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.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Katy,

    Thank you for commenting, if you drop the team an email at with the information that you require, we can see whether we are able to help you with your research.

    All the best,

    By imogen (13/07/2021)
  • I am researching a book and am desperately looking for some information regarding John Barnes shop in the 1950s, And also about charity dances that were held on the first floor above the shop. If anyone has any information I would be so grateful

    By katy barry (13/07/2021)
  • Hi Cathy,
    Apologies for taking so long to reply to your question.

    Their names were: Owen Owen, William P Jones of Jones Brothers, John P Jones of Dickins and Jones, Edwin Jones who had saved Bon Marche from collapse in 1892 and John Francis of Brixton grocers Francis and Sons.

    Hope this helps,

    By imogen (22/03/2021)
  • Do you know the names of the 5 founders that took over after the death of John Barnes?

    By cathy sturdivant (26/02/2021)
  • I remember John Barnes fondly. It was our family’s local shop and as a youngster in the 1950s and early 1960s we did all our shopping there. The food hall was brilliant especially the delicatessen where my mother would let my brother and me choose an item for our dinner every Friday.

    By Lysbeth Forbes-Robertson (02/07/2020)

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