Trading Stories, Working Lives

Trading Stories, Working Lives: John W Barker & Sons, painters and decorators

We continue our series of occupational histories with a look at John W Barker & Sons, painters and decorators

JWB shop Belvior Street

Three generations of Barkers “Opened the Way to Decorations of Distinction at Moderate Prices” and hopefully, in the process, added a dash of colour to Leicester life. Our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives article explores the growth of a family business from modest beginnings in 1862 until its sale in 1948, illustrated with adverts from trade directories and newspapers.

1926 JWB advert by Roland Barker

Nip into Barker’s shop to find a large assortment of borders, friezes, dadoes, French and English paper hangings! Click to download the full article: John W Barker & Sons, painters and decorators

Take a look too at the other articles in our Trading Stories, Working Lives series:

Mary Ann Norman, Victorian laundress of Paradise Place

John Collins, Victorian fishmonger and game dealer

John and George Firn, monumental masons

Polkey boatmen of Loughborough

The Harrisons: gardeners, nurserymen and seeds merchants

George Robinson, Victorian letter carrier

George Jennings Collis Writing Family History

Reflections: 5 Top Tips for Blogging A Life Story

About a year ago, I resolved to write the life story of one of my relatives – George Jennings Collis – over a series of blog posts. As I said at the outset, “At this stage, I’m not sure how many blog posts his story will need; I can see the horizon, so to speak, but I’m not quite sure how I’ll get there. In any event, it isn’t a sprint and let’s hope we enjoy the journey along the way, week by week.”

Well, now the task has been completed it’s time to reflect back. I’ll start with a confession: I had hoped to keep to the rhythm of writing one instalment each week, but alas, I couldn’t match the chapter-a-week discipline of Charles Dickens’ part works. Life managed to get in the way, as they say, and also some of the research took rather long than I’d expected. However, I got there in the end – telling George’s story over ten blog posts between June 2015 and August 2016.

At the typewriter

So, what did I learn in the process? Here I share five top tips for blogging a life story.

George Jennings Collis Writing Family History

George Jennings Collis: an Evenwood crusader (1908-1918)

This is the tenth (and final) instalment in my biography of George Jennings Collis, but – now that he has arrived at Evenwood, County Durham in 1908 – the story has come full circle. When I first began my research – in those early days before Google searches and online records – George had been something of a mystery. He’d simply disappeared from the records in his home town of Leicester. The one clue that finally nudged me forward was spotting mention in his father’s probate records to “George Jennings Collis of Evenwood Vicarage, Bishop Auckland in the County of Durham, Clerk in Holy Orders, the son of the said deceased…”. It was this reference to Evenwood which really put me on his trail.

Evenwood is a former coal mining village; the main pit, Randolph Colliery, was very much flourishing during George’s time there, employing over 1000 men at its peak in 1914. It was quite a move from his previous appointment in the market town of Morpeth, some 50 miles away.  Ancestry helps set the scene with the 1911 census, providing a snapshot of domestic life at Evenwood Vicarage.

1911 George Jennings and Florence Collis at Evenwood Vicarage rg14_29766_0341_03

The life of a village vicar wasn’t so bad, it seems, as there are two domestic servants as well as a nursery governess for the three children. I decide to get in touch with the present incumbent, to see if I could find out more about George’s life and work in Evenwood; Rev Canon Jane Grieve refers me on to local historians, Roy and Val Proud and Kevin Richardson, who certainly come up trumps, providing me with a series of notes and photos. I’ll let Kevin take up the story with these extracts from his fascinating book ‘Evenwood Remembers’:

Readers' Stories

Edwin Crew – Journalist and Philanthropist

We’re delighted to share a guest blog post written by Andrew Alston.  Here he investigates the life of Edwin Crew – a relative connection he shares with Auntie Mabel founder, Graham Barker. It’s a fascinating account of a remarkable man. Thanks for sharing it with us, Andrew.

I first came across Edwin Crew while sorting out great great grandmother Alice Preston’s family. Chorley in Lancashire has relatively few families with the Preston surname, despite being only 10 miles from the place where the name mostly originated, but they all seem to have used the same set of common forenames. And so I found Jane Preston, one of my second cousins four times removed, marrying Edwin Crew. I was working at Crewe, so the name stuck out a bit. The newlyweds moved to St. George’s Street, a smart street occupied by people in “the professions”. Virtually all my Chorley relatives worked in mills and mines, so something different was worth following up.

Market Street, ChorleyVictoria Chorley: Market Street

Edwin Crew was born in Spitalfields, in London’s East End, on 8th November 1855. Not the genteel sort of East End shown in the soap opera, but an area crowded with textile workers, mostly weaving silk on hand looms in their own homes, with the “manufacturer” paying them a pittance. Edward Street, where he was born, seems to have disappeared early on. Bacon Street, where the family had been in 1851, consisted of 3 and 4 storey buildings, which by the end of the 19th century had gone even further downhill. Charles Booth’s poverty survey in the 1890s describes “thieves, prostitutes, mess, ragged children”.
Spitalfields had become the centre of silk production when Huguenot weavers fled persecution in France. Later, Jewish and then Asian immigrants would move into the area.


Booth’s poverty map (1889) shows Bacon Street coloured Black: “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.”

Edwin’s father, silk dresser Thomas Crew, was born in Spitalfields too – the Crew surname is common there – but had married Ellen Wildgoose 200 miles away in Macclesfield. Macclesfield had become the northern centre of silk production by the beginning of the 19th century, but unlike Spitalfields, work there was organised in a factory system. The Crew name is common in Macclesfield too. A different Edwin Crew owned substantial mills there.

Thomas and Ellen moved back and forth between Macclesfield and Spitalfields. Children were born at each end of their journeys. The places of birth shown in censuses often don’t coincide with the birth registrations, so Thomas and Ellen were as confused as I became. The move sometimes came between a child’s birth and their baptism. It seems likely that the family travelled by train between the places. Thomas appeared to be a silk dyer when in the south, but in the north he was a silk dresser or finisher, applying the right finish to cloth woven by others.