Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roby, William

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ROBY, WILLIAM (1766–1830), congregational divine, born at Haigh, near Wigan, on 23 March 1766, was eldest brother of John Roby [q. v.] His parents belonged to the established church. He was educated at the Wigan grammar school, of which his father was master; he himself became classical master at the grammar school of Bretherton, Lancashire. He owed his change of religious conviction to the preaching of John Johnson (d. 1804) [q. v.] Having begun to preach in villages round Bretherton, Roby resigned his mastership to enter as a student in Lady Huntingdon's college at Trevecca, Brecknockshire. There he only remained six weeks. After preaching at Worcester, Reading, and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, he became Johnson's assistant at St. Paul's Chapel, Wigan, and on Johnson's removal (1789) he became sole pastor, being ordained in London on 20 Sept. 1789. In 1795 he undertook the charge of the congregational church in Cannon Street, Manchester. He began with an attendance of one hundred and fifty, but raised a large congregation, and made his influence felt throughout the county. ‘To no man,’ says Halley, ‘more than to Mr. Roby was nonconformity indebted for its revival and rapid growth in Lancashire.’ In Nightingale's volumes his name constantly appears as a planter of new churches. On 27 June 1797 he went to Scotland to conduct a mission in conjunction with James Alexander Haldane [q. v.] On 3 Dec. 1807 a new chapel was opened for him in Grosvenor Street, Manchester, where he laboured till his death. He trained some fifteen students for the ministry at the cost of his friend Robert Spear; this effort led the way to the present Lancashire Independent College [see Raffles, Thomas]. Roby was a man of simple and informal manners, of great earnestness, but without polemical tone; his preaching was valued by evangelical churchmen, as well as by dissenters. He died on 11 Jan. 1830, and was buried in his chapel-yard. His widow, Sarah Roby, died in 1835. The Roby schools at Manchester were erected in 1844 as a memorial of him. He published a number of sermons (from 1798) and pamphlets, including: 1. ‘The Tendency of Socinianism,’ Wigan, 1791, 8vo. 2. ‘A Defence of Calvinism,’ &c., 1810, 12mo. 3. ‘Lectures on … Revealed Religion,’ &c., 1818, 8vo. 4. ‘Anti-Swedenborgianism,’ &c., Manchester, 1819, 8vo (letters to John Clowes [q. v.]). 5. ‘Protestantism,’ &c., Manchester, 1821–2, 8vo, two parts. 6. ‘Missionary Portraits,’ Manchester, 1826, 12mo. 7. A selection of hymns (2nd edit., Wigan, 1799, 12mo).

[Funeral Sermons by Ely and Clunie, 1830; Memoir and Funeral Sermon by McCall, 1838; Halley's Lancashire, 1869, ii. 450 sq.; Nightingale's Nonconformity in Lancashire, 1892 iv. 76 sq., 1893 v. 121 sq. 133 sq.]

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