William Robinson left Penrith to seek his fortune in the wide world and achieved wealth beyond his expectations, but like many Penrithians then and now he never lost his love of the town's honesty and community or the beauty of its surroundings.
Born in the last years of King James I reign, William was fortunate enough to be part of a merchant family that had thrived on the back of Penrith's growth as a significant market town. His grandfather Thomas Brisby lived at the grand Newhall, now the moribund Two Lions pub on the edge of Great Dockray and later sold it to Gerald Lowther. William seems to have thrived on a Penrith childhood, subsequently recognising the value of his education as he pursued a successful commercial career.
As a young man he travelled to London to make his fortune, but this was no Dick Whittington story of rags to riches. Instead, William made the journey to work in the family business which appears to have been well-established in the capital. When he married Elizabeth Leder at All Hallows Church on the delightfully named Honey Lane the matrimonial tie bound together two merchant families and was doubtless seen as an ideal match.
It was to the Grocers' Company, the second most prominent of London's Great Livery Companies, that William turned when considering how to share his wealth upon his death. In addition to numerous grants to his friends and extended family, the will provided for the Company to hold his extensive tenements in Grub Street upon trust for charitable purposes. The rent from these properties, paid by a bohemian assortment of publishers and aspiring writers, was to be used for all manner of good works including several in Penrith.
As was customary at the time, responsibility for ensuring that the terms of the trust were respected and the sum of £35 a year appropriately distributed was put in the hands of the Churchwardens - of St Andrews, where William and his seven siblings had been baptised some 50 years earlier. William's generosity was to transform the education on offer in the town as £20 was to be spent educating poor girls to 'read, write, knit, sew and undertake other learning'. This, together with another £10 'to the free school at Penrith', resulted in the establishment of a school in what is now the Penrith and Eden Museum. The school, latterly known as Robinson's Infant School, remained open for over three hundred years from its inception in 1661 until 1971. Other parts of his will provided £20 for ten men and women from the town, for sermons to be preached in the town on Christmas Day and Ascension Day and for the appointment of clergy there.
Over the years thousands of Penrithians have benefitted from William's gift. Although he left the town it never stopped pulling on his heartstrings and he used his good fortune to help its citizens thrive after he was gone.