In 1941 most of the firm’s key staff were on army or territorial service, while the main factory at Forest Gate in London was working flat out. Who then could go to Chesterfield and set up the new plant? The directors chose Hilda Clark, who had joined the firm as a teenager and worked her way up to manage the sample room. It was a wise decision. Clark ran the Chesterfield factory successfully until she retired in 1963. But, as boss Sydney Marks recalls below, her first experience there was not easy.

Sydney J Marks remembers

‘It was Saturday 7th April 1941 that Mr Bonner driving an 8hp Standard, with Miss Clark, a tea chest filled with stationery, a typewriter perched on top, suitcases, hat boxes etc, called to collect me from an army course in Watford. On the way Mr Bonner told us of the tremendous difficulties he had had to get the ruins of the old Chesterfield Brewery waterproof and habitable. The three of us had dinner in this room, and Mr Bonner and I spent the rest of the evening trying to cheer up Miss Clark. We were living in rather trying times, she was leaving home for the first time, the job looked a bit much when she was closer up to it and she didn’t know a soul in the place. On Sunday morning we took the tea chest over to the warehouse, helped her unpack it, showed her round the building, such as it was, a patched-up ruin; she was horrified. We showed her where to find the Labour Exchange, as it was called in those days, told her the job was all hers, wished her good luck and left her to it.’

Chesterfield factory

Seeking a safer place to make sweets, far from Nazi bombs, the firm found an old brewery in Derbyshire. Created within the chaos of wartime, the Chesterfield factory was to become one of Trebor’s most important operations.

Chesterfield’s advantages

The Chesterfield authorities were keen to welcome Robertson & Woodcock as potential investors. The chairman of the town’s development committee had already written in February 1939 to extol the virtues of setting up a factory there. He claimed that 16 million people lived within 70 miles of Chesterfield, a greater population than within the same radius of Charing Cross in London.

Sat at the centre of England, the town not only lay within the northern industrial area, but was also well placed to serve all major British cities from one spot. Both the London Midland and the London & North Eastern Railways served the town, a crucial factor in these pre-motorway times. The town clerk, a Mr Clegg, was a great help in setting up the operation. He even managed to find some local bedsteads to join those brought up from bomb-struck London. These served to hold together the new concrete put into the building.

Hilda Clark

Chesterfield: the new factory backed onto green fields, but was handily next door to a railway station and goods yard. The firm soon made sure that everyone for miles around could see it was a Trebor factory.