Robson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Robson 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 Ancestry

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,

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 batle of

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

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.

and New Zealand.
  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.

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.


Robson 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.


Select 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.

Select 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).


Select 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.




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