Newly available records at Ancestry have led me to reassess what I know about my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb, and about the Robb family’s early years in London. Charles was born in Aberdeenshire in 1779, married my 3rd great grandmother Margaret Ricketts Monteith in Glasgow in 1802, then spent a number of years moving his family around Scotland and Yorkshire, before finally settling in London.

Until now, I’d assumed that, on their arrival in London, which must have happened by the mid-1830s at the latest, the Robb family had taken up residence at 29 Charing Cross, the address where they can be found at the time of the 1841 census. However, the membership registers of the United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons, which are now searchable at Ancestry, suggest otherwise.

A freemason undergoes an initiation ceremony (19th century)

I’ve found a Charles Robb in five of these registers. On 10th February 1836 Charles Robb, who gave his profession as ‘gent’, was initiated into the Enoch Lodge. He was said to be from Scotland, and to be living at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. There is a separate record of him paying his dues to the same Lodge from 1836 to 1838, when he resigned. On 31st October 1837, Charles Robb, a ‘gent’ of 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was initiated into the St Andrews Lodge (West), and it is noted that he made payments to the lodge until 1847. This overlaps with Charles Robb’s membership of a third lodge, the Royal Athelstan, which ran from 10th October 1840 until 1849, though a separate document records payments up to 1852.

According to the census records, there was only one other Charles Robb living in London at this period: he was a twenty-six-year-old engineer, also from Scotland, living in Thames Street in the parish of All Hallows Barking. The same man would be living in Ranelagh Street in Belgravia in 1851, and working as an engine fitter. It’s possible that he is the Charles Robb whose name is recorded in the Freemasonry registers, but certain factors make it more likely that it was, in fact, my ancestor. Firstly, my 3rd great grandfather would describe himself as a ‘gent’ in other records, including the marriage register of his daughter Elizabeth. Secondly, he and his sons were all law clerks, and Lincolns Inn would be an obvious location in which to base themselves and seek work. Thirdly, the address is not far from where both Charles and his son William, who married in 1836, would later live. Finally, the abrupt ending of payments to the third lodge – the Royal Athelstan – coincides with my ancestor’s death in 1853.

If this is indeed my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb, then I’m not sure what his membership of the Freemasons, or his movement from one lodge to another, tells us about his social status, or about his religious or political opinions. However, the possibility that he and his family lived in Lincolns Inn Fields on, or soon after, their arrival in London, radically revises our understanding of their early years in the capital. Moreover, the date of Charles’ first initiation into a London Freemasonry lodge – February 1836 – may give us a clearer sense of when exactly the Robbs arrived in London.

West side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in about 1835, by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

Until now, the first date we’ve had for the Robb family in London was 23rd May 1836, when Charles’ son, my great great grandfather William Robb, married Fanny Sarah Seager at the parish church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square. This was less than half a mile from at the time of his marriage. The next date is 27th September 1836, when William’s brother died, at the age of twenty-six, of a fever. He was buried at St Martin in the Fields on 2nd October, a fact which may argue against the family being resident in Lincoln’s Inn: it would be their parish church when they lived at Charing Cross, but wouldn’t be the obvious choice for the former address. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find Charles’ death or burial in the official records: knowing where he died would help us to track the Robb family in their movements around London in the 1830s.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was developed as a residential area in the seventeenth century, and was fringed by elegant three-storey villas, inhabited in the eighteenth century by aristocrats and political figures, but by the early nineteenth century mostly subdivided into apartments. No. 63 was on the west side of the square, close to the elegant Lindsey House at Nos. 59-60. Many of the original houses survive to this day, but No. 63 was demolished in the middle of the nineteenth century and replaced in 1886 by the building that now houses the Royal College of Radiologists.

63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields today (via Google Maps)

At the time of the 1841 census the west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields formed part of District 9 of the St Giles South sub-registration district of the parish of St Giles in the Fields. Based on the census evidence, we can conclude that this was a socially mixed area: while solicitors, barristers and law students were in the majority, these buildings also housed other professionals such as booksellers, clergymen, surgeons and architects, as well as a number of artisans such as bootmakers, hatters, hosiers and laundresses. Unfortunately, no house numbers are given in the records, so it’s impossible to deduce who was living at No. 63 at the time. However, having reviewed the records thoroughly, I’ve concluded that nobody by the name of Charles Robb was living there in 1841, which lends some support to the theory that my ancestor may have been there in 1837 but had moved to 29 Charing Cross by 1841.