Joseph Robinson was born in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire on 23 April 1818. He was the son of John, a weaver, and his wife Rosanna. Coalbrookdale is where iron ore was first smelted by Abraham Darby in the early eighteenth century, using easily mined “coking coal”. The coal was drawn from drift mines in the sides of the valley. As it contained far fewer impurities than normal coal, the iron it produced was of a superior quality. Along with many other industrial developments which were going on in other parts of the country, this discovery was a major factor in the growing industrialisation of Britain, which was to become known as the Industrial Revolution. There may be a small element of being born in the right place at the right time, but Joseph certainly made the most of these circumstances.
In 1850 Joseph was invited to take an active share in the arrangements of the Great Exhibition, he was introduced by Richard Cobden to Prince Albert and worked tirelessly on the committee. Joseph was described as “a very intelligent man” by Richard Cobden. In 1852 he was in Paris liaising with Emperor Napoleon on commercial treaties between the two countries, for which he was offered the Legion of Honour.
Joseph appears to have played a part in Berkhamsted’s local community. The Bucks Herald of March 1874 lists Joseph and family at the final meeting for the season of the Mechanics’ Institute and that he donated a musical box as part of the exhibition. In the Bucks Advertiser June 1874 Joseph is listed as a trustee of the Berkhamsted Gas Company along with Colonel Smith-Dorrien. He was also one of the most generous subscribers to the Town hall building fund, with a gift of £150.
At the time of his death, from a heart condition, Joseph had permanently moved to Clarendon House in St John’s Wood Park London but his body was brought by train from London to be buried with his wife Hannah at the grounds of the Berkhamsted Meeting House. He was carried by hearse from the station with a following of nine mourning carriages, further mourners met them at the grave side.
Janice Boakes, Chronicle v.XVII (Mar 2020).