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Established Downham Market family firm marks its 70th anniversary


By Julie Graham, Business Editor


A family firm in Downham started by three brothers with just a handful of tools and hand barrow next week celebrates its 70th anniversary of trading in the town.

To mark the occasion Barker DBS, one of several successful operations run the Barker Bros Group, will be offering ten per cent off all its regular priced items and competitions in store and online to win £100 and £50 vouchers. There'll also be birthday cup cakes and sweets for customers and 70th anniversary pens and notepads will be given out.

The Barkers Bros Group is now run by the second generation of the Barker family. Originally it was founded in May 1949 by brothers Ben and John Barker who set out as jobbing builders, with third brother, Tom, keeping records around his own daytime work. Ben and John's first contract was painting a house, for which they were paid £4 and given two second-hand ladders.

Brothers John and Tom Barker (9776303)
Brothers John and Tom Barker (9776303)

Tom became a full-time labourer for the business a few years later and as their building business grew, they moved from their first yard at the family home in Bexwell Road to the Swan Hotel yard, then to the Co-op Coal Yard in Paradise Road, and eventually in 1962 to the present premises at The Green.

In the 1960s the company was completing a hundred houses every year. Ben left the firm in 1960 to start up his own business, with Tom and John diversifying into other areas. By the early 1970s they owned a builders' merchants, a ready-mix concrete business, a sand and gravel company, a farming operation, a laundrette and holiday chalets, in addition to the building business.

One of the Barker Bros' building sites in the 1960s (9775789)
One of the Barker Bros' building sites in the 1960s (9775789)

In the early 1980s it was decided to concentrate on the commercial property element of the business, which continues today, and leave the house-building market.

Also today, the group has Barkers DBS – a popular hardware and DIY store, the farming operation and its laundrette, the Washerteria, at the end of the High Street.

Today the group's directors are Tom's son and daughter, Louis Barker and Melanie Rogers, and Bridget Barker and Annette McNaught, who are the daughters of John Barker.

Barker Bros directors are Louis Barker, left, with Bridget Barker seated in front of him, and Melanie Rogers, behind the bench, with Annette McNaught seated in front. Picture supplied by Barker Bros. (9807624)
Barker Bros directors are Louis Barker, left, with Bridget Barker seated in front of him, and Melanie Rogers, behind the bench, with Annette McNaught seated in front. Picture supplied by Barker Bros. (9807624)

Said Louis: "Tom and John built Barker Bros literally from nothing and we consider it an honour to have the opportunity to continue and expand their legacy.

"Retail is changing but we feel there will always be a place for companies such as ours who can offer something different.

"We intend to grow the business organically, adding lines that complement the things that we already sell. Having a number of distributors, we can often source products for supply within a short timescale, often next day, for customer convenience.

"Our hardware store has as its backbone the skills and experience of the staff, we have at least one member of staff who can offer advice and expertise on the use and application of the many products that we sell. And we do have a lot of products – in excess of 12,000 items."

Barkers DBS originally opened in 1964 to sell fireplaces to clients purchasing houses. Downham Building Supply Co, quickly expanded to sell all the items that a builder could require to build a complete house. As the sister company left the housing market, Downham Building Supply Co, now a limited company in its own right, and trading as Barkers DBS, became a hardware store, for both the professional builder and the home DIY enthusiast.



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