Thomas Robson was a rope and twine-maker living in Claypath in Durham City in the early 19th century. His will, made in 1852, is held in the Durham diocese probate records collection in Durham University Library's Archives and Special Collections at Palace Green.
In his will, following the usual form, Robson recites his occupation and address, 25 Claypath, and further reveals that he had already passed his freehold property to two of his daughters, Isabella and Jane Robson, in 1846. Robson goes on to bequeath his household goods and chattels and his pew, number 76, at the old St Nicholas church (rebuilt 1858) at the foot of Claypath to Hannah Robson, another of his daughters, subject only to her paying to each of her other siblings Thomas, Hunter Robson and Mary Warner 1 shilling. This short will, therefore, allows us to reconstruct two generations of the Robson family and the principal assets accumulated by Thomas Robson during his life time to pass on to his children. Other probate records in the same collection reveal that Robson died 10th September 1853, and that his personal estate - which does not include his real freehold property - was valued at no more than £20, administration of which was granted to his executors Hannah and Isabella Robson, both spinsters, on 8 March 1854 by the surrogate or probate court officer James Raine, well known as an antiquary and historian of Durham and the North-east and a prime mover in the Surtees Society.
Primed with this information we can now turn to other sources to try to fill out some more detail in the life of Thomas Robson.
The will of Thomas Robson of Durham, dated 1 June 1850 [Ref: DPRI/1/1854/R23/1].
His ownership of No. 25 Claypath can be traced back at least to 1820, his name appearing both in John Wood's plan of the City of Durham surveyed and published in that year and also in Pigot's 1820 Commercial Directory in which he advertises his rope-making trade.
Plan of the City of Durham (excerpt), published in 1820 [Ref: DUL ElephLL 912.4281 DUR/CIT/WOO].
Later censuses offer us a view of sorts into the household itself, nine persons living at No. 25 and in the long yard behind it in 1841,
|Inhabited||Name||Male Age||Female Age||Profession||Born in Endland|
The 1841 census entry for the Robson family.
and thirty-eight persons in 1851.
|Schedule #||Address||Name||Relation||Condition||Male Age||Female Age||Profession||Where born||Blind /
|91||25 Claypath||Robert Robson||Head||Mar[ried]||29||Grocer||Durham, Hareholm|
|Ann Frances D[itt]o||Wife||Mar[ried]||27||D[itt]o Middle Rainton|
|John George D[itt]o||Son||3||Durham City|
|Robert Boyes||Servant||U[nmarried]||18||D[itt]o||D[itt]o Carlton|
|92||Claypath||Thomas Robson||Head||Mar[ried]||79||Rope Maker||D[itt]o St Margaret||Blind|
|Hannah D[itt]o||Wife||Mar[ried]||77||D[itt]o Monkwearmouth||Deaf|
|Isabella D[itt]o||Dau[ghte]r||U[nmarried]||51||D[itt]o St Margaret|
|Hannah D[itt]o||Dau[ghte]r||U[nmarried]||48||D[itt]o St Giles|
The 1851 census entry for the Robson family.
Even student lets in the city today don't aim for such numbers. The population of Durham was clearly growing in this period, but some of his neighbours appear in the census as consistently as Robson himself. One neighbour, at No. 27, was the Maguire family; another was Matthew Wardell, in 1841 a builder of some success for by 1851 he was describing himself as an architect: indeed, a Mr Wardell also appears on Wood's 1820 plan alongside that of Mr Robson.