‘Robins’ Breakfasts’ – 1911 to 1938

12 December 2020

In their collection of their grandfather’s memories, Joy Cross and Margaret Staple give a wonderful insight into the momentous task that local businessman A E Shepherd took on in running the annual ‘Robins’ Breakfasts,’ an exercise supported by townsfolk to ensure that the poorest children of Loughborough had a good meal on Christmas Day.

In 1913, thirty-nine-year-old Arthur Shepherd was asked to take over organising the Christmas Day ‘poor children’s breakfast’ which had been running in the town for twenty-five years, managed by a Mr Faulks.

A father himself and owner of a growing painting and decorating business, Arthur was a ‘poor boy done good’ and understood the difficulties faced by many working families. So he agreed to take on the task.

In his first year, Arthur kept the organisation of the event as it had been, but changed it to his own idea of ‘what a Christmas breakfast should be’ from the second year onwards. He sought donations of goods and money from local businesses and all labour – including his own – was given freely.

‘The money always came and the work was done voluntarily. Many people looked upon their subscriptions as a debt which they owed me.’

Initially, the cost of staging the annual event came to £15, but with the improvements he made to the menu and the addition of presents for the children, this rose to over £50 by the time the scheme was ended.

Initially, 600 children were provided with a breakfast, rising to close on 700 as the organisation grew.  Arthur ensured each child ate ‘bread, cut thin, with butter not margarine, Lacey’s best pork pie, followed by best plum cake with plenty of good tea.’

‘On leaving the hall each child was given an orange, mince pie and a bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate. In later years Mr T Cartwright of Cartwright and Warner’s provided me with a new sixpenny piece to be given to each child. After Mr Cartwright’s death, Mr Malcolm Moss stepped into the breach and gave a silver threepenny bit’.

Arthur Shepherd ran his ‘Robins’ Breakfasts’ for twenty-five years until the war in 1938 brought in rationing.  Local businesses were no longer able to supply the quantities of food needed and there was no alternative but to stop.

‘It was very hard work for the few days before Christmas and we had to have our own Christmas festivities on Boxing Day,’ he says in his memoirs. But ‘it had become one of Loughborough’s Christmas institutions’ and Arthur was ‘sorry to give it up.’ 

Arthur was presented with a framed picture of the Good Shepherd by Loughborough Education Committee in thanks for his years of hard work.  The presentation was something of a surprise – both to Arthur and to Mayor due to make it.  The picture, it turned out, had been locked safely in the Council Offices with the caretaker gone away for Christmas.  So the ‘presentation’ took place on Christmas morning without the actual present. ‘It was all very amusing [and] the present came later during the week.’

Compiled by Alison Mott

Letter in Loughborough Echo on 12th December 1924.
‘Robins’ Breakfast’ c1920 – from ‘Bygone Loughborough in Photographs’, (Pub. Leics Libraries & Information Services.)

‘Memories of a Loughborough Man: A E Shepherd 1872-1962’ (Ed. Joy cross and Margaret Staple. Pub. Dept of Adult Education, University of Nottingham, 1994.)
‘Loughborough Echo – The First One Hundred Years’ (Pub. 1991.)
‘Bygone Loughborough in Photographs’, (Pub. Leics Libraries & Information Services.)