The exterior of John Barnes, circa 1916


John Barnes and Co. Ltd was originally set up in July 1898. From its prominent building on Finchley Road, the store quickly made a name for itself. Taken over by Selfridges Provincial Stores Limited (SPS) in 1926, it quickly found its way into the Partnership, after their ubiquitous takeover of SPS in 1940. A mere 40 years later and the department store closed, leaving behind a Waitrose that trades on the site to this day.

Early tragedy

John Barnes was originally conceived in 1898. The founders of the enterprise were six veterans of London’s retail scene. The Chairman John Barnes, gave his name to the new company. The fact that he was also a director of John Barker of Kensington demonstrates the business prowess held by these six people. John Barnes would not live to see his company become a success. On the 30th March 1899, a steamship ship called Stella ran aground off the coast of Guernsey as a result of heavy fog. Sadly, Barnes drowned.

Finchley Road

A year on from the disaster on the 29th March 1900, the remaining five opened their shop on Finchley Road. The premises had formerly housed 14 shops and some private houses, an indication of the sheer size of the new department store. Unlike most stores which flower from small beginnings, John Barnes started big and only grew. Despite initial successes, some doubts remained about the viability of the store. No expensive had been spared in its construction, and if the store remotely flopped there would be nowhere to hide.

The sheer scale of the whole project was frankly unprecedented for the time. A central passenger lift took customers up as far as the counting house on floor two. The shop provided accommodation for 400 members of staff, the third floor for ladies and the fourth for mens. Particularly popular was the department store’s food hall, enticing customers in from all around the local area.

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