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December 9, 2007

Frederick John Robinson

Famous people on our doorstep

Frederick John Robinson -Nocton Hall - 19th Century Tory Prime Minister

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Perhaps to the surprise of many, Margaret Thatcher was not the only Prime Minister to come out of Lincolnshire as our area saw this country’s twentieth Prime Minister living on our doorstep, namely at Nocton Hall.

Frederick John Robinson was born in London on 1st November 1782, the second of three sons born to Thomas Robinson (second Baron Grantham) and his wife Lady Mary Jemima Grey Yorke. He was educated at Harrow and St John's College, Cambridge and then trained as a lawyer. He ended these studies when the post of private secretary to the Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was offered to him. He held this position between 1804 and March 1806.

His political career

In November of 1806 he entered parliament as MP for Carlow Borough, Ireland,however the following year he switched to become Tory MP for Ripon in Yorkshire, where he remained as their constituent for twenty years. From 1809 he held various positions including under-secretary for the colonies, Lord of the Admiralty, President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy.

On the 1st September 1814 he married Lady Sarah Albinia Hobart, eleven years his junior, the daughter of Robert Hobart, MP, the 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, whose home was our own Nocton Hall. Two years later on the tragic death of Lady Sarah's father, who was thrown from his horse and killed whilst riding in St James Park, Nocton Hall was to become their home. Sarah and Frederick had two children between 1815 and 1816, namely Eleanor and Hobart. Sadly their son Hobart lived for only two days while tragedy was to strike again in 1826 when Eleanor also died, aged eleven.

With Frederick's political responsibilities he also had a home in London and in 1815, as a result of his reluctant introduction of a Corn Law, this home was attacked by rioters and two people killed. He was informed of the event whilst in parliament and it is alleged he broke down in tears which saw him acquire one of his nicknames of "The Blubberer".

Despite this his career in politics was on "fast-track" and in 1823, aged 41, he moved into No. 11 Downing Street as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His first budget predicted a surplus of £7 million with more than half of this paying off the national debt and the remainder used to halve the "Window Tax". This budget earned him another nickname, that of "Prosperity Robinson." His next budget was to see grants given for the building of new churches, the restoration of Windsor Castle and the founding of the National Gallery. His following budgets were less successful, with him having difficulty balancing the books and then on the tragic death of his beloved daughter Eleanor he asked the Prime Minister (The Earl of Liverpool) to move him from this senior post to a less demanding position. The PM refused and in April of the next year he made him Secretary of State for War and the Colonies and at the same time he created him Viscount Goderich of Nocton, moving him to the House of Lords (the title of Goderich descending through his aunt, the Countess of Grantham).

In April 1827 George Canning became Prime Minister but he died in office after just four months. In the August of 1827 it was only natural that the King, George IV, ask him to lead the government. He therefore moved from No 11 to No. 10 Downing Street as the country’s twentieth Premier. Unfortunately as Prime Minister, Robinson failed to get the backing expected from the sovereign in several contentious issues and with an additional lack of support among his party he was not up to the task of running a quarrelsome Cabinet. Unable to cope either emotionally or practically his position became untenable and in January 1828, without ever meeting parliament as PM he resigned after only 144 days, literally 3 weeks longer than the previous Premier. He recommended to the King that Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) be his successor and for the next three years the Duke led the Tory government.

Viscount Goderich achieved little or nothing of note during his short stay at No 10 but one thing will go down as a unique "first" and that was that his wife Sarah, having conceived in No 11, gave birth to a son George Frederick Samuel Robinson in No 10. George Robinson would go on to become one of the country’s greats and he also spent many happy years at Nocton Hall.

After resigning from office, Frederick Robinson was disappointed not to be included in the Duke of Wellington's cabinet. Then when Earl (Charles) Grey's Whig party took over the running of the country in late 1830 he became Secretary of State for War and went on to become an influential member of the country’s Liberal Party which was to see the passing of the Slave Abolition Act in 1833. That same year he was granted a new title of Earl of Ripon but he then left government in 1834 only to rejoin the Tory Party as President of the Board of Trade in 1841 under Robert Peel's Tory government. He finally left politics totally on the fall of Peel's ministry in 1846 and died thirteen years later in 1859.

His time at Nocton

As stated, the Robinsons became the "owners" of Nocton Hall in 1816 after the tragic death of Sarah's father in St James Park, London. Sarah and Frederick showed great devotion to their new "country home" but had taken it on at a time when the management of the estate and the welfare of the local residents were causing serious problems.

For one, the Nocton parish church (St Peter's), built by Sarah's grandfather George Hobart (3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire), was in major need of refurbishment and by means of a huge donation from the Hall, together with monies made available from the local people, this was achieved. The Fen, to the east of the estate, was also causing concern with drainage difficulties affecting the farming. A steam engine costing £4,000 replaced the old wind engine despite strong opposition received from different authorities questioning the strength of the Witham banks against the force of water from a more efficient drainage method.

Sadly disaster continued to follow the Robinsons after the deaths of Sarah's father, their son Hobart (aged two days) and then their daughter Eleanor (aged 11). In the space of two years the village was to see two fire disasters, firstly the Nocton Mill, near to the Sleaford road was burnt down in 1833 and then just a year later the Robinson's home, Nocton Hall, was burnt to the ground by fire, which started in the roof.

Showing great resilience and following much help from the villagers the first stone of the "new" hall was laid seven years later and a magnificent construction was built. In appreciation of the help and sympathy from the villagers Lord and Lady Ripon set to in repaying their "people" by virtually rebuilding the entire village. Unfortunately sadness was then to strike Sarah again as Frederick died after a short illness in London on 28th January 1859.

Continuing her husband's work, the Countess had the church of St Peter's pulled down in 1862 and a new one (commissioned by the Hall architect Sir George Gilbert Scott ) was built by Mr W. Hudleston and named All Saints in remembrance of her beloved husband who was born on All Saints Day (1st Nov). This was to be the final resting place for her husband, a fitting place for one of England's Premiers.

Sarah, who was to outlive her husband by eight years, continued the upgrade of the village, including the rebuilding of the Poor House, together with many of the present houses. She also developed the surrounding area thus enhancing the village into one of the most beautiful in Lincolnshire's. On her death on 9th April 1867 she was laid to rest next to her husband, the twentieth of fifty-one English Prime Ministers.

Today the tomb of the Earl of Ripon, Frederick Robinson and Lady Sarah (carved by Matthew Noble) can be seen in the mortuary Chapel of All Saints Church, Nocton. It is a fine memorial to two people who were chiefly responsible for making Nocton the place it is today. Frederick Robinson may well not be viewed as a memorable Prime Minister like Margaret Thatcher but he was certainly a successful and caring land-owner which the people of Nocton can today vouch for.