In 1870 John Barker and James Whitehead opened a small drapery business at 91-93 Kensington High Street in west London. James Whitehead (a city merchant) was the investor, while John Barker ran the store. 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 1880 the company was trading in 15 shops. By 1892, John Barker & Co. was one of the largest stores in London, with over 40 departments ranging from furnishing and plumbing to fashion and food, and employing over 1000 staff.
In 1894, John Barker & Co. became a public limited company, John Barker & Co. Ltd. At that time the company owned 33 shops and by 1895 it owned every property on Kensington High Street between King Street and Young Street, and had added jewellery, watch and bicycle departments to its ever-growing lines.
In 1907 Barkers bought out its near neighbour Pontings, but continued to run it as a separate concern from the Barker store. The policy of expansion continued with the purchase of another nearby competitor, Derry & Toms in 1920. The store was located in between both Barkers and Pontings, and again was run as a separate entity.
A complete rebuilding programme of Barker’s main store was begun in 1935, but was interrupted by the Second World War. Work was restarted in 1955 and the new building was opened in 1958.
In 1957 John Barker & Co Ltd. was acquired by House of Fraser Ltd.
Under House of Fraser’s ownership the business was gradually streamlined and in 1965 John Barker (Construction and Development) Ltd. was formed to continue the company’s old-established building and decorating department.
In 2006 the John Barkers store was closed down as House of Fraser consolidated its business model.