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Matthias Robinson and Sons department stores

Robinson's differed from the other West Hartlepool department stores in being spread over several different sites, the company having expanded by taking over other premises.  Matthias Robinson, having spent six or seven months with a local draper, opened his first shop at 79 Lynn Street in September 1875.  The staff consisted of one female assistant and an errand lad.  Expansion followed quickly :

By Christmas, the upper rooms were added as a mantle and millinery showroom

Spring 1876, more rooms were added

Spring 1878, Hutchinson's at No. 77 was bought for the 'fancy trade'

Spring 1886, The adjacent shops of Brewis and Malham were bought. 

At this point, Robinson owned all the premises on the east side of Lynn Street between Catherine Street and Thomas Street.  After structural alterations and a new facade, these were incorporated in to a single building which was named Manchester House.  There was then further expansion.  Birk's Coliseum on the opposite side of Lynn Street and the corner of Lamb Street was bought and stocked with furniture and hardware.  Goodson's premises, also in Lynn Street, was bought and renamed Bon Marche.

In Spring 1895, the branch at Stockton opened but was destroyed by fire in 1899 and replaced by a larger structure.  This was designed by the architects Harry Barnes and Frederick Coates of Sunderland and was built with a steel frame encased in plaster.  Called the Coliseum, it opened in May 1901 and had 48 departments and a cafe/restaurant. 

As well as the shops, Robinson's had various works.  Two were in West Hartlepool, in Lambton Street and at the back of Lamb Street, and one was in Stockton at East Street and Wellington Street.  The latter manufactured furniture and bedding and had its own electricity supply from three 50hp gas engines.

Lynn House, on the other side of Catherine Street from Manchester House, was opened on 21st March 1907.  It stocked clothing, mercery, and boots and shoes.  Its opening was announced in a two-page advertising spread in the Northern Daily Mail the previous day.  This has provided much of the material for this note and, not unnaturally, it spoke very highly of the new premises.  The architects were Harry Barnes and his new partner Charles P. Burton of West Hartlepool.  The building was described as "thoroughly modern and up-to-date in every respect while possessing something of an old world charm".  It was claimed to be the first example in the town of ferro-concrete construction and said to be fireproof as there was no danger of the collapse found during fires in ordinary steel framed buildings.  The corner window was the "finest in the town" and was only possible because the larger separation between the supporting columns achievable with this type of construction.  A feature of the upper parts was the use of faience that did not use a high glaze and so avoided unpleasant reflections.  The circular windows were decorated with paintings (by Boanson & Son) of the other Robinson premises in West Hartlepool and Stockton.  The building was lit by electricity and heated by gas radiators of the "latest and most approved type".

By this time, the workforce numbered over 400.  The next expansion was the purchase in 1912 of buildings on the corner of Musgrave Street and Whitby Street.  These re-opened in 1913 as Birmingham House.  Robinson's played an important part in West Hartlepool with children for many years looking forward to the the Christmas Bazaar when Santa would arrive at the station and travel to the store on a house on wheels.

Matthias Robinson became a substantial figure in West Hartlepool, being a JP and a member of the first council of the town.  One of the large properties in Westbourne Road was built as his home, though it is said that because of his wife’s bronchial trouble the family moved to Stockton on doctors’ advice.  They lived at Hartburn in a property called Landieu.

The furthest the Robinson company reached was Leeds where they occupied premises in Briggate, later extending into King Edward Street.  It was regarded as an up-market shop, though not quite as smart as the branch of Marshall & Snelgrove.  This and the rest of the organisation was acquired by Debenham's in 1962 in a £2.8m take-over.  With the opening of the Middleton Grange shopping centre, the Hartlepool shops were doomed and all were demolished in the late 1960s.  The Stockton and Leeds shops continued as branches of Debenham's until the company collapsed in 2020.

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