Robson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Robson Surname Meaning

The name Robert gave rise to the northern surnames Robertson and Robson, Robertson in Scotland originally and Robson in the northeast of England.  Robert became popular in Scotland through Robert the Bruce. However, Robson in the northeast may have had an older Anglo-Saxon origin – from Hroethbert, the name found on a stone cross in the Robson heartland at Falstone.  Meanwhile the Highland origin of the name Robson could have been Robb Gunn of the Gunn clan.

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Robson and Robeson Surname Ancestry

England.  Robson is very much a name of the northeast, with a concentration in the old counties of Northumberland and Durham.  The earliest Robson record was in 1371 when three Robsons were reported as murdered at Falstone in Tynedale.  By the 16th century, these Robsons – together with the Charltons, Dodds, and Milburns – formed one of the principal clans of North Tyne.

They were described in a London play in 1654 as:  “A wight good riding surname, good honest men and true, saving a little shifting for their living.”

The leading Robson of Falstone was the acknowledged figurehead, a kind of chieftain labelled as the “heidsman” or “laird.”  The border was a lawless area in those times.  Border families like the Robsons were raiders or “reivers” or, less complimentarily, “the Tynedale thieves.”  The Robsons had ongoing feuds with families across the border such as the Armstrongs and, most notably, the Grahams of Liddesdale.

By the early 17th century the area became more lawful and many in the clan disbanded.  The Robson name is still common in nearby villages such as Bellingham and Birtley (a Robson family has been living in Pitt House in Birtley for nigh on two hundred years). But there was a drift southward to Durham and Yorkshire in order to find work.

Robsons were linen manufacturers and grocers in Darlington in the early 1700’s and, from a slightly later date, fishermen and herring curers at Flamborough on the Yorkshire coastline (their history is described in Peter Robson’s 1991 book, The Fishing Robsons).

But the main jobs were to be found in Durham coal mining.  The Robson name crops up frequently amongst the miners of Durham coal towns such as Bishop Auckland, Hetton-le-Hole and Houghton-le-Spring; and also amongst the fatalities in various Durham mining disasters – from Murton in 1848 to Easington in 1951.

The coal mining era has now ended and Robsons are better known for their football.  Bobby Robson, the former England football manager, and Pop and Bryan Robson, both England footballers, are all from this area.

Scotland.  The border was practically non-existent during reiver times and there was some spillover of Robsons into Roxburghshire and Robesons into Berwickshire.   The earliest mention was a Richard Robson as abbot of Kelso in 1464 and the Robson name is to be found in Border towns such as Jedburgh and Hawick.

Many Robsons left the Borders in the early 19th century, such as:

  • John Robson – from Roxburgh to Canada in 1821.  His son
    John, born three years later, headed west and became Premier of British Columbia province.
  • Hugh Robson, a Barthill ploughman and his family – from Dumfries to Argentina in 1825.
  • William and Christina Robson – from Roxburgh to Australia in the 1830’s.  They became one of the early settlers in Hunter Valley, NSW.

Ireland.  The Robson name, of English or of Scottish origin, could be found in counties Armagh and Antrim from the 17th century.  English Robsons were part of the Quaker community in Sego, Armagh in the 1680’s.

America.  There are both Robsons and Robesons in America, but not that many.

Robeson  One early Robeson was Andrew Robeson who emigrated with his uncle from Scotland to America in 1676 and settled first in New Jersey and later in Philadelphia.  A historical and genealogical account of him and his descendants was written by Susan Stroud Robeson in 1916.

Thomas Robeson came to North Carolina and started his Walnut Grove plantation along the Cape Fear river. His son, Colonel Thomas, was a hero of the Revolutionary War, defeating a larger Loyalist army at the battle of Elizabethtown.

However, these Robesons are not the Robesons who are remembered today but a slave on the Robeson plantation in Martin county who escaped on the Underground railroad to Philadelphia in 1860.  William Robeson went on to study at Lincoln University and become a church minister.  His son was the acclaimed African American singer, writer and early campaigner for civil rights, Paul Robeson.

Robson  They came later.   A number brought their mining skills
with them, such as William Robson who had arrived in 1849 and followed various mining opportunities across the Midwest before settling in Pittsburg, Kansas. There his sons started the Robson Brothers Coal Company.

A later arrival, in 1866, was John Robson and his family.  John worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines for a number of years before he had saved up enough money to buy his own farm in nearby West Virginia.

Australia.  Many Robsons were miners and the mining opportunities in Australia drew them there:

  • William Robson, a mining engineer, left Newcastle, England for Newcastle NSW in 1841 and there he helped develop the Mount Keira coal mine.
  • while Joseph and Jane Robson and their family had come to Victoria in 1853 by way of Brazil.  Joseph was also of a mining background and had first tried gold mining in Brazil.  At Ballarat he became manager of one of Australia’s largest gold mines.

New Zealand.  In 1858 Friend Lamb and Isabella Robson, recently married, came with other Robsons from Sunderland on the Indiana to New Zealand.  These Robsons, from a shipbuilding family, were carpenters and they plied their trade in Christchurch.

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Robson Surname Miscellany

Possible Robson Origins.  In the Black Gate Museum in Newcastle, there is a fragment of a cross that was discovered at Falstone.  The same inscription is written on both sides of the stone, on one side the inscription being in Roman letters and the other Runic lettering and what is defaced on one side is legible on the other.   The exact meaning of the words in Anglo-Saxons somewhat differently rendered by different authorities, but approximates to something like the following:

“Eomar set up this…a memorial to Hroethbert his uncle.  Pray for his soul.”

A local authority, Dr. Charlton, has said that this is the “Robert” from whom the Robsons and Robertsons take their name.  In this case the Robson name would then be stretching back some twelve hundred years.

The Raid of Redeswire.  The raid of Redeswire began in 1575 as a dispute between the wardens of the middle marches about Henry Robson, a well-known freelance, who, the Scottish warden had demanded, be given up for execution as the English warden was saying that he had escaped.

Such disputes seldom stopped at words and, after an interchange of insults, the men of Tynedale began the fray by shooting their arrows at the Scots.  The fighting became general and the Scots were being worsted.  Then the men of Jedburgh, led by their provost, marched upon the field and turned the tide of battle.  A defeat therefore for the Robsons!

Robson Incidence in England and Scotland.  Robson is very much an English border name.  The table below shows the incidence of the name in England and Scotland in the 1891 census.

County Numbers (000) Percent
England Northumberland       5.4     25
Durham       7.9     37
Yorkshire       2.6     12
Elsewhere       4.9     19
Scotland Border counties       0.6      3
Elsewhere       0.9      4
TOTAL      21.5    100

There was some Robson spillover into Scotland, but not that much, and a few Robesons in Berwickshire on the Scottish borders.  Scotland has as well the Robertson name and clan which was based around Perth.

An Old Robson Remembers.  The following reminiscences came from Mark Robson’s book Some Denholm Families, published locally in 1928.

“At the foot of the Loanin’, there stood, fifty years ago, a thatched cottage with a smiddy attached – also a killing-house – rented by Beattie the butcher.  In that thatched cottage was the blacksmith, my great-grandfather.

Where he came from I cannot tell, but I have heard a story of how, when a Liddesdale minister was examining some school children in Bible knowledge and had asked who was the strongest man, a child replied “Tam Robson o’ The Yett.”  Thomas Oliver once told me that this Robson was an ancestor of mine.  Anyhow, away back in the late 1700’s, two sons were born to the blacksmith at the foot of the Loanin’ – John and Thomas.

Thomas was my grandfather.  He married in 1811 Bell Hardy from Dargues in Reedwater.  Some yearts ago I saw the entry of that marriage in the parish church at Elsdon, a remote hamlet east of Otterburn.  Thomas had a large family, six daughters and four sons who were: Thomas, a blacksmith in Hawick; James, a blacksmith in Middlesbrough (but who died at Denholm in my father’s house); John, my father a blacksmith in Denholm; and William, also a blacksmith.  William knew every rabbit-hole near the village and every salmon-redd for miles in the Teviot.

My father’s smiddy was where the third house from Martin the baker’s stands.  In 1864 he removed up the Quarry Road where he built a smiddy, dwelling-house, and stable.  He married, at the age of 17, Mary Newton, my mother, a lass of 20 from Gordon in Berwickshire.  So readers will note the real Border blood that runs in my veins.”

Bobby Robson’s Coal Miner Roots.  Bobby Robson would often speak eloquently about his father, Philip, a coal miner from Langley Park near Durham, who had been a Newcastle United supporter all of his life.

Robson Sr worked at the colliery in the village; 51 years at the coalface and just one missed shift.  He lost an eye in an accident under the ground, but he never spoke about that, nor did his family.

“He would go down the pit white and would come up black.  There was no colliery bath back then and he would wash in the tin tub we had at home, trying to go from black to white again, but a miner never felt he had entirely cleansed himself of the grit and dust.  Then on Saturday he would love to take us to St James’ Park, because he adored Newcastle United.”

Philip Robson and his wife, Lillian, had five boys, no car, no television.  He didn’t drink and didn’t smoke.  On Thursday evenings he would go to the workingmen’s club in the village, buy himself a soft drink, and enjoy the whist drive.

Every second Saturday morning, with two of his boys, he would take the 10 o’clock bus from Langley Park to Marlborough Street station in Newcastle, and from there it was a short walk to St James’ Park.

“I remember going with my dad and my brother Ronnie.  We would be outside the ground at 12.15 and be first in line waiting for the gate to open at 12.30.”

My dad was able to see virtually every home game when I managed England, but he had passed away by the time I became manager of Newcastle.  For him to see me manage the club he used to take us to watch would have been the thrill of his life.  He would have somersaulted all the way to St James’ Park.  You see, he went to work white, came home black, but inside, he bled the black and white of Newcastle United.”

Bobby was close to his father and, because he too had spent time working in the colliery, he understood the dignity and achievement of his father’s life.

William and Ezekiel Robeson.  William Robeson was just fifteen years old when he escaped with his elder brother Ezekiel from the Robeson plantation at Cross Roads in Martin county, North Carolina.  They escaped on the Underground railroad, leaving North Carolina and crossing Maryland into Pennsylvania.

William stayed in Pennsylvania, studied, and became a church minister.  Ezekiel returned to North Carolina, however, after the Emancipation Proclamation.  The two sides of the family were not to meet during their lifetimes nor that of William’s son Paul.  It was not until 2006 that Paul Jr. met with the other side of his family.

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Robson Names
  • Edward Robson, born in Durham, was a Victorian architect who achieved renown for his school-building projects in London in the 1870’s and 1880’s.
  • John Robson was British Columbia’s premier in the 1890’s and a major figure in its entry into the Canadian Confederation.
  • May Robson, born Mary Robison in Australia, was a Victorian stage actress who lived to star in films of the 1930’s.
  • Paul Robeson was the acclaimed African American singer, writer, and early campaigner for civil rights.
  • Dame Flora Robson was a popular English character actress.
  • Bobby Robson played football for England and was the England football manager in the 1980’s.

Robson Numbers Today
  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in Tyne & Wear)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Florida).
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).
Robson and Like Surnames

The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays.  Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way.  Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified.  There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster.  These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.

ScottishKerrEnglishHall
ArmstrongLittleCarrNixon
JardineTurnbullElliottTate

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