Thursday, 18 February 2010

Robinsons Department Store

Does anyone remember Robinsons which I think was near Raffles Place? We all used to shop there and I think that it was very popular with British families. I remember at Christmas, it would be decorated with a giant hoarding showing Father Christmas in his sleigh being pulled by several reindeer. Underneath, in large letters, it said, 'Merry Christmas!' The colour photos shown here were taken by my parents' friends, George and Kit Holden. The first photo shows Robinsons store and the next photo shows the nearby John Little. I
notice that George has his mozzie repellent socks on! Those things loved nipping your legs. I don't think that there are any mozzies left in Singapore nowadays!
Unfortunately, Robinsons store met with an unhappy ending and the story was carried in the local paper :
Robinson's Inferno kills nine.
21st November 1972.
A pregnant woman was among nine people when a fire razed Robinsons department store in Raffles Place. It was one of the worst fires in Singapore's history.
The fire which started at 9.55am, was believed to have been caused by a short circuit on the first floor of the four-storey building. By the time it was brought under control at 12,20pm, the store, which had occupied the building for decades, had been razed to the ground. Also destroyed were millions of dollars' worth of consumer goods waiting for Christmas shoppers.
The nine who died were mainly store employees, including pregnant salesgirl, Ainon Mohamed Tahir, 21.
Robinsons peon Ibrahim Shahul, who managed to escape, said he smelt burning rubber just before thick smoke and flames came roaring in. 'Then the lights went out. I heard someone shouting in the dark that the lift had stoped and that an expectant mother, a tourist and three others were trapped in it,' he said.
As the fire raged, businesses in Raffles Place were widely affected. The Stock Exchange in Clifford House, Collyer Quay, had to stop trading shortly after 11am. Police Reserve Unit troops and Criminal Investigation Department officers were called into control the crown and keep looters out of the area.Losses were estimated at around $14 million.
After the fire, Robinsons relocated to Orchard Road and today can be found at The Centrepoint Shopping Centre where they moved to in 1983.The Robinson Group nowadays manage John Little, Marks and Spencer, Principles, Trucco, Coast, River Island and Fat Face. It seems a long way from the Department Store in Raffles Place that we all used to love visiting.


  1. I remember Robinson's at Raffles Place for the large toy department which was a favourite of mine! Another thing I looked forward to was the visit to the cafe that served delicious Chicken Pies (which my mother tells me was around the corner from Raffles Place along Battery Road) that usually accompanied our trips to the store. I still remember the smell of the cafe very well!

    I remember the fire as well, hearing about the unfortunate people who had been trapped in the lifts. I also remember there was a British jeweller who managed to save his collection of diamonds which was on display at the store from the fire.

  2. I was born & raised in Singapore & was on my way to Robinson's on the day of the fire to collect some photos I was having developed. I never got there as the whole place was on fire. It was just terrible. The lift operator who I remembered as a little child was killed & this is where the 'In Case of Fire, Do not use Lift' came from. Robinson's was a wonderful experience especially at Christmas time. I still have a Limoge china plate I bought a couple of days before the fire.

  3. My retired colleague Tan Cheng Teck was formerly working at Robinsons Department Store with his brother and sister there before the fire. I've shared a link to this blog for Cheng Teck to remember that sad and fateful day of Robinsons fire.

    It reminds me of my personal witness of the Bukit Ho Swee Fire which I had created the "I grew up in Bukit Ho Swee" group on Facebook at:!/topic.php?uid=21314871472&topic=12605

    Memories, bad or good, are made of these stuff in our lifetime like the days of the Japanese Occupation which my own parents went through, but whatever it is, we have to survive and move on regardless ...