Roddam Hall is a modest country mansion a little to the north of the village of the same name in the eastern foothills of the Cheviots. Much of what can be seen today of the privately owned edifice was built during the eighteenth century. The man at the centre of our story, Robert Roddam, came into ownership of the property on the death of his brother in 1776.
By this time, Robert was in his mid-50s and was most probably in need of a rest – retirement, in fact – after a long and varied naval career. He spent pretty much his entire adult life chasing around the globe in the service of his country, a great deal of it with enormous success and with, certainly, a renowned reputation for ‘giving it a go’, no matter what the odds.
Our man was born at Roddam Hall in 1719, the second of three sons of Edward and Jane. He entered the navy in 1735, initially serving in the West Indies for several years, then working his way up through the ranks, notably during the War of the Austrian Succession of 1740-48. Gaining his first command in 1746, he impressed his superiors by many a daring raid on enemy lines – a feature of his long career at sea.
He spent much time in and around North America and the Caribbean during the Seven Years’ War of 1756-63 – a conflict which did much to bolster British interests abroad. He was acquitted during a court martial after his ship was captured by the French early on in the war, but soon returned to active service with his usual dash.
In 1770 he was called back to the fray during one of our periodic disputes over the Falklands, then found himself thrust into the American War of Independence of 1775-83. Much of this period, though, was spent as Commander-in-Chief at the Nore – a post giving him responsibility for the defence of the south-east corner of the UK. His final phase of service came as Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth during 1789-92, which involved a brief crisis with the French that was averted thanks in no small measure to Roddam’s thorough preparations for the possible conflict.
During the Napoleonic Wars he was promoted as far as ‘admiral of the red’, but these were essentially symbolic appointments. He was, in effect, able to at last spend some time at Roddam Hall in Northumberland, to which he was able to make several important structural additions (as well as in the grounds) before his death in 1808, aged 88. He was buried in the family mausoleum in Roddam village churchyard. Despite three marriages he had no children.