Do parish registers ever get it wrong? The online availability of Westminster parish records has made it possible for me to find new evidence relating to my Robb ancestors. But one of the records I’ve discovered has left me puzzled.

A brief recap: my great-great-great-grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb and his family moved from Scotland via Yorkshire to London, arriving in the capital some time in the late 1820s or early 1830s. They lived at 29 Charing Cross, and Charles and his sons Charles Edward, George William and William (my great-great-grandfather) all worked as legal clerks.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

Charles Edward and George William both died relatively young: the former of fever in 1836 at the age of 26, the latter of influenza and bronchitis in 1847 at the age of 36. In the intervening years, their mother Margaret also died, in 1843 at the age of 62. All three were buried at the local parish church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a short distance from their home across the recently-constructed Trafalgar Square.

I’ve found evidence in the St Martin’s parish register of the burials of Margaret (on 7th December 1843) and George William (on 15th December 1847). However, there is no burial record for Charles Edward Robb. Or to be more accurate: there is a record that matches some of the known information – but the name is wrong.

According to the memorandum written by William (his brother) in 1885, Charles Edward Robb was born in 1810, died on 27th September 1836, and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields. However, the only matching record in the parish register is for the burial on 8th October 1836 of Robert Charles Robb of Charing Cross. So either the parish clerk got the name wrong – or my great-great-grandfather did, which seems unlikely. Did the clerk mis-hear the name, perhaps due to my ancestors’ Scottish accents, or did he make the common mistake of muddling the deceased’s surname and Christian name? (How many times have I opened emails, even from colleagues who supposedly know me, that begin ‘Hi Rob…’?).

On a related note: I’ve just started reading Jerry White’s long-awaited history of London in the eighteenth century (the sequel to his superb books about the capital in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). He takes the novel approach of tackling each topic through the life of a prominent individual. The first chapter focuses on James Gibbs, the architect who designed many churches and other public buildings in London in the first half of the century – including St Martin-in-the-Fields. White writes interestingly about how the Scottish, Catholic, Stuart-sympathising Gibbs disguised his religious and political opinions in order to gain commissions in Protestant, Hanoverian London.

I think my Aberdeenshire-born ancestor, Charles Edward Stuart Robb, who was named after the Bonnie Prince, and whose father was (apparently) ‘involved’ in the ’45 rebellion, would have found it appropriate that the final resting-place of his wife and two of his sons was built by a Scottish Jacobite.