Claude Robinson (b.1898): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Claude Robinson (b.1898): An Introduction

‘The Anti-Labour elements, who had bitterly resented my appointment as Headmaster, came to recognise that I was only concerned about the welfare of the children and the school.’ (pg.5) Robinson, C. (1982) These We Have Loved (New Horizon, Bognor Regis)

Jarrow schoolboys in the 1930s

Born in Shelborne in 1898, Claude Robinson was the second son of a mill girl and a schoolteacher, and it seems as if his path to teaching was set in stone from the very beginning. His schoolwork was exceptional. Attending Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield in 1911 and studying at Oxford University from 1917-1920, this talented young man seemed to be destined for a significant life amidst the scholarly side of society. My first impressions of Claude Robinson upon reading the opening chapters of his memoir are ones of resounding respect and integrity – it was clear to me from the start that I was becoming acquainted with a man with a set of principles that he had abided by throughout his illustrious career in the realm of education. His reason for writing this chronicle of his life was not out of egoism or mere reminiscence, for even this documentation of his past was an effort to challenge misleading views on politics in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as directly accuse the Labour Party, of which he was once a part of, of moral bankruptcy. Despite being a political activist and his strong opinions on the education system, he was a teacher first and foremost thus his thoughts never strayed far from this passion for teaching that would elevate him to the position of headmaster at Jarrow School in 1934, and the children whom he wished to save from a hopeless educational system which he believed was sinking into an abyss:

We shall be reading the history of Jarrow, and indeed the country at large. The pit into which the nation, and particularly our educational system, has since sunk, and above all the causes of our present discontents, can be seen to be unfolded, as I hope, in these pages’ (pg.4)

The memoir itself is typed and meticulously organised, featuring a table of contents and a notes section which contains references as well as notes from the author. I found this level of detail rather fascinating when comparing it to other memoirs that I encountered before I decided to study Robinson (as many memoirs were handwritten and difficult to navigate without contents), as it seemed to be composed with future study in mind because of the effort Robinson put into it to make it easy to navigate for readers. This retroactive preparation serves as a testament to Robinson’s foresight, and shows that he was dedicated to teaching the newer generations even late in his days. The conviction he had in his words is further evidenced in the brief reviews section before the table of contents, where comments from various professors and reviewers praise his work and give further context to its reception at the time of its publication. Even in the way it is organised and put together, Robinson’s memoir serves the purpose of providing as much information and context as possible in a way that ensures its meaning will not be lost to the times. What we can learn from the layout of the memoir is that Claude Robinson was comprehensive in his distinctions and hoped that this memoir would serve as a historical resource in the future, on a political period that is often clouded by misconceptions.

It is important to note that this memoir is the second volume in a chronicling of Robinson’s life, and covers a large portion of his career in education. Whilst it is a shame I am unable to get a good look into his childhood and derive any motivations for his movements later in life, I feel it is apt that I prioritise his working life as Robinson himself makes it clear in style of writing that his personal life is secondary to the context that surrounds it. What makes this memoir unique is that Robinson himself feels like an observer in his own story, and the focus is on what is happening around him and who he encounters, rather than the man himself. His opinion is given a strong presence, yet the man himself is distant and enigmatic, and this makes the reader work to discover who he truly is. I feel that the purpose of why this memoir was written is the key to divulging information on the writer, as of now, though, Claude Robinson remains a distant figure.


Robinson, C. (1982) These We Have Loved (New Horizon, Bognor Regis)

Other Reading

Savage, M. (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century

Pugh, M. (2009) We Danced All Night: A Social History of Britain Between the Wars

Gardner, J. (2011) The Thirties

Ennis, F. (1982) The Jarrow march of 1936: the symbolic expression of protest, Durham theses, Durham University

Maconie, S. (2017) Long Road to Jarrow

Goodman, J., McColloch., Richardson, W. (2008) Social Change in the History of Britain

Woolf, V. (1953) A Writer’s Diary

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-47 .

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363 

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70 

Rogers, Helen and Emily Cuming, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Family & Community History, 21:3 (2019): 180-201, DOI:

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