March 24, 2014 | 0 Comments | Filed under: 2014, April 2014

Or so it was in July 1939 when Robinsons of Chesterfield celebrated their 100th anniversary by taking three thousand five hundred of their employees and guests on a day out to London.

John Robinson, one of the family firm, told of this amazing trip at the March meeting of Tideswell Local History Club. What a remarkable day this turned to be! It was organised in two months flat and with military precision. Eight special colour-coded steam trains left Chesterfield around 5am. The guests had a slap-up breakfast en-route, and were met by 72 buses in London and ferried in shifts to Westminster Abbey, the Tower and London Zoo.

All the guests had previously been given colour-coded badges and handbooks which kept them strictly to their own timetable. Only about four people missed the train – but what a day they missed!

Robinsons must be one of the oldest companies in Britain. Originally they were potters, but by the 1600s had moved to producing clay tobacco pipes. In 1839 they bought a pill box company from a Mr Fletcher of Middleton by Youlgreave and grew to be the largest cardboard box manufacturer in the country (at one time they were sending 4.5 million Smartie tubes to York every week).

The Crimean War encouraged Robinsons to diversify into lint manufacture and the production of surgical dressings and so they became a major employer in Chesterfield.

All the employees must have been over-awed by the London trip. “They had never eaten so much food in their lives” with luncheon and high tea at Lyons Corner Houses and another meal on the train going home. Having seen the sights of London, they all attended a special variety concert in the Albert Hall which had 12 different acts on during the night including Tommy Trinder and Binnie Hale. The company employed a large number of teenage girl operatives and to look after their moral welfare in the big city, they were taken late to London Zoo and then bussed directly to the Albert Hall. At one point during the evening a large deputation of the Robinson family came on stage to welcome and thank their employees. Interestingly, the Albert Hall only cost £150 to hire, whilst the artistes stood them at £600. For today’s equivalent John works on a ratio of: £1 in 1939 money is equivalent to £50 today. This puts the cost of the entire trip at £300,000!

A few years ago, John tried to cost a similar excursion at today’s prices, but soon found out that in our whiz-kid, computer-driven age, such a mass-movement of the people would be impossible to lay on.

Such was the scale of the whole operation that it caught the attention of the media. There were several big features in the press and newsreel footage of the trip was being shown in picture houses.

On a much more sober footing, the organisers were instructed to note the whereabouts of A.R.P. air-raid shelters in case WW2 was declared. It started two months later.

Thanks very much John for the “Trip of a Lifetime”- a superb piece of social history.

Brian Woodall.


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