Barkers of Kensington
|Location||Kensington High Street|
|Owner||1807–1957 John Barker & Co.
1957–2006 House of Fraser
Barkers of Kensington was a department store in Kensington High Street, Kensington, London. It was started by John Barker and James Whitehead, later Lord Mayor of London, in 1870. It was sold to House of Fraser in 1957 and was closed in 2006. The building now contains a branch of Whole Foods Market.
In 1870 John Barker and James Whitehead got together to open a small drapery business at 91-93 Kensington High Street. James Whitehead (a city merchant) was the investor, while John Barker run the store. John Barker's plan was to start small and grow his business to a full line department store. He started by dealing direct with manufacturers to get the best price, and with the profits made he started buying up freeholds and leases of nearby properties. By the end of 1870 he had annexed 26-28 Ball Street setting up millinery and dressmaking departments. By 1871, he had purchased 87 Kensington High Street and opened a mens taylors and children's department. Within a year he had again grown buy buying his neighbours businesses at 89 Kensington High Street and 26 ball Street. By 1880, he had extended his stores at 87-89 Kensington High Street and had bought an ironmongery business at 14-16 Ball Street and added 75-77 Kensington High Street and 12 Ball Street to his premises. By 1892, the business had swallowed up 63-71 Kensington High Street, 2-6 Young Street and 6 Ball Street and now operated over forty two departments and workshops.
John Barker & Co Ltd
In 1894, the business was incorporated with John Barker as the chairman of the board, joined by his brothers Francis & HH Johnstone, along with Tresham Gilbey (his son-in-law) and J G Barnes, the former manager of the Kensington branch of Parr's Banking Co. In the same year the business bought Seaman & Little, a store which had divided up the Barker premises. The company at this point had 33 shops, including sixteen fronting onto Kensington High Street. By this time the business had grown to 64 departments selling everything from clothes to groceries. Iit even had its own drug-dispensing department.
By 1895 the company had purchased every property of Kensington High Street between King Street & Young Street, except for 73 & 85, which they later acquire in 1900, and had added jewellery, watch and bicycle departments to its ever growing lines. In 1907 Barkers bought its near neighbour Pontings, but continued to run the store as a separate concern from the Barker store.
In 1912, the earliest section of the Barkers store was devastated by fire. Temporary premises were located opposite, and the building work was started by the Barker's own construction department in 1913. This was the first of several disasters for the firm. In 1914, the stores founder John Barker died and was replaced as chairman by Sidney Skinner, who had worked his way up in the firm after joining in 1889. The First World War also devastated the business, and the business was pegged back.
After the war, the policy of store expansion was resumed with the purchase of another near competitor Derry & Toms in 1920. The store was located in between both Barker's and Pontings stores, and again was run as a separate entity. In 1924 the business opened new stores in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester selling pianos and gramaphones but this was a failure and the stores were shut in 1926. In 1925 Barkers acquired a high class catering business called Zeeta & Co, and in 1926 the business opened a new furniture department at 26-40 Kensignton High Street, which had been a temporary home during the fire before the war.
1930 to 1957
During the 1930s the company started ambitious work to rebuild both Barkers and Derry & Tom stores in a phased development. This plan included building over Ball Street, and moving the frontages of the stores back 30 feet to help with the congestion often seen in the High Street. At the same time Pontings store was extended along Wrights Lane. The buildings were designed by architect Bernard George, with the new Derry & Tom store opening in 1933. Barkers redevelopment however was curtailed by the start of the Second World War, and was not completed until 1958.
Despite bomb damage to Derry & Toms, the Barker businesses maintained their profits during the war and continued to grow the business. In 1947 they purchased a small drapery business in Richmond, London called Gosling & Sons Ltd, and in 1951 even explored the possibility of buying Selfridges store in Oxford Street. The business was grown further by opening a new department store with the purchase of Dale & Kerley in Terminus Road, Eastbourne with 30 departments in 1953.
House of Fraser Ownership
In August 1957, House of Fraser bought the business and started streamlining. Between 1959 to 1962 the Zeeta stores were disposed of along with surplus property that was owned on Kensignton High Street & Young Street. In 1965 the construction and decorating department of the business was formerly incoporated as John Barker (Construction & Development) Ltd, while in 1968 the Richmind business of Gosling & Sons was closed and the premises sold for redevelopment.
By 1971, the business was further downsized by the closure of the Pontings store and the sale of its freehold. The entire stock was transferred to the lower ground floor of the Barker's store and became known as Ponting Bargin Basement. In the same year the Derry & Tom was sold to Bipa. In 1972 a refurbishment programme was started on the Barkers store.
In 1975, House of Fraser purchased fellow department store chain Army & Navy Stores and Barkers became the flag ship store of the new Army & Navy division (which had been formed by the merger of Army & Navy, Chiesmans and Barkers). The Eastbourne store became an Army & Navy. Between 1976 to 1978 the store was further refurbished, with a revised food hall, new china and glass department, 1st floor fashion department, installation of automatic lifts, the closure of the Pontings basement and replaced by new hardware and electrical departments.
In 1982, the store was downsized from seven to four floors and architects were commissioned to redevelop the site as a small department store, offices a small arcade for boutique shops and garden terraces. The work for this was completed in 1986. In 1988, the original John Barker & Co Ltd company was wound up voluntarily and the business became part of the House of Fraser group. It continued in this guise until 2006, when the 135 year old business was shut as House of Fraser consolidated its business model.
- "HOUSE OF FRASER Archive :: Company: John Barker & Co". Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- The story of John Barker & Co Ltd, Kensington, London. University of Glasgow: Archive services. Reproduced with permission of the authors from: Michael Moss and Alison Turton (1989). A Legend of Retailing: House of Fraser. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780297796800. Accessed August 2013.