He was instituted vicar of Hutton Rudby on 3 January , and arrived in the parish a short while later , a young and energetic man dressed in the usual clothes of a gentleman – it was not then customary for clergymen to wear clerical dress.
There was no parsonage house at Hutton Rudby.
Mr Grice had lived in Hutton and purchased property of his own in the parish, and Mr Shepherd seems to have rented Hutton House from Lady Amherst. An earlier vicar, George Stainthorpe, had lived in Rudby "in a house which I farm of the Honourable Colonel", George Cary.
Accompanied by his wife and possibly one of his spinster sisters to keep her company, Mr Barlow settled into a comfortable house a little way outside Enterpen. This had previously been known as Suggitt's Grove, and had been the home of Benjamin David Suggitt, the gentlemanly yeoman farmer who had built the Primitive Methodists their chapel. The planting of an avenue of lime trees had given rise to a new and more genteel name, Linden Grove, and it now belonged to Suggitt's nephew, Dr George Merryweather of Whitby. Merryweather, who was the inventor of the Tempest Prognosticator, a device using leeches in jars to forecast bad weather, let the property, with some additional farmland, to Mr Barlow.
|An early photograph of All Saints', Rudby|
The church then stood in a small graveyard, much smaller than that of today, with no lychgate at the entrance.
Inside the building, Mr Barlow would have found a plain whitewashed interior with plastered walls and a flat ceiling over the nave, and sash windows inserted into the ancient walls.
There was a gallery across the west wall for the church musicians, whose instruments included a bassoon, an oboe, and the bass viol played by Samuel Hebron the parish clerk.
The pews were in the old "box" or square "family" style described in 1846 as
chiefly of oaken wood, in the old style, with pins fastened above for the convenience of hats. The Lady Chapel, without an altar, was incorporated into the body of the church, its pews facing across the nave.
There was a small amount of very old stained glass, the ancient grave slab of a mediaeval priest, and the Jacobean genealogical epitaph in stone of the Linley family. These still remain, but long missing are the
helmet and casque with the vizor raised, and a grotesque painted bust with a huge bearddescribed by Ord in 1846 as "supported by projecting pieces of iron" either side of the south-east window. These were described by the Stokesley writer George Tweddell as "very ancient" . The small wooden box pulpit was whitewashed.
In contrast, the chapels merited little description from the 19th century writers.
East Rounton church was later described by Canon Atkinson as "a small building of no particular character", whilst the Revd Graves in 1808 described Middleton chapel as "a small modern built edifice" – the Post Office Directory of 1872 would later, rather unkindly, pronounce it a
small edifice of stone, rebuilt in the early part of the present century in the tasteless style of that period.The major landowners in East Rounton were the Wailes family of the Grange, while Colonel Wyndham was lord of the manor of Middleton and owned the land that did not belong to Lord Falkland. Sir William Foulis also owned land in the parish, principally in Sexhow.
Mr Barlow would naturally introduce himself to the landowners of his parish as soon as possible, but only John Wailes was a permanent resident. Clergy were accounted gentlemen by virtue of their cloth, and were usually welcomed into the society of the neighbourhood, if only to swell the numbers. Neighbouring clergy included several men who began their ministry at much the same time as Mr Barlow, and with whom Mr and Mrs Barlow might be expected to be acquainted.
In Crathorne, the Revd Ralph Grenside had only recently succeeded his father and grandfather as Rector. His position was interesting, in that the patron of the living was Mrs Maria Tasburgh, last of the Catholic landowners of the manor, and there was a Catholic church not far from his own. He was fourteen years older than Mr Barlow, and a graduate of Cambridge.
In Great Ayton, the Revd Joseph Ibbetson came to the parish in 1827, and is credited with the decline in the number of public houses in the village in the years that followed. His belief in temperance is reflected in the decision soon after his arrival that there should be no more allowance for ale or liquors at vestry meetings . He was to marry Elizabeth Simpson, daughter of Thomas Simpson of Nunthorpe Hall, the friend of John Harker and the Brighams, in 1834.
Mrs Ibbetson was a significant figure in her parish, but it is not known what rôle Mrs Barlow and her sisters-in-law played in Robert Barlow's work. Although in the early years of the century clergy wives were not expected to run Sunday Schools and Bible classes , by the middle of the century this was becoming common practice. The churchwardens of Arksey in 1857, for example, particularly commended their new vicar's wife and family who attended the flourishing Sunday School every week .
The vicar of Acklam was the Revd Isaac Benson. He kept a school and was described as "a good sort, but too handy with the birch rod"  by one of his pupils, who related that the service at Acklam
like the church, was of the plainest. Old Oliver Bowes, the clerk, read out the psalms and with a pitch-pipe gave out the opening note to the singers who stood round him.Mr Benson became the first curate in charge of St Hilda's in Middlesbrough. In the mid-1840s he bought several houses on East Side in Hutton Rudby, which suggests that he knew Mr Barlow, and may indeed have been a friend.
There must have been a great deal of unspoken competition amongst these men of strong character. The mood of the times was turbulent and political reform was in the air. In the established church, the 1830s saw the beginning of the Oxford Movement and major organisational reforms against plural livings, tithes and non-residence. The view of the clergy's function was changing, and with it came the idea of a vocation to the ministry.
There were a number of clergymen in the area who were to prove themselves notably active in their parishes. In Northallerton, for example, the incumbent from 1826 to 1839 was the Revd Dr George Townsend, who rebuilt the vicarage and moved on to become a canon of Durham Cathedral. His successor, the Revd Theodosius Burnett Stuart, was to install gas lighting, abolish the purchase of private pews, give glebe land for allotments and build the National Schools on Vicar’s Croft.
On a very much smaller scale, the incumbent at Carlton was the Revd Thomas Browne, praised in the Stokesley press in the 1840s for the allotments he had provided for his parishioners, together with prizes for the produce they grew  .
There were significant differences in the value of the livings in the area, and most of them did not give their incumbent a large income.
The Revd Isaac Benson's living of Acklam was worth £44 a year , which he supplemented with the income from his boarding school, while the new curacy of the rapidly growing industrial town of Middlesbrough would bring him £34.
The incumbent of Great Ayton, a living valued at £82, also had responsibility for the chapelry at Nunthorpe, at £46.
The Revd Grenside in Crathorne, worth £205, also had the cure of Hilton, at £50.
In contrast, the living of Stokesley was extremely valuable at £1,070, and was united with the curacy of Westerdale worth £250. It was one of the richest in the North Riding, and was in the hands of the Archbishop of York.
The living of Kirby-in-Cleveland was a particular scandal to the Nonconformists. It was a sinecure in the hands of the Archbishop, who in 1823 had appointed his son to the living. The Revd William Vernon read himself in and then left the duty of the parish to his vicar, and was never seen again by his parishioners. He certainly made his presence felt amongst them by taking them to court to recover tithes "in lieu of which compensation has been paid time out of mind" .
The Stokesley rector lived in considerable style in his comfortable rectory; Charles Cator, in 1851, had seven servants living in, including a butler. Clergy may have been expected to have a private income of their own and were ranked as gentlemen, but nevertheless there will have been social distinctions amongst them.
Generally speaking, doctors and lawyers held a much more ambiguous social position, improving during the century as law and medicine became increasingly professional.
Similarly, the Golden Age of farming that began in about 1850 was to produce growing numbers of well-to-do farmers, able to give their children a good education and fill their homes with comfort.
The Harker-Brigham letters give us a glimpse of the lively social circle in which they moved in the early years of the century. The friends of George Brigham, John Harker and William Powell included Captain Tom Havisides of the East India Company, squires and country gentlemen such as James Wilson of Potto Grange and John Lee of Pinchinthorpe, and men such as Thomas Simpson of Nunthorpe Hall, a prosperous land agent and farmer whose wife was John Lee's sister. The Lees had owned Pinchinthorpe Hall for four hundred years and were descended from the ancient family of Conyers of Hornby .
Robert Barlow's social position will have been affected by his own unusual background.
Coming from Ireland, he may have been harder for the English to place socially, but his degree from Trinity College would be seen as second-rate by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. Years later, Archbishop Magee of York, the son of a clergyman and grandson of the Archbishop of Dublin, and a man renowned for his learning, common sense and eloquent preaching, wrote some months before his sudden death in 1891:
I am only a poor wild Irishman, and they [are] learned and wise and thoughtful Englishmen, who look down with all the fine contempt of an English University upon the man whose degree is not of Oxford or Cambridge. It is possible that Mr Barlow's reception by the friends of Mr Shepherd might have been somewhat affected, at least at first, by the knowledge that he had purchased the living so promptly during the poor man's illness.
The Brigham family may have been too much afflicted by recent grief to notice – in January 1831 old Robert Brigham had died and was followed to the grave six months later by his son Robert, aged thirty. There are rumours of death by suicide in connection with the Brigham family, and it is possible that they began with the death of Robert junior.
Equally, there may have been those whose welcome to Mr Barlow was touched by their detection of simony in the appointment.
More practically, the fact that the young vicar's wife was nearly fifty years old – if indeed this was apparent or became known – may have produced some social uneasiness.
Again, for all Barlow's insistence on his family's gentility – evidenced throughout his 1872 novel – he could not deny that both his grandfathers were in trade, while his hand-to-mouth childhood in Dublin was not the upbringing of a gentleman. On the other hand, he could speak of his brother James, a Hampshire landowner and MP for Southampton, and his brother John would before long marry a young lady whose brother-in-law was the Earl of Pomfret, the Deputy Lieutenant of the North Riding.
Most curious of all is the connection between Mr Barlow and the family of the Faceby cartwright James Stanger and his wife Isabella Thompson.
The informant on Mr Barlow's death certificate is their son James Stanger, by then a tenant farmer at Kirby Sigston near Northallerton, and he is described by the registrar as Mr Barlow's cousin . This could obviously be quite a distant connection, and research indicates that it was most probably between the Barlow family in Lancashire and Isabella Stanger's father, John Thompson, whose family appeared in the Faceby area in the late 18th century. When and how it was realised on both sides that there was a connection between the two families is not known – it is also possible that communication between the families had never been lost, and that it was through the Thompsons and Stangers that Robert Barlow heard of the possible vacancy at Hutton Rudby.
 Institution Act Books 19-24 at the Borthwick
 his first entry in the parish registers was made on 9 Feb 1831
 John Walker Ord, History of Cleveland, 1846
 in his annotations to Ord's History; copy held at Northallerton Library
 Great Ayton: History of the Village by Dan O’Sullivan
 see Jane Austen and the Clergy by Irene Collins
 Archbishop Musgrave's Visitation
 Thomas Parrington 1818-1915: A Biographical Sketch by Sir Alfred Pease 1923; quoted by Norman Moorsom, in A Journey through the History of Middlesbrough 1993
 The Cleveland Repertory 1 Oct 1845
 the figures that follow are taken from White's Directory 1840
 Two Letters, on Tithes and Corn Laws, addressed to the Hon William Duncombe, MP by Thomas Mease, 1833
 Two Ancient Townships by Grace Dixon 1991
 J C MacDonnell, Life and Correspondence of William Connor Magee (1896) Vol 2, p283
 the registrar was Joseph Mease; there is no likelihood of mistake in the entry