatty, the executor of John Thomson’s will named here, was born in 1799 and married Anna Maria Heron in 1829. They had eight children, of whom at least one – their daughter Anna – was born in Manchester, Jamaica. So ‘of Manchester’ in the claim notes probably refers to the Jamaican parish, rather than the English city.

Information elsewhere on the Legacies site describes McCatty as a ‘resident planter’. He is listed as the claimant for two other estates in Manchester parish, both of them as executor for John Thomson. There is one claim for the Woodside estate, which had 45 slaves, and two claims for the Glasgow estate, for 27 and 57 slaves respectively.

Archibald Graham Lang’s profile on the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership site describes him as a partner in the firm of Wighton, Gray, who had premises at 221 Buchanan Street in Glasgow. In addition to the Jamaican claim, Lang’s name is associated with two claims in Trinidad: No. 549, made with two other partners in his company, and Thomas Roxburgh of Port of Spain, trading as Gray Roxburgh, and No. 1898, for the Friendship estate, of which Lang is described as joint owner. The list of Scottish former slave owners describes Archibald Graham Lang as a merchant and as an absentee claimant.

The Thomson family of Glasgow

I’m revisiting the story of my Robb ancestors’ connection with Glasgow, in the hope of discovering more about their origins, and particularly about the background of my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Monteith. According to family records, she married my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb in the city in 1802, but as yet I’ve found no official evidence of their marriage, nor any independent confirmation of Margaret’s family background.

A map of Glasgow and surrounding area in 1818 (by Lizars, W. & D., engravers)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fairly certain that George Robb, the Glasgow merchant who married Penelope Thomson in 1805, was the brother of my ancestor Charles Robb, and that their marriage was celebrated by another brother, Rev William Robb, an Episcopalian minister in St Andrews. I’ve begun to wonder if the Thomson family, into which George Robb married, might hold some vital clues to the origins of Margaret Ricketts Monteith. A year ago I received a message via Ancestry from Malcolm Sandilands in Alexandria, Virginia. Born in Jamaica and raised in Scotland, Malcolm has been researching the historical connections between the two countries, including the stories of the many Scottish merchants who traded with and owned property on the island in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Malcolm’s research, which he kindly shared with me, threw further light on the history of the Thomson family, and also alerted me to the existence of the Anglo-Jamaican Ricketts family, who may have been connected to my ancestor Margaret Ricketts Monteith in some way.

I want to explore the Ricketts connection at some point in the future, but in this post I’ll try to summarise what we now know about the Thomson family, which includes the new information helpfully supplied by Malcolm Sandilands.


The story begins with John Thomson of Glasgow, described variously as a saddler and a merchant. From later records, we can deduce that he was probably born in about 1741.

On 19th May 1765 he married Penelope McLachlan in Glasgow, in what the parish records describe as an ‘irregular marriage’. This may have had something to do with the impending arrival of their first child, Marion, who was born on 30th May, just eleven days after her parents’ wedding. I haven’t been able to discover anything about Penelope’s origins, though there were a number of Glasgow merchants with the surname McLachlan, including some trading with the American and Caribbean colonies.The name McLachlan occurs in the will of John and Penelope’s son Colin (see below).

In addition to Marion, John and Penelope Thomson had at least five other children: Thomas, born in 1766; Colin in 1768; James in 1770; John in 1772; and Penelope in 1777. There was also a daughter named Margaret, but I’m unsure whether she was the product of John Thomson’s first or second marriage.

Penelope Thomson née McLachlan died in 1781, and on 23rd July 1783 John Thomson married Elizabeth Robb, daughter of bookseller John Robb and his wife Elizabeth Fairbairn. The wedding took place in Edinburgh, though both families seem to have been from Glasgow. I’ve yet to find any evidence of a connection between this branch of the Robb family and the George Robb who would John Thomson’s daughter Penelope in 1805.

John and Elizabeth Thomson had at least three children together: Elizabeth, born in 1784; Henry in 1785; and Archibald in 1791.  Jones’ Directory for 1787 includes an entry for  John Thomson, saddler, selling saddlery and harness, on ‘East Side Saltmarket, a Little Below the Well’.

John Thomson died on 11 April 1818 at Morton Bank near Glasgow, the cause of death being old age. He was 77 years old. John died intestate but his effects were valued at £265 12s 2d. On 16th April he was buried, like other members of the Thomson family, in ‘John Thomson’s lair’ in the Ramshorn kirkyard in Glasgow.


Marion Thomson was married on 14th August 1785, in another ‘irregular’ marriage, to merchant Simon Pellance, whose carpet warehouse was on Havannah Street in Glasgow. Simon and Marion Pellance seem to have had two children: Elizabeth, born in 1786; and John Thomson Pellance, born in 1791, who seems to have inherited the family business.

According to a record dated 1800, when he was 34 years old, Thomas Thomson served as an attorney in Jamaica. He was associated with St Elizabeth parish, in the south of the island. According to Malcolm Sandilands’ family tree at Ancestry, Thomas may have been married to a woman named Jane White. He had a mixed race son named George baptised in St Elizabeth parish in 1803. In the same year the Scots magazine reported Thomas Thomson’s death ‘in the island of Bermuda where he had gone for his health’.

Eighteenth-century map of Jamaica

Colin Thomson was a merchant in Glasgow, but he seems also to have had business (and personal relations) in Jamaica. There is a record of him serving in the parish militia in St Elizabeth parish in 1788, when he would have been twenty years old. Malcolm Sandilands believes that Colin may have moved from Jamaica to St Kitts, where there are references to someone with the same name active between 1798 and 1808. 

In later life Colin Thomson lived in London and in his final years was said to be insane. He was cared for in his final illness by a woman named Amelia Hall. Colin made his will in 1816, leaving money to Ann, his daughter by a mulatta woman named Ritta Allinan or possibly Allison. He died in February 1819.

Colin’s daughter Ann Thomson seems to have married Glasgow merchant James McEachran at Cardross in March 1819, shortly after her father’s death. He was the son of Archibald McEachran and Janet McLeod.  Archibald may have been the man who was a planter in Bladon County, North Carolina, serving the Loyalist cause in 1776 and settling in Jamaica by 1783. James and Ann McEachran had three children : Janet, born in 1820; Margaret Thomson in 1822; and Archibald in 1826.

I don’t have any definite information for James Thomson after his birth in August 1770, or forJohn Thomson junior after his birth in 1772, or any information at all about Margaret Thomson.

Penelope Thomson married Glasgow merchant George Robb in Eastwood in January 1805. George and Penelope Robb had four children: George, born in 1806; Elizabeth in 1807; John in 1808 (?); and Jean or Jane in 1810.

The names of all four children were listed in a claim for compensation, relating to the parish of Manchester, Jamaica, following the abolition of slavery in the 1830s. The same claim includes the name of Glasgow merchant Archibald Graham Lang: he married Jean or Jane Robb in 1830.Archibald and Jean Robb had seven children: David Graham, born in 1831; Penelope Mary in 1833; Archibald Graham junior in 1835; Jean Victoria in 1838; Helen Adelaide in 1841; Elizabeth Robb in 1845; and William in 1848.

George Robb junior married his cousin Jane Sharp Thomson, daughter of his mother Penelope’s brother Henry, in 1831 (see below). Elizabeth Robb married Glasgow merchant or manufacturer John Burns in 1836. They had a daughter, Penelope, in 1838. I have no further information about John of Elizabeth, though the latter died before 1850. Later records find Penelope Burns living in America, where she seems to worked as a teacher and remained unmarried.

George Robb senior died in 1811 or thereabouts. Two years later, his widow Penelope married John Young, formerly Receiver-General in Jamaica. According to Malcolm Sandilands’ family tree, John was the son of another John Young and of Janet Mitchell, and his uncle James Mitchell had held the post previously. A number of members of the Mitchell family were prominent members of the Jamaican planter community.

John and Penelope Young had three children together: Penelope, born in 1816; Janet in 1817 (?); and John in 1819.

Penelope Young the younger married William Meikleham, a lawyer and clerk to the Senate of Glasgow University, in 1832.  They had two sons – William in 1845 and John Young in 1846 – before William senior was declared bankrupt and fled to America to escape justice.

Janet Young married Lancashire-born merchant Jackson Walton in 1835. They had two children:  Jackson junior, born in 1838; and Mary in 1841 . Janet died in about 1850 and Jackson married again to Eliza Ann Nicholson, with whom he had twelve more children, two of whom became famous painters , and another an architect.

John Meikleham Young died in Glasgow in 1846. His father John Young had died in 1827 and his mother Penelope young, formerly Robb, née Thomson, would died in 1847.

Sugar plantation in Jamaica

Henry Thomson worked as a law writer in Glasgow. He married Jean or Jane Sharp in 1810 and they had two children: John, born in in 1811; and Jane Sharp, born in 1814.

Henry and Jean’s son John Thomson worked as a wine merchant. In 1832 he married his cousin Penelope Young, daughter of his father’s half-sister Penelope Thomson and her second husband John Young. They had three children: Penelope, born in 1834; Joan in 1836; and George in 1838.  John Thomson died in 1838.

Jane Sharp Thomson married her cousin George Robb junior, son of Penelope Thomson and her first husband George Robb senior. George worked as both a law writer and a coal and iron manufacturer, before becoming a veterinary surgeon. George and Jane Robb had three children: George Meikleham Robb, born in 1833, who became an artist and lived in the English Lake District; Jane Robb, born in 1834, who married George Glennie Forbes, Deputy Cashier at the Bank of England; and Penelope Ann Boyd Robb, born in 1840, who remained unmarried and moved with her parents to Essex. George Robb died in 1879 and his wife Jane in 1884.

Archibald Thomson lived in Jamaica, on an estate named Hillhead after the area of Glasgow where he was born. The slave register of 1817 records that he owned a considerable number of slaves in the parish of St Elizabeth, while an almanac of 1820 names him as the proprietor of an estate, owning 81 slaves and 18 head of livestock. He died at Hillhead, Jamaica, in 1821.

The Robb family in Glasgow

In the last post I announced my intention to revisit my Robb ancestors’ connections with Glasgow, in an effort to discover more about the family background of my 3rd great grandparents Charles Edward Stuart Robb (1779 – 1853) and Margaret Ricketts Monteith (1782 – 1843). Charles and Margaret were married at St Mungo’s church in Glasgow in 1802, and I’ve always assumed that the location was chosen because Margaret’s family lived in the city. According to the memorandum written in 1880 by her son William (1811 – 1888), Margaret was the daughter of John Monteith and his wife Matilda. William made the additional, astonishing claim that Matilda was the daughter of Viscount Stormont ‘who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6’. As mentioned in the previous post, every effort to find evidence to support these claims has so far proven fruitless.

A map of Glasgow in 1804

Despite the fact that the Robb family were originally from Aberdeenshire, I believe that my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb also had a family tie to Glasgow. I’m almost certain that he was the brother of Glasgow merchant George Robb, who died in the city in 1811. This theory, though lacking final proof, is based on the following premises. Firstly, there is William Robb’s statement, in the memorandum already mentioned, that he had an Uncle George ‘who died many years ago leaving children but I don’t know how many’ and also ‘an Aunt called Penelope’. Glasgow merchant George Robb married Penelope Thomson in the city in 1805. William Robb’s memorandum doesn’t state unequivocally that his Uncle George and Aunt Penelope were married to each other, nor is it beyond the bounds of possibility that there was more than one couple named George and Penelope Robb living in Scotland at that time. However, that brings us on to the second piece of evidence.

The parish records for Glasgow note that on 15th January 1805, George Robb, a merchant in Glasgow, married Penelope Thomson, daughter of John Thomson of Hillhead, in the parish of Eastwood, and that the ceremony was conducted by ‘Mr William Robb, Episcopal Minister in St. Andrews’. Why would a Glasgow merchant ask a minister from St Andrews, more than seventy miles away, to officiate at his wedding? I believe it was because Rev. William Robb was George’s brother, and that he is the person referred to by his namesake, my great great grandfather, in his memorandum of 1880, as ‘my Father’s eldest brother Revd. William Robb’. The memorandum claims that the latter was ‘for some time Professor of Greek in the College of St Andrews, Fifeshire’, something for which I’ve been unable to find any independent confirmation, though we know that William was a minister in the town. There seems little doubt, however, that he was the person who married George Robb and Penelope Thomson.

Later in his memorandum, my great great grandfather notes that ‘on my Father’s death in 1853 I found among his papers a letter from Bishop Law, Primo of Scotland telling him of the death of my Uncle [William] which happened about 1838.’  In the previous post, I mentioned that the only copy of William Robb’s memorandum that I’ve seen is contained in a number of typewritten sheets that came into my hands more than forty years ago. Presumably, the original was handwritten. I believe that some minor errors may be the result of mistakes in the transcription process. For example, the presiding bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church is known as the Primus, not Primo, and we know from other sources that Rev William Robb died in 1830, not 1838. The reference is probably to Bishop David Low, not Law, though the latter never (to my knowledge) held the office of Primus. In Scotland, only the Episcopal church has bishops (hence its name), and there was only one Episcopal minister named William Robb active in the country at this period.

Rev. David Low, LL.D., D.D. (1768–1855), a Scottish Episcopal clergyman who served as Bishop of Ross between 1819 and 1850

So, although circumstantial rather than definitive, there is strong evidence that George Robb, Glasgow merchant, was the brother not only of Rev. William Robb but also of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb. In forthcoming posts, I plan to revisit what we know about George Robb of Glasgow, and the Thomson family into which he married. I’m hoping that, in doing so, I may be able throw some light on the mystery of Charles Robb’s marriage and the origins of his wife Margaret.

The Monteith connection

In the previous two posts I explored the life of Alice Martha Stormont Timpson née Robb (1857 – 1895), the wife of Alfred Newton Timpson (1846 – 1921) and the daughter of my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888) by his second wife Marianne Mansfield Palmer (1830 – 1883).

I was interested in the way that Alice and her descendants perpetuated the memory of their Scottish ancestors, in the names that they gave their children. One of Alice’s own names, Stormont, commemorated the tradition that her grandmother (her father William Robb’s mother) Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the daughter of John Monteith and his wife Matilda, who was in turn said to be the daughter of Viscount Stormont. Alice would name one of her sons Sidney Stormont Timpson and another Howard Monteith Timpson. Another son, Spencer Cuthbert Timpson, named his daughter Margery Stormont Timpson.

As I’ve mentioned a number of times before, I’ve been frustrated by my failure to find any evidence that would either confirm or disprove the story of my Robb ancestors’ connection with Scottish nobility. The only source for the story is the extract from the family Bible that first set me off on my genealogical quest many years ago. In the early 1970s, when I was a teenager, Edna Robb (1915 – 1955), the unmarried daughter of my grandfather’s brother Thomas Bowman Robb (1887 – 1963), who had emigrated to New Zealand as a young man, visited Britain to meet her relatives and to explore her English and Scottish roots. We met Edna at a family party in East Ham, at which I remember her telling us that she had visited Scotland and brought back evidence of the Robb family’s Scottish ancestry. Edna left behind a few typewritten sheets, of which I was given a copy, and which formed the basis of the first ever Robb family tree that I drew up – at the age of sixteen.

Edna Robb is fourth from the left (next to my grandfather Arthur Ernest Robb) in the back row of this photograph, taken at the family gathering in East Ham in 1972 (I’m on the extreme left of the same row).

I reproduced the content of the document in a post a few years ago. It consists of memoranda written by both my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934) and his father William Robb, and it includes this statement, apparently written by William in 1880:

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

Despite extensive enquiries, I’ve never been able to discover where Edna obtained the document, or who transcribed them, or who was (or is) in possession of the original. Together with other Robb family researchers, I’ve been able to confirm the truth of most of the claims made in the document, particularly about William’s generation and those that followed. It has also been possible to substantiate some of the statements made about earlier generations: for example, that my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb’s older brother William was a minister in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

However, finding evidence to support some of the other claims about the Robb family’s Scottish history has proven more difficult. For example, the document states that my 3rd great grandparents Charles and Margaret Robb were married at St Mungo’s, Glasgow, on 15th October 1802. I believe this is a reference to Glasgow Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk. However, neither I nor any other researcher has been able to find any trace of the marriage in the extant church records.

Engraving of Glasgow cathedral

Nor have I been able to find any reference in the public records to a John Monteith who married a woman named Matilda, not to mention any evidence to support the claim that she was the daughter of a viscount. I assume that the Monteiths were from Glasgow, since that was where their daughter was married. There were a number of prominent men named John Monteith living in the city in the second half of the eighteenth century, but I haven’t been able to discover a definite link between any of them and my Robb ancestors.

I believe that another of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Robb’s brothers was the Glasgow merchant George Robb (1769 – 1811), and some time ago I suggested that there was an indirect connection between George and a John Monteith who was involved in the wine trade.  George Robb was married to Penelope Thomson and I believe they are the uncle and aunt referred to by William Robb in his memorandum:

I had also an Uncle George who died many years ago leaving children but I don’t know how many. I had also an Aunt called Penelope…

Penelope Thomson had a half-brother named Henry, a Glasgow law writer, whose son John worked as a wine merchant in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Apparently John Thomson’s business partner was a certain John Monteith. It’s likely that this John Monteith would have been too young to be the father of my 3rd great grandmother Margaret, but perhaps there is a family connection of some kind?

Then there is the more famous John Monteith of Anderston who established the first Scottish power loom company at Pollokshaws, Glasgow in 1801. He was the son of cotton manufacturer James Monteith and the brother of James Monteith junior, also a cotton dealer, and of Henry Monteith, who eventually took over the family business and was elected to Parliament in 1820. However, I’ve yet to find any evidence that this John Monteith was married to a woman named Matilda or had a daughter named Margaret; and once again, the dates may be too late for our purposes.

There is, of course, the possibility that my great great grandfather got his facts wrong, or that he misremembered what his mother told him about her family background. After all, he seems to have been mistaken in his claim that his uncle, Rev William Robb, was a professor of Greek at St Andrews. I can find no evidence of this, though we know that the Rev William was a minister in the town. Just recently, I came across a record at Ancestry that intrigued me. On 12th July 1776, a man named John Monteith married a woman named Martha Stormont in Glasgow. Might this be ‘our’ John Monteith, and could William Robb have got the name of his grandmother wrong, and could the connection between Martha Stormont and Viscount Stormont be fanciful?  The marriage took place in the ‘Associate Session’ in Glasgow: the ‘Associate Synods’ broke away from the main Church of Scotland in the 18th century. I believe that John Monteith of Pollokshaws was a member, so this marriage record may refer to him.

On the other hand, how likely is it that my great great grandfather William Robb would get the name of his grandmother wrong? He may never have met her, but his own mother Margaret did not die until William was thirty years old, so surely the information she passed on to him would have been reliable? Not only that, but Charles and Margaret named their eldest daughter Matilda, a name that William also gave to one of his daughters – presumably in honour of Margaret’s mother.

I’m planning to revisit my research into the Robb family’s Glasgow connections in forthcoming posts.

The first marriage of Alfred Newton Timpson

Alfred Newton Timpson married my great great aunt Alice Martha Stormont Robb, the daughter of my great great grandfather William Robb and his second wife Marianne Mansfield Palmer, in 1874. However, as I noted in the last post, this was not Alfred’s first marriage. He had previously been married to a woman named Caroline Maria, and indeed he had two young daughters, Isabella and Caroline, from that marriage.

Caroline Maria Timpson died in 1872, but when I wrote the previous post I hadn’t been able to discover her maiden name.. However, thanks to a comment on my earlier post from B Hathaway, I now know that she was born Caroline Maria Goshawk, the daughter of coal merchant John Bell Goshawk and his wife Isabel or Isabella. Taking this new information as a starting-point, I’ve been able to discover more about Caroline’s origins and family background.

John Bell Goshawk and his wife Isabella Hearl were both born around the year 1810, and were probably married in the mid 1830s. We know from later census records that Isabel was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, and there are suggestions that the Goshawks may also have been a Suffolk family. Caroline Maria, born in 1843 in Mile End, was the third of their four children: the others were Jane, born in 1837, John Bell junior in 1841, and Isabel in 1845. John Bell Goshawk senior seems to have died some time between 1845 and 1851.

A chandler’s shop (via

The census of 1851 finds John’s widow Isabel, described as a chandler’s shop keeper, living with her three daughters at 69 Mount Street, on the western edge of Bethnal Green. I’m not sure where her son John was living at this time. Isabel Goshawk the younger would die in the following year, when she was just seven years old. By now the Goshawks were living at Fryar’s Mount in Bethnal Green. Isabel Goshawk née Hearl died in 1860 at 16 North Conduit Street, Bethnal Green; she was fifty years old.

On 12th September 1864 John Bell Goshawk junior, 23, a lighterman, married Clara Eliza Silverton, 18, at St Dunstan’s church, Stepney. Clara was the second of the six children of George Silverton, a tailor, and his wife Elizabeth Boswell. They had been married at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in 1844.Their other children were George junior (1845), William (1849), Walter (1851), Thomas (1859) and David (1868).

One of the witnesses to the marriage was John’s younger sister Caroline. Two years later, on 18th June 1866, she would marry Clara Silverton’s younger brother William, a chair maker, at the parish church of All Saints, Poplar. In a mirror image of the age difference at her brother’s wedding, Clare was twenty-three years old and William only eighteen. Sadly, William seems to have lived for only a month after their marriage, being buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery on 28th July 1866. His widow Caroline would marry Alfred Newton Timpson three years later, but would also die young, at the age of twenty-nine, shortly after the birth of her second daughter.

Thames lightermen (via

As for John and Clara Goshawk, they would have seven children together and both live to a comparatively advanced age. In 1881, they were living with Clara’s parents in Exmouth Street, Mile End, and John was working as a dock labourer. The electoral register of 1887 shows John at Rhodeswell Road in Mile End. By 1891 the family had moved to Strode Road, West Ham, and John was again working as a barge lighterman. Ten years later, they were living in Woodbine Place off Wanstead High Street.

John Bell Goshawk died at the age of 64 in 1906, and in 1911 his widow Clara was still at Woodbine Place, Wanstead, with three of her sons. She would die two years later in 1913, aged 67.

Alice Martha Stormont Robb and the Timpson family

My great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888) clearly saw himself as the guardian of the family’s Scottish heritage, despite the fact that he was born in Yorkshire and spent most of his life in London. It is thanks to William’s memorandum, written on 20th June 1880, that we know about his parents’ Scottish origins and their life before moving to England. On at least one occasion, William signed his name William Monteith Robb, thus preserving his Scottish-born mother’s maiden name, and he also honoured her in naming his first-born daughter, who sadly died when she was two years old, Fanny Margaret Monteith Robb.

William Robb would father fifteen children in all, five with his first wife Fanny Sarah Seager, and ten with his second wife, Marianne Mansfield Palmer. Both William and Marianne seem to have been keen to pass on the names of their respective parents and grandparents in naming their children. Marianne’s family were honoured in the names of their daughters Lydia Palmer Robb, Marianne Mansfield Robb and Rose Emma Tunstall Robb, and their son David Enoch Robb: Marianne’s father was Enoch Palmer, her mother Lydia Tunstall, and her paternal grandmother Ann Mansfield.

William and Marianne named their second daughter, born in 1857, Alice Martha Stormont Robb. Martha was the name of Marianne’s older sister, while ‘Stormont’ was a reference to the Robb family’s supposed aristocratic Scottish heritage. In his 1880 memorandum, William would write:

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

I’ve been prompted to re-visit the life of Alice Martha Stormont Robb, following a message via Ancestry from one of her descendants, whose DNA test results suggested that we share a common ancestor. Alice was born on 22nd February 1857 in Mile End Old Town, the second child of her parents’ marriage: her older sister Lydia Palmer had been born two years earlier in 1855, and William and Marianne were married the year before that. Two more daughters would follow in quick succession – Marianne Mansfield Robb in 1858 and Rose Emma Tunstall Robb in 1860. The 1861 census record shows the family living at 15 St Ann’s Road, Mile End. With William and Marianne are their four young daughters: Lydia, 5, Alice, 4, Marianne, 2, and Rose, 4 months, together with two of William’s children from his first marriage: Matilda Fanny, 14, and Charles Edward (my great grandfather), 10.

Victorian houses in Turners Road, Mile End (via Google Maps)

Four more younger siblings would arrive in the next decade: David Enoch in 1863, Eliza Ann in 1865, Gertrude Constance in 1867 and Alexander George in 1870. By the time of the 1871 census, the Robb family had moved to 31 Turners Road, also in Mile End Old Town. Alice was now fourteen years old. William and Marianne Robb would have two more children – Grace Amy in 1872 and Arthur Ernest S (Stormont?) in 1875. However, by the time of Arthur’s birth, Alice had left home.

Marriage to Alfred Newton Timpson

On 17th October 1874, Alice Martha Stormont Robb married Alfred Newton Timpson at Wycliffe Chapel in Philpot Street, Whitechapel. I’ve written about this chapel before: it seems to have been where my maternal 3rd great grandparents, William and Lydia Holdsworth, were buried in 1830, when it was still located in Cannon Street Road. And Charlotte Bowman, the aunt of Louisa Bowman, who married my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb, was buried there in 1854. Wycliffe was an independent – i.e. Congregational – chapel, and the choice of the chapel as a wedding location is a clue to the Timpson family’s religious affiliation.

Wycliffe Chapel

The Robb family were, by this time, confirmed Methodists. William’s Scottish forebears had been Episcopalian. His uncle William, after whom he was probably named, was almost certainly an Episcopal minister in St Andrews, Fife, and I suspect that his parents, Charles and Margaret, retained their attachment to its English equivalent, the established Church of England, following their move to London. Certainly there is no evidence of Nonconformity before William’s marriage to Fanny Seager. We know that the Seagers were Nonconformists, and Fanny would be buried at Whitefield Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road. Shortly after Fanny’s death, William had their son Charles Edward, my great grandfather, christened at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Great Queen Street. It was almost certainly here that William met Marianne Mansfield Palmer, who would become his second wife. Marianne’s family, who originated in Staffordshire, were staunch Methodists and Marianne had been christened at the Methodist New Connexion Chapel in Longton, near Stoke-on-Trent. In time the Methodist tradition would be continued by my great grandfather Charles, who worked as caretaker to the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Whitechapel. His son Joseph became a Methodist lay preacher, as did my own father, Peter Ernest Robb, the son of Charles’ youngest son Arthur.

Marriage between members of different Nonconformist denominations is hardly unusual.  Although my father came from a Methodist background in East Ham, my mother had ties to the local Congregational church, which is where they were married and, indeed, where I was christened. After our move to Chelmsford, when I was a small child, we at first attended a Congregational church, but later transferred to the new Methodist church on our estate, where my parents are still active members. Fittingly, the church in East Ham where my parents were married is now a combined United Reformed (i.e. Congregational) and Methodist congregation.

Alfred Newton Timpson, the man whom Alice Robb married in October 1874, was eleven years older than her – he was twenty-eight, while she was only seventeen – and already a widower. Some time before 1870 (I’ve yet to find a record of the marriage), Alfred had married his first wife Caroline Maria (maiden name unknown), by whom he had two daughters, Isabella Jane Caroline (1870) and Caroline Beatrice Katharine (1872). At the time of the 1871 census, Alfred, described as a twenty-five-year-old commercial clerk, born in Tunbridge Wells, was living at 75 High Street, Shadwell, with his wife Caroline, aged twenty-six and originally from Mile End, and eight-month-old Isabella, born in nearby Ratcliff. Caroline Maria must have died shortly after giving birth to her second daughter, perhaps as a result of complications from childbirth.

The Timpson family

Alfred was the fourth of five children born to Henry Clare Timpson and his wife Eliza. Henry Timpson, a surgeon and apothecary, had been born in 1816 in Birmingham, the son of Thomas Timpson and his wife Elizabeth Deykin. The record in the Nonconformist register, which was not completed until July 1837, describes Thomas as the minister of Union Chapel in Lewisham, though at the time of his son’s birth he was apparently working as a goldsmith at Horse Fair, Birmingham. Union Chapel was Congregationalist, and Rev Timpson, who seems to have been a prolific writer of religious texts, composed a history of the Christian church in Kent which he included a detailed account of his own incumbency there, which ended in 1854 when he retired due to ill health. Henry Clare Timpson seems to have had one sister, Miriam (or Marian?) Elizabeth, born in 1820.

Photograph of 19th century Lewisham

Rev Thomas Timpson appears to have been married three times. His first wife Elizabeth – Henry’s mother – died some time before 1828, when the first of Thomas’ children with his second wife, Frances Kate Harvey, was born. Frances was the daughter of Robert Harvey, a Bloomsbury schoolmaster, and his wife Amelia. She and Rev. Timpson had six children together. At the time of the 1841 census they were living at No 1, The Retreat, in Lewisham village, with Marian, Thomas’ daughter from his first marriage, and their own six children. Frances died in 1848 and in the following year Rev Thomas Timpson married Maria Barnard from Kings Lynn in Norfolk. Thomas would die in 1860.

Henry Clare Timpson had left home a number of years earlier. On 28th June 1840 he married Eliza Jane Shrewsbury. Born in Ramsgate, Kent, in 1817, and christened at the Ebenezer Independent (i.e. Congregational) Chapel in the town, Eliza was the daughter of Edward Shrewsbury from Deal and Eliza Jane Billet of London. At some point the Shrewsburys moved to south London, where Edward, described variously as a secretary and a collector, and Eliza can be found living in Kings Row, Newington, in the 1841 and 1851 census records. Alfred Newton Timpson had three older brothers: Thomas Edward, born in 1841; Henry Shrewsbury, 1842; and Howard Clare, 1844. There was also a younger sister, Elizabeth Jane, born in 1847.

The Timpsons lived first at Grosvenor House, Mount Ephraim, in Tunbridge Wells, where Alfred Newton was born, and later moved to Albion Road in Woolwich. This was their address in May 1847 when Henry Clare Timpson, described as a ‘Chymist, Surgeon and Druggist’, was declared bankrupt. However, the 1851 census finds the family still living at Albion Road, where Henry is still working as a surgeon and apothecary, and they can still afford to employ a family servant. Henry’s wife Eliza died three years later, at the age of thirty-six.

Henry Timpson seems to have married his second wife, Jane Smith, before 1861, when the census record finds the two of them living in Cambridge Road, Bethnal Green. None of Henry’s children from his first marriage are with them. The eldest of them, Thomas Edward, now twenty, was serving as a private with the 18th Hussars at Aldershot. I’m not sure where his brother Henry Shrewsbury Timpson was in 1861, but ten years later he was lodging in Warkworth, Northamptonshire, where he was working as an ironmonger, a trade he would later carry on in Ealing, where he lived with his wife, Banbury-born Ellen Elizabeth Potter, and their children. The third Timpson brother, Howard Clare, joined the Royal Navy and in 1861, when he was still only seventeen, was serving as a ship’s steward’s boy on HMS Firebrand, which on the night of the census was said to be ‘at anchor at Carthagena, near Granada, South America’ (now part of Colombia).

As for Alfred Newton and his younger sister Eliza Jane, then aged fifteen and thirteen respectively, the 1861 census finds them with their widowed step-grandmother Maria Timpson and her two adult daughters, Amelia and Ruth, both of whom worked as governesses, at the Retreat in Lewisham. Alfred Newton was already earning a living as a merchant’s clerk.

Alfred and Alice Timpson: from London to Wolverhampton and back again

As mentioned before, Alfred must have married his first wife, Caroline Maria, before 1870, and she must have died before 1874, when he married Alice Robb. Thomas and Alice’s first child, Alfred Percy Timpson, was born in Walthamstow in 1875. He was followed by Spencer Cuthbert, who was born in Mile End in 1877. By the time their first daughter, Marion Alice Rose, was born in 1880, Alfred and Alice had moved from London to the Midlands. The 1881 census finds them with Isabel and Caroline, Alfred’s daughters from his first marriage, and their own children Alfred, Spencer and Marion, living at Vine Terrace in Wolverhampton. Presumably the move was on account of Alfred’s work: he is now described as an accountant and commercial clerk.

In February 1880, Alfred was the victim of a robbery. A notice in the Police Gazette describes how, at about 7.30 pm on 17th February, somewhere between Bentley and Walsall, ‘three men who cannot be described’ stole a number of items:


The Timpsons were still in Wolverhampton when their next child, Sydney, was born in 1882. Alice gave him one of her own middle names – Stormont – thus perpetuating the link with the Robb family’s supposed aristocratic past. Wolverhampton was also the birthplace in 1886 of Alfred and Alice’s son Wilfred, whose middle name Mansfield commemorated Alice’s mother’s family.

At some point in the next three years, the Timpson family must have moved back to London, where Alfred began to work as a stockbroker. In early September 1889, he was arrested and charged at Mansion House Police Station with ‘forging and uttering a false cheque’ for £500, with the intention of defrauding his business partner, Edward Wace. Apparently there had been ‘a good deal of friction’ between the two men. When the case came to trial at the Old Bailey, Alfred pleaded guilty, and although the court record says that judgement was ‘respited’, a separate source states that he was sentenced to three months in prison, ‘without hard labour’, from 21st October 1889. The same year saw another family misfortune: the death of Alfred and Alice’s son Alfred Percy at the age of thirteen.

Old Bailey court room (1897)

Alfred Newton Timpson would have been released from prison in time to witness the birth of his and Alice’s sixth child, Howard, on 17th April 1890. Once again, Alice honoured her family heritage by using her grandmother’s maiden name – Monteith – as a middle name for her son. Records state that Howard Monteith Timpson was born in the Wanstead area, and certainly by the time of the census taken in the following year, the family had moved eastwards to Leyton. Alfred’s spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure seems not to have affected his career unduly: he was back working as a stock broker and ‘agent’.

The Timpsons’ final child, Annie Edith, was born in April 1892. Before Annie was four years old, her mother would die. Alice Martha Stormont Timpson née Robb was only thirty-eight years old when she passed away in June 1995. Six years later, the census of 1901 would find Alfred Newton Timpson, a widower of fifty-five, and working as an accountant on his ‘own account’, living at 51 Woodstock Road, East Ham, with Isabel, 30, a nursery school governess; Spenser, 24, a commercial traveller; Marion, 21; Sydney, 19, a ‘hatters manager’;  Wilfred, 15, a pupil teacher; Howard, 10; and Annie, 8.

The children and grandchildren of Alfred and Alice Timpson

By 1911 the family had moved to 11 Newick Road in Clapton. In the meantime Alfred, now 65, had undergone another change of career. He is now described as a ‘limited company secretary’ and as an employer in the shoe trade. His daughter Annie, 18, is working with him as a ‘shoe trade forewoman’, as is Winnie Upson, 19, a visitor on the night of the census. Also still at home are Alfred’s daughter Caroline, 33, described as a housekeeper (presumably for her father); Wilfred, 25, a schoolmaster; and Howard, 20, a mercantile clerk for a soap manufacturer.

Marion Alice Rose Timpson had married Frank Alma Baker in 1903. Their daughter Alice Annie Alma was born at Southend in 1904, but by 1911 they were living in Cann Hall Road, Leytonstone. Frank was employed as a handyman in a brewery. In this record, Marion uses ‘Alice’ as her first name; an ‘Alice R.M. Baker’, who is almost certainly the same person, would die in Whitechapel in 1914. Frank died four years later (I wonder if were they both victims of the influenza epidemic?), leaving his effects in the hands of his father-in-law, Alfred Newton Timpson. Their daughter Alice married Peter John Peacock in 1929. He died at Waltham Forest in 1968 and she died at Pagnell Grange Nursing Home in Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes in 1998, at the age of 94.

Spencer Cuthbert Timpson had married Mabel Isabella Wood in 1905, and in 1911 they were living in Mortlake Road, Ilford. Spencer was employed as a clerk for a dry goods merchant. They had a son, Percy Arthur, aged four, presumably named in memory of Spencer’s older brother, and a daughter Margery, whose middle name – Stormont – kept the memory of the family’s noble Scottish heritage alive. Spencer Timpson died in Chatham in 1960, at the age of 83; Mabel died in Canterbury in 1978. Their son Percy married Winifred May Wills in 1934; he died in Torbay in 1978. Their daughter Margery married Jack Savidge in 1937; she died in Pontypool in 1995.

Sydney Stormont Timpson had married Daisy Ellen Hosking in 1909 and in 1911 they were living in Grove Green Road, Leytonstone, with their one-year-old daughter Daisy Denise. Sydney was still working as a ‘retail hatters manager’. The couple would have two more children: Iris Madeleine in 1912 and Anthony Gerald in 1926. Sydney Timpson died in Tonbridge and 1954 and his wife Daisy in London in 1958. Daisy’s will describes her daughters Daisy and Iris, the joint beneficiaries of her will, as spinsters. Daisy died in Paignton, Devon, in 1984 and Iris in the same area, in 1999. Anthony Gerald seems to have been married twice (unless I’ve misinterpreted the records): firstly, in London, in 1948, to Freda Young, and secondly in Poole, Dorset, in 1978, to Maria Spinola do Amaral. Anthony Timpson died in Torbay in 1984. It seems that the three Timpson siblings – Daisy, Iris and Anthony – lived in the same part of the country, and possibly even lived together, in the closing years of their lives.

The grave of Private W.M. Timpson, Poperinge, West Flanders, Belgium

Wilfred Mansfield Timpson served as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War and was killed in action on 12th May 1917. He is buried in Flanders, Belgium.

Wilfred’s younger brother Howard Monteith Timpson also served in the conflict, in the newly-created Royal Air Force, but he survived. Howard’s service record mentions his wife, ‘E.M.Timpson’, though other records suggest that he and Ethel May Polley were not married until 1918. I think Howard may have been married twice, but I’m not sure. He died in 1963.

In 1913 Isabella Timpson married James W Brook in Brighton. Her husband predeceased her and Isabella died in February 1953 in Uckfield, Sussex.

The youngest of Alfred and Alice Timpson’s children, Annie Edith, never married. She died in October 1966 at the age of 73.

As for Alfred Newton Timpson, he died in 1921, at the age of 75.


Although much of this post, particularly on the early history of the Timpson family, is based on my own original research, I should acknowledge my debt to other researchers who have recorded their findings at Ancestry, and especially to my second cousin Michael John Robb, on whom I relied for information about some of the later Timpson generations.

Charles Edward – or Robert Charles – Robb?

A memorandum written by my great great grandfather William Robb in June 1880, when he was sixty-six years old, and entered in the family Bible, includes a list of  ‘my brothers and sisters who lived to grow up’. The first entry in the list is for ‘Charles Edward who was born in 1809 and died in 1836 (Sept.) Fever.’ A separate document, also included in the family Bible, provides more details of the births, marriages and deaths of each of his siblings. In relation to his brother Charles Edward we read:

Born at Whitby Wednesday 7 February, Baptized

Feb 21st 1810. Died 27 September 1836. Age 26 years.

Buried at St.Martin in the Fields.

I’ve often tried, unsuccessfully, to discover more about Charles Edward Robb. I made another attempt more recently, in my quest to establish where my Robb ancestors were living when they first came to London. In a recent post, I mentioned new evidence that my 3rd great grandparents Charles and Margaret Robb (parents of William and Charles Edward) may have lived at 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields on their arrival in London from Yorkshire, before moving to 29 Charing Cross by the time of the 1841 census. I wondered if finding Charles Edward’s address at the time of his premature death in 1836 might help to clarify the Robb family’s movements around London at this period.

Having failed to find any record of Charles Edward Robb’s death or burial in the available records online, I tried to order a copy of his death certificate from the General Register Office, only to discover that their records only begin in 1837 – the year after Charles’ death.  Frustrated, I returned to the records of births, marriages and deaths accessible online, and tried a different approach: just entering the surname ‘Robb’ without any other names, but searching for 1836 or thereabouts, and for the London / Middlesex area.

The burial of Robert Charles Robb, 2nd October 1836 (via

I was surprised to come across a record that closely matched the information for Charles Edward Robb. On 2nd October 1836, just five days after Charles’ death, a twenty-seven-year-old man was buried at the church of St Martin in the Fields. His address was given as Charing Cross, where my Robb ancestors would be living in 1841. The only problem was, his name was given not as Charles Edward but as Robert Charles Robb.

I’ve checked the parish register and there are no other burials in the parish for anyone with a name that is at all similar between the supposed date of Charles’ death (27th September) and the end of October (there were twenty-three burials in total during this period). Unfortunately, the parish had not yet developed the habit of inserting the deceased’s date of death in the margin, as it did in later years.

How can this be explained? Surely it is too much of a coincidence that another young man named Robb, from Charing Cross, would be buried at the same church in the same week? This must mean that either the parish clerk got the name of the deceased wrong, or his brother entered it wrongly in the family Bible. The former seems much more likely, especially as Charles Edward was not only the name of my 3rd great grandfather, but also of my great grandfather, the son of William Robb.

St Martin in the Fields

If the Robert Charles Robb who was buried at St Martin’s in October 1836 is actually my great great grandfather’s older brother Charles Edward, then it undermines my theory about the family living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields at this period. I based that theory on freemasonry records which find a ‘gentleman’ named Charles Robb registered with a number of London lodges in 1836 and 1837. At least one of these places him at 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in October 1837.

I don’t want to give up my theory about the Robbs’ earlier address without further evidence, as it fits so well with other facts about the family. There could be an error in the dating of the freemasonry records. Alternatively, it’s possible that Charles Edward (a.k.a. Robert Charles) Robb, who after all was an adult of twenty-six, was lodging at Charing Cross in 1836, while the rest of his family were still at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.