Sir Robert Robinson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1947 for his research on plant dyestuffs (anthocyanins) and alkaloids. He is also known for discovering the molecular structures of morphine and penicillin.
Born on September 13th 1886 in Chesterfield, England he had a very prestigious career and was awarded many accolades and awards including his Knighthood in 1939, the Commander de la Legion d’Honneur, Order of the Rising Sun, Medal of the Order of Australia, the Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia and the Order of Merit in 1949.
In 1899 at the age of thirteen he went to Fulneck School and his younger brother, Victor Owen, joined him in 1900 at the age of nine. Robert went on to graduate with First Class Honours in Chemistry at Manchester in 1905. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society before the age of 30 and gained his first Chair of Organic Chemistry in Sydney between 1912-1914 and then held similar positions in St Andrews, Manchester and London, following his return to Great Britain. Since 1930 he was Waynflete Professor of Chemistry at Oxford and in the same year was awarded the Davy Medal by the Royal Society for his work on the constitution and synthesis of natural products, and for his contributions to the theory of original reactions. During WWII he played an important role in the development of Penicillin.
In 1953, Fulneck’s Bicentenary year, School invited Robert to present the prizes to the children at Speech Day. Robin Hutton who was present at the time remembers “Rev Jim Lewis as the Head and I were very impressed at the time by Robert’s quiet voice and very modest manner”. Another Fulneck resident remembers Robert at Speech Day as being ‘rather untidily dressed’ as he was apparently going on a climbing holiday with his brother straight afterwards. It is also remembered that he challenged the boys with the words “we have discovered penicillin and it is your task how to synthesise it”.
There was a quotation in the local press of the time. “I attribute the success of Fulneck Boys School to the very careful planning of the earlier Brethren of the Moravian Church who were not only idealists but also first class business men”.
In 1955 Robert retired and was appointed Emeritus Professor and Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College. In 1962 he was honoured by The Chemical Society by establishing a Robert Robinson Lectureship, to be delivered biennially in lieu of the usual Presidential address.
Robert was invited back to Fulneck in 1965 to formally open the Robinson Building – named after him. He died in 1975 leaving son and a daughter and his second wife Stearn.
Thanks to Robin Hutton and Joyce Jones .