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Archive Reference / Library Class No.D5395
TitleRobinson and Sons Ltd of Chesterfield, textile and packaging manufacturers
RepositoryDerbyshire Record Office
Full Catalogue ListClick here to view a full list for this collection
Archive CreatorRobinson and Sons Ltd of Chesterfield, textile and packaging manufacturers
Administrative HistoryThe family:
The Robinson family originated in Bolsover. The name William Robinson appears in the Bolsover Manor Court records dated 27th June 1718. He is described as "lately of Chesterfield, pipe maker". Both his paretns are buried in Bolsover Parish Churchyard. Upon William's death in 1731, his property transferred to his youngest son, Paul. The Robinson family's association with Chesterfield then began, when Paul established his pottery business on Spa Lane. His brother, Thomas, continued to run the pottery business in Bolsover, together with Paul's son, William, until 1750. Paul Robinson had eight children, four of which died in infancy. His youngest son, Paul, succeeded his father in the Spa Lane business until his death in 1791.

In the 19th century, John Bradbury Robinson opened a small chemist shop in Packers Row, Chesterfield. The sale of this business led to the foundation of what became Robinson & Sons Ltd. John Bradbury Robinson was the third son of William and Ann Robinson. He was baptised on 2 May 1802, and later married his first cousin, Martha Bradbury. After John's death in 1869, his wife continued to live at Wheatbridge House, before moving to 1 Compton Street with her children Charles and Ann. When Ann died in June 1870, Martha moved in with her eldest daughter, Mary Woodhead at 'Spring Bank', Cobden Road.

Charles Portland Robinson married Eliza Slack in 1874. Their youngest son, Philip Moffat Robinson, took up residence at Park Hall in 1913, until moving to the newly built 'Rye Flatt' at the end of Oakland Avenue. After marrying Edith Rollin, he had two daughters, Kathleen and Irene, and two sons, Alec and Joyce. [See D3001/2-3]

Company organisation:
The history of Robinsons began in 1839 when John Bradbury Robinson took over a Mr Fletcher's business manufacturing pill boxes. John B Robinson was a son of William Robinson and Ann Bradbury and was born in 1802. Before embarking on the pill box business, he had spent 21 years as a chemist in Packer's Row, Chesterfield. Although Mr Fletcher had been based in Bradford Dale near Middleton by Youlgreave, John B Robinson transferred the manufacture to Wheatbridge Lawn in Brampton. This house had been built by John's grandfather William Robinson in 1770 but had been leased for many years to the Smith family, proprietors of the Griffin foundry in Brampton and major employers in the Brampton area from the 1770s to the 1830s. In 1833, John's father William Robinson bought back Wheatbridge House and adjoining property for £550 from the Smiths.

John B Robinson was joined in the business by his son William Bradbury Robinson (1826-1911), and father and son became partners in 1854 under the name John B Robinson and Son. In 1858, John B Robinson's second son Charles Portland Robinson (1844-1916) joined the firm. On the death of John B Robinson in 1869, Charles Portland became a partner and the company's name was changed to Robinson and Sons. On 25 Oct 1893 the business was converted into a limited company. The first three directors were William B Robinson, Charles P Robinson and William's son William B Robinson II. William B Robinson I became the company's first Chairman. During the twentieth century the firm remained under the direction of various family members. Charles P Robinson was Chairman from 1911 until his death in 1916. He was followed in that role by William B Robinson II (1917), Charles W Robinson (1924), Col. Victor O Robinson (1945), Ernest B Robinson (1962), Charles P Robinson II (1973), and Robert Robinson (1978). Other Robinson family members took on roles as Directors. It was not until 1988 that the first non-Robinson Chairman was appointed: Tony K Slipper, formerly of Cadbury-Schweppes, who worked closely with Philip Robinson who had been appointed as Chief Executive the previous year.

The firm's first products were round pill boxes. In 1846 a square box department was founded, and the following year the manufacture of willow-boxes (also known as chip boxes) was begun under the direction of William B Robinson. By the 1850s a warehouse had been opened at 17 Bouverie Street, London, for distribution of the products, but by 1854 the chip box business was failing and William was keen to find something else on which to concentrate. The Crimean War had led to greater demand for medical dressings, and William bought a second hand lint frame, studied it, and invented the world's first power-operated lint frame. From that time on, Robinsons developed two separate departments: the box department and the cotton, later called dressings, department.

In 1954 the separation of boxes and dressings was formalised by the establishment of divisional boards. The Box Division was re-named the Packaging Division in September 1965, while the Dressings Division was re-named the Healthcare Division between June and July 1987. Further changes occurred in 1988 when Robinsons and Sons Ltd adopted a new corporate identity and the name 'Robinson'.

Boxes/Packaging Division:
Pill box manufacture had begun in 1839, rigid boxes in 1846, willow chip boxes in 1847, and turned wood boxes in 1859. In 1880, production of willow and turned wood boxes ceased. At first, Robinsons' business was carried out in the house at Wheatbridge, and later in various stables and outhouses. The Holme Brook Works were purchased in 1884 for production of pill boxes. In 1890 production of folding boxes was begun and in 1892 a printing department was opened. Lithographic printing started in 1901. The folding box department later transferred from Wheatbridge to the Holme Brook Works. In 1920, following a great increase in the number of Robinsons' employees, land near Wheatbridge Works was purchased and a new factory built, called Portland Works. The folding box department moved into Portland Works in the 1920s and 1930s, while the manufacture of round boxes was based at Wheatbridge Mills. By the mid 20th century, Robinsons' factories were spread over a large area by the side of the river Hipper in Brampton.

In 1924, John B Robinson II invented the 'Little John Drum' spiral tube box. Spiral tube winding production started in 1938, and gained immense importance when the Rowntrees order for 'Smarties' tubes was obtained in 1956. The box division suffered a blow in 1969 when the National Health Service ceased to use round boxes for storage of pills and ointments, but in the 1970s packaging diversified into plastic products, predominantly by the purchase of I E White, later re-named Robinson White Plastics. The changes in the packaging market led to the closure of the square box department and the Holme Brook Works in 1981. In 1988, Robinson Packaging was re-organised and a Gift Products department established in Leeds.

Dressings division:
The work of the cotton department began with the manufacture of lint in 1855, and progressed to other surgical dressings. The entire process, from spinning, weaving and bleaching of the raw materials to manufacture and sale of the finished product, was carried out by Robinsons. The Walton Works were purchased in 1896, and in 1899 the old Walton corn mill property and Walton Mill Dam were bought in order to get water for bleaching the cotton products. New bleach works were built at Whaley Bridge in 1950 in partnership with the company Edward Hall and Brother, and bleaching at Walton ceased in 1953.

Robinsons began the large-scale commercial production of surgical products such as bandages, gauze and cotton wool. Production of gauze tissue was begun in 1884, patents were taken out for the production of the first sanitary towels in the 1880s, and in 1895 a patent was acquired for the manufacture of cellulose wadding. In 1897 production of Gamgee Tissue started, following Dr Gamgee's assignment of his patent to Robinsons. Robinsons also began to produce antiseptic dressings at this time. The late 1940s and 1950s were a time of great importance as the 'Mene' sanitary towel, the 'Paddi-Pad' disposable nappy, and the 'Paddi' waterproof disposable nappy holder began production. The 'Nikini' sanitary towel brand was launched in 1960. In the early 1980s, the dressings division enjoyed success with the Cosifits disposable diaper and the 'Soft and Pure' range of healthcare and cosmetic products, but in the late 1980s the division was re-organised and re-named 'Healthcare' to reflect changing priorities. The diapers side of the business became a separate joint venture company in partnership with DSG.

The first subsidiary company established by Robinsons was Cellulose Wadding Supplies Ltd, set up in 1929 to deal with the sales side of the cellulose wadding department. In the 1930s, Australian and New Zealand subsidiaries (Cotton Dressings Proprietary Ltd, and R O Chesterfield Ltd) were set up for the manufacture of cotton wool. Other, already existing, companies were bought up by Robinsons in the middle part of the 20th century and sold off in the 1980s as the firm decided to concentrate on core business activities. These included J J Blow Ltd, manufacturers of milk filters and dairy equipment, with a factory on Oldfield Road in Chesterfield, which was purchased in 1941and sold in 1986; Edward Taylor Ltd, medical and surgical adhesive plaster manufacturers, of Monton near Eccles in Manchester, bought in 1959 and closed in 1990; Pressure Sealed Plastics (PSP), which was bought in 1966, re-named Flexus Plastics Ltd in 1987 and sold in 1989; Spire Transport, also purchased in 1966 and sold in 1988; and I E White, based in Kirby-in-Ashfield, which was bought in 1974, and re-organised as Robinson Packaging - Plastic Products in 1988.

Employee welfare:
Robinson and Sons was well known in the Chesterfield area for its enlightened attitude to employee welfare. In 1928 the firm bought Field House (the former residence of the late W B Robinson II) and built a large canteen known as Bradbury Hall, which was the venue for the employees' welfare and canteen facilities. Bradbury Hall closed in January 1984. In the 1920s the Directors of the company, in particularly Philip Moffat Robinson, also established the Wheatbridge Housing Association in order to provide low-cost housing for the workforce. Many clubs and societies for Robinsons' employees, such as the Sports Club and the Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, were also set up during the 1920s and flourished for many years. The company magazine, 'The Link', kept the workforce abreast of current developments.

A serious flood in 1922 destroyed the majority of early company records. The earliest volumes which have survived are a cotton department purchase ledger dating back to 1865 (D5395/3/2/1), a bank book dated 1850 (D5395/3/5/11) and a fragmentary wages book dating from 1842-1845 (D5395/4/2/1). For many years the company archives were stored in the Muniment Room established by Philip Moffat Robinson in 1952, first at Bradbury Hall and then in the Wheatbridge complex.
Custodial HistoryThe majority of these records were deposited in Derbyshire Record Office by the firm in January, February and and April 2001, with further deposits made in September 2003 and March 2010. Additional records were donated by Brampton Living History Group (via Chesterfield Library) in October 2003 and a private individual in March 2019. A large addition was also received via Chesterfield Museum in June 2018.
Organisation Sub-TypeTextiles
Related MaterialFor printed company histories and brochures including Robinsons of Chesterfield Centenary 1839-1939 (privately printed, 1939), Supplement to the Robinsons of Chesterfield by Philip Robinson (privately printed, 1961), and Robinsons of Chesterfield, illustrated brochure (1963), see D3001 B/1/1-4

A copy of Robinson and Sons Ltd, Chesterfield, 1839-1989 by the Chesterfield and District Local History Society, 1989, is available in the Derbyshire Record Office search room (XP 1431), as is Pill Boxes and Bandages - a Chesterfield Story by Crichton Porteus (privately printed by Robinson and Sons Ltd)

For the personal papers of E B Robinson, including his business papers, and those relating to his time as Mayor of Chesterfield, see D3000.

Ebenezer Smith's Griffin Ironworks records are at Sheffield City Archives (ref SSC1/7/3)
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