The Ilkley Invalid Couch

By Stanley Merridew

After seeing this illustration and the following article about a former local company I set about researching their origins.

Robinson & Sons, Invalid-Couch & Cabinetmakers, General House Furnishers, Carpet Warehousemen & Ironmongers, Ilkley

A conspicuous & capable business established in Ilkley is to be found in that of Messrs Robinson & Sons, the well-known & old established invalid couch & cabinet makers……….. For more than forty years this business has continued………………The precise date of inception was 1850 when operations were commenced by Thomas Robinson, who directed the concern alone until 1868. 

He was then joined by his four sons, Messrs Lister, Mark, John & Thomas Robinson………..The founder died in 1891 & the sons have have since constituted the firm……..The main building has a frontage of fifty feet.   The saleroom, offices and showroom are on the ground floor with another showroom on the first floor.  The workshops are at the rear consisting of a two storey building……………….. Employment is found for a force of something like thirty skilled hands………their couches and other articles being in demand in all parts of the world.  The Ilkley invalid couch, as it is called, was invented upwards of twenty years ago…….Its merits were fully recognised at the International Health Exhibition, London 1884 when it was awarded the gold medal………A valuable connection has been formed extending to every part of the United Kingdom among furniture dealers, ironmongers and private families and their invalid furniture is supplied to almost every quarter of the globe.      

(Taken from “The Century’s Progress”)

My first foray was to the 1851 census, following the suggestion above that the company was set up around 1850 but alas no Thomas Robinson, so I moved forward to the 1861 census and discovered the family living at Prospect House, Hangingstone.

Thomas Robinson was by this time age 49, married, shown as joiner & cabinet maker employing 4 men, born at Baildon.  His wife Ann, age 45 was also shown as born in Baildon.  The others in the household comprised:-

 John                   son unm  17 joiner’s son            born Baildon

Mark Robinson son unm  19 joiner’s son            born Baildon

Mary Ann          dau unm  13 scholar                    born Baildon

Sam                     son          8 scholar         born Ilkley

Thomas            son           11 scholar                     born Baildon

  Emma                 dau          6 scholar         born Ilkley

  Frederick            son          4 scholar              born Ilkley

 Ann Robinson    niece      20                               born Baildon

Thos Murgatroyd boarder mar 29 joiner         born Bingley

John Briggs        boarder unm 22 joiner            born Knaresborough

 Mary Butters      servant unm 16 house servant born Sherburn

This suggested they had moved to Ilkley around 1853.  However the article had mentioned another son, Lister.   Another search in the 1861 census revealed him as follows:-

Francis Dobson head mar 69 coach proprietor    born Ilkley

Elizabeth           wife  mar 70                                     born Langbar

William             son   unm 40                                     born Ilkley         

 Francis             son   unm 34                                    born Ilkley

Lister Robinson son in law mar 23 cab.maker      born Ilkley

Elizabeth Robinson dau mar 27                              born Ilkley

Albert Robinson grandson 1                                    born Ilkley

I reverted to the 1851 census and searched again, this time for Lister and found him living at Prospect House, Ilkley:-

Mary Lister head widow 57 lodging house keeper born Hampstwaite

Lister Robinson grandson 13 scholar                     born Ilkley

Mark Robinson grandson   9 scholar                      born Baildon

Edward Watson lodger      61 ag lab                       born Embsay  

This gave me a few points to ponder, firstly was the census entry correct regarding Lister’s birth.  Secondly it gave me Thomas’s wife’s maiden name – Lister.  Lastly the entry of Ann age 20 niece showed that Thomas had a brother or alternatively a sister with an illegitimate daughter.   I looked through the Ilkley parish register baptisms and found:-

12 June 1837 Lister son of Thomas junior & Anne Robinson of Hangingstone Joiner

This proved the family had moved to Ilkley prior to Lister’s birth and then moved back to Baildon for their own reasons!  The 1851 for Northgate, Baildon confirmed this:-

Thomas Robinson head mar 39 joiner & grocer born Baildon

Ann                       wife  mar 35                           born Baildon

John                       son           7 scholar              born Baildon

Mary Ann              dau           3 at home            born Baildon

         Thomas                  son           1                   born Baildon

The inclusion of the children assured me I had the correct family.             

Followed by the 1841 for Northgate, Baildon:-

Thos Robinson 29 joiner with wife Ann 26 & son Lister age 4

I next searched Baildon & Ilkley parish registers for the marriage of Thomas Robinson & Ann Lister without success but knowing the predominance of Otley parish at this time I tried again there and this time I discovered:-

6th July 1836 Thomas Robinson joiner bachelor of this parish

married by banns       Ann Lister spinster

witnesses were Thos Cawood & Thomas Longfield

To tidy things up I searched for their baptisms.  Ann was no problem as I found her in Baildon parish baptised on 14th May 1815 daughter of John Lister & Mary Wilks of Tong Park yeoman.  However the search for Thomas is not conclusive.  The only entry I could locate at Baildon was:-

Baptised 12th Jan 1812, born 8th Dec 1811 Thomas Robinson illegitimate son of Elizabeth

Could this man, who became such a well known figure in Ilkley have come from such lowly beginnings?   Lister’s baptism had suggested Thomas was the son of another Thomas.  Further research at Baildon gave me the baptism of Ann (the niece):-

14th March 1841 Ann daughter of John & Mary Robinson joiner of Baildon born 4th Feb 1840

Possibly the brother?   In the same volume, one page away I found:-

8th August 1841 Mark son of Thomas & Ann Robinson junior, joiner of Baildon.

Probably confirming the 1812 entry is erroneous and he was the son of another Thomas.  Although the baptism I was seeking seems to be adrift there is always the chance he was baptised at the Moravian church.  Alas the baptisms for this date are missing but the burials register shows that Robinson was the most common name of those attending the church.  I’ll leave that to those related to puzzle.  

It was from the 1860s that the town saw a huge expansion.   With the coming of the railway making Ilkley more accessible, the fame of Ilkley’s spa water spread and so did the industry it spawned.  This obviously aided a company producing specialist items for the invalid and infirm.

In 1868 the four eldest sons had joined the firm and according to David Carpenter, “Ilkley in the Victorian Era”, about this time the company moved to Tower Buildings at the foot of Cowpasture Road where Leconsfield House now stands. 

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