1972: Robinsons burns down, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

1972: Robinsons burns down

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Englishman Philip Robinson set up Spicer and Robinson with business partner James Spicer in 1857. Out of Commercial Square (present day Raffles Place ), the family warehouse sold everything from crackers, ham, cheese, tea and even gypsy hats.

Two years later, Mr Robinson had a new partner, Mr George Rappa, after Mr Spicer pulled out. Calling itself Robinson and Co, the warehouse was then located opposite St Andrew's cathedral. Customers included royalty from Siam (present day Thailand).

Mr Stamford Raffles Robinson (probably named after the founder of Singapore) took over from his father in 1886 and moved the business back to Raffles Place. It was later renamed Robinson's Department Store.

For almost 100 years, it operated without major drama but all that changed on Nov 21, 1972.

It was just before 10am and the staff had already started work. An overloaded electrical branch circuit on the ground floor of the building caused a short circuit which started a fire, but no one noticed it initially.

The fire spread quickly and the store's in-house fire-fighting squad evacuated people while trying to put it out.

There were not enough fire protection measures. Fuelled by large amounts of combustible goods kept in unauthorised loft stores, the fire turned into an inferno.

Fire trucks were at Raffles Place by 10.13am but two nearby water hydrants were not functioning properly and the water pressure was too low. The firemen had to pump water from the Singapore River.

The fire was so intense, it damaged the roof of the Overseas Union Bank next door.

The blaze was finally extinguished hours later and rescuers found the bodies of nine people.

After a 40-day inquiry, a Commission of Inquiry produced a report with a series of recommendations which are still being followed. These include the inspection of unauthorised additions and alterations to buildings.

On Dec 11, 1972, a new Robinson's Department Store opened at Specialists' Centre on Orchard Road. It is now at The Heeren, with branches in Raffles City and Jem in Jurong.


Posters from the 1960s and 70s promoted family planning (below) and discouraged long hair which was associated with thugs and hooligans.

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