Barkers of Kensington

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Barkers of Kensington
Barkers department store.jpg
LocationKensington High Street
Coordinates51°30′07″N 0°11′26″W / 51.5019°N 0.1906°W / 51.5019; -0.1906Coordinates: 51°30′07″N 0°11′26″W / 51.5019°N 0.1906°W / 51.5019; -0.1906
Opening date1870
Closing date2006
Owner1870–1957 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. Part of the building now contains a branch of Whole Foods Market.

Early history[edit]

In 1870 John Barker and James Whitehead opened a small drapery business at 91–93 Kensington High Street. James Whitehead (a city merchant) was the investor, while John Barker ran the store.[1] 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 men's tailoring and children's department. Within a year he had again grown by 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.[1] 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[edit]

In 1894, the business was incorporated with John Barker as the chairman of the board, joined by his brother Francis and H H Johnstone (both established partners in the firm), 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 & Co, a store which had divided up the Barker premises. The company at this point had 33 shops, including sixteen fronting onto Kensington High Street.[2] By this time the business had grown to 64 departments selling everything from clothes to groceries. It even had its own drug-dispensing department.

By 1895 the company had purchased every property on the south side of Kensington High Street between King Street and Young Street, except for numbers 73 and 85, which the business would go on to acquire in 1900. New space allowed for the addition of jewellery, watch, and bicycle departments to the ever-growing assortment. In 1907 Barkers bought its near neighbour Ponting Brothers, but continued to run the store as a separate concern.[2]

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 store's 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.[2]

After the war, the policy of store expansion was resumed with the purchase of another nearby competitor, Derry & Toms, in 1920. The store was located in between both Barkers 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 gramophones, but this was a failure and the stores were shut in 1926.[2] 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 Kensington High Street, which had been a temporary home during the fire before the war.

1930 to 1957[edit]

The Barkers sign, still visible on the building

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.[2]

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 grew further by opening a new department store with the purchase of Dale & Kerley in Terminus Road, Eastbourne, with 30 departments, in 1953.[2]

House of Fraser Ownership[edit]

In August 1957, House of Fraser bought the business and started streamlining. Between 1959 and 1962 the Zeeta stores were disposed of along with surplus property that was owned on Kensington High Street & Young Street. In 1965 the construction and decorating department of the business was formally incorporated as John Barker (Construction & Development) Ltd, while in 1968 the Richmond business of Gosling & Sons was closed to allow for the construction of a new Dickins & Jones store on the site, completed in 1970.[2]

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 Bargain Basement. In the same year the Derry & Tom was sold to Biba. 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 flagship 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 and 1978 the store was further refurbished, with a revised food hall, new china and glass department, first floor fashion department, installation of automatic lifts, and the closure of the Pontings basement, to be replaced by new hardware and electrical departments.[2]

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, and 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.[3]


  1. ^ a b "HOUSE OF FRASER Archive :: Company: John Barker & Co". Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ 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.

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