Robert Gate preacher and saddler

Robert Gate took me on a surprising journey when I looked into the history of a battered piece of luggage…

The leather-coated wooden trunk I keep my jumpers in is a family heirloom. I was told it was used as a school trunk by an ancestor who was born in 1897, so assumed it dated from the early 1900s. But efforts to find a ‘Gate, saddler and harness maker’ around that time got me nowhere.

However, given the stories about her father’s dislike of spending money – they turned flour sacks into pillow cases – I should have realised it wasn’t bought new. And that the ‘modern’ hasp lock was added by him, the original key already long since lost.

And then, in J E Horsley’s ‘Old Time Penrith,’ I discovered the trunk is more likely to have been made in the 1840s (or before) than the start of the 20th century.

Robert Gate – key facts

Robert Gate was born at Threlkeld, in 1780. He married a woman from Houghton-le-Spring, Durham, called Elizabeth, and they had two daughters, Hannah and Sarah.

Hannah died in 1833, aged just 24. In 1838, Sarah married John Pattinson, an Appleby draper.

Robert Gate died at Arthur Villa in 1866, aged 86. Elizabeth died there in 1874, aged 86. They were buried at Christ Church.

In 1841, Robert and Elizabeth were living in Little Dockray. With them were two two fishmonger apprentices, both 15: Friend Walton and William Thompson.

In 1851, they were in Middlegate: Robert, Elizabeth, and a visiting Wesleyan minister, Thos G Horton, a British subject born in NZ.

By 1861, Robert and Elizabeth were living with their son-in-law John Pattinson (now widowed) and the eldest of his and Sarah’s daughters, Ann Pattinson, 17. (The youngest daughter was away at school; not sure about the middle one). This was Arthur Villa, Arthur Street. 

There are, it turns out, a lot of clues of Robert’s life story here. But first, the business.

Robert Gate – saddler and trunk maker

A newspaper advert in August 1838 says that a bunch of properties are to be sold, including:

that valuable dwelling place and shop, most eligibly situated in the Market Place in Penrith, in the occupation of Robert Gate and others’. (execs of Wllm Henson dec)’.

Robert’s shop was here

J E Horsley wrote:

Robert’s shop stood ‘where Messrs’ Herds’ new premises are built*’

*new in 1926. And the BHF shop today

And that’s about it. He was still a saddler in 1841, but retired in 1849. And the 700-word obituary the Penrith Observer printed when he died, in August 1866, doesn’t mention his trade or business at all. At his funeral, it was mentioned that he was apprenticed at 15 to a Penrith saddler, William Bateman.

A popular preacher

J E Horsley wrote that Robert Gate:

‘will be remembered by many old people in Penrith and the adjacent villages for his benevolent and saintlike character’.

The obituary described him as having ‘devoted a long life to works of practical usefulness, charity, and benevolence’.

A year before his death, he’d been presented with a silver salver by the Wesleyan Methodist societies and congregations in the Penrith circuit.

His funeral was held at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Sandgate, where they struggled to squeeze in all who wished to attend.

A keen Methodist…

Robert Gate became a staunch Methodist and a preacher in his 20s. 

Sabbath after Sabbath, he travelled long distances to proclaim the glad tidings of the Gospel in almost inaccessible localities and in the face of innumerable difficulties.

At early morning, by the mountain side, Mr Gate frequently proclaimed the truths of the Gospel. Miles away, in the afternoon, within the walls of some humble dwelling, he met and prayed with the few gathered together; and again in the evening often he was to be found… exhorting the people to walk in the narrow path that leads to eternal life.

…and a caring visitor

Robert Gate also:

  • attended the first meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society held in Penrith, on November 4th, 1813
  • remained a committee member of that for the rest of his life
  • established Penrith Temperance Society in his house in the 1830s
  • instituted the Penrith Good Samaritan Society in his shop circa 1830.
  • was appointed one of the secretaries of the Missionary Society in 1833

He was also ‘an indefatigable visitor’ to the sick, dying and needy. In the year 1859, he recorded 1,339 visits, and in 1862, 1,825 visits.

It was through his ‘day job’ that he went to Durham in 1805. He lodged with a Methodist woman and through her came to switch from ‘the established church’. It was in Durham he met Elizabeth. He returned to Penrith in 1806 – at that time, the whole Methodist Society in Penrith numbered about 20 people.

The graves of Robert and Elizabeth can be found at Christ Church, Penrith.

Son-in-law John Pattinson, in 1881 (still at Arthur Villa), is listed as ‘retired draper, local Methodist preacher’.

The Wesleyan Home Mission Chapel

The Wesleyan Home Mission Chapel opened at Scotland Road, Townhead, Penrith, in February 1863.

The foundation stone had been laid in July 1862 by Robert Gate. 

John Pattinson of Arthur Villa had paid for it to be built.