Lilian Robinson - A Profile
(First published in 1985 in volume 1, pp. 67-68, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)
'Life seems to have started with my retirement.' When I asked Miss Robinson for a few details on which to base this short biography that is how her reply began. Of course it is not true, because compared to some of us she has had two or three lives. Talking about her work she says,
"I held an administrative post in the hospital service, and in what seems another existence, during part of the war years, I looked after Busby's publicity - wrote advertisements and organized demonstrations, including the Christmas Grotto and Fashion Parades."1
After the war Miss Robinson worked with UNRRA in Poland, where she saw the harrowing after-effects of the Warsaw uprising.
In 1970, at the beginning of her retirement, Miss Robinson was living in St. Albans, where she joined the Association of Honorary Guides, showing visitors round the Cathedral and Roman sites. This gave her an appetite for the past, so that when she returned to Bradford she began work on the history of Frizinghall, where she was born. This homely pursuit led to strange strands to far off Texas, where Hank Green, whose roots were planted in Frizinghall in 1597, was attempting to unravel his pedigree. It was an enquiry in the 'Bradford Telegraph' which resulted in correspondence between Miss Robinson and Henry S. Green and the establishment of 'the research team of Robinson and Green'. The quest which followed covered much ground, taking in Tong and many other places where the Greens had lived. Visits were exchanged and in 1977 Miss Robinson went to Fort Worth and helped to compile a delightfully comprehensive book called The Green Footprints, in which, to her amusement, she appears as 'a crack genealogist' and 'the well-known historian of Frizinghall'. A prodigious amount of work went into the making of the book, and for those who are not specially interested in the Green family there are chapters on 'How to translate Old English', 'Developments in Carrier Transport' and 'Haunts of Robin Hood'.
Although Miss Robinson is highly experienced in many fields of research (she would not wish to be called an expert) she is still a student, as I found when I worked alongside her at a W.E.A. class conducted by Dr. George Redmonds. 'Tong Street', the exhibition in May 1984 at Bradford Central Library, which was one of the results of the three year course, contained a detailed, illustrated history of Tong farms and homesteads compiled by Miss Robinson.
Miss Robinson is happiest when confronted with a box of unexamined documents, preferably belonging to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, to be transcribed and classified. Among her many transcriptions are the Quarter Sessions Order Books (1647-1733), a copy of which can be seen at Wakefield Registry of Deeds, and sections of the Tong Manuscripts. She attributes her 'conversion' to an occasion at Claremont, the home of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, where,
"Some years ago, seeing other people transcribing old documents and listing them for the files, I asked the archivist if I could help. It seemed such a great privilege to be able to handle precious documents, some unopened for centuries … and I have been doing it ever since."
As proof of this Miss Robinson has sent me a two-page copy of her description of two boxes of documents from the Duke of Leeds's collection at the Y.A.S., of which over fifty boxes are still unexamined. Her present project is Lady Hasting's Trust, which from 1739 provided, among other things, schools for orphan children, the girls being trained for domestic service and the boys for farm work. By no means among the odds and ends of her accomplishments are copies of the 1641 Protestation Returns for Bradford, involving hours of patient transcribing, and work on the Heaton Enclosure Award. In all cases Miss Robinson is careful to leave a copy of her transcription with the original document, and also to send a copy to any institution which might benefit from it.
Miss Robinson is engaged in what can truly be called a labour of love, for there is no pay or special praise for this time-consuming job, and no expense account. The reward is the deep satisfaction in doing work of one's own choice, while at the same time being of service to others. But a warning is necessary here. Miss Robinson's charity does not extend to those whose studies lie in the well-charted regions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After all, what do people want with books and newspapers when there are over fifty boxes of old documents still to explore in one collection alone?
1. Busbys, a household name in Bradford for over seventy years, was established as a department store in 1908. It merged with Debenhams in 1958 and closed down in 1978. The magnificent premises in Manningham Lane were completely destroyed by a fire a year later. (back)
© 1985, The Bradford Antiquary