Obituary: Charles Barker, retailer

Charles Barker, who has died at 69, some 15 years after his diagnosis with a terminal cancer, was managing director of one of Yorkshire’s oldest and most individual department stores, the family-owned Barkers of Northallerton.

Charles Barker outside his department store in Northallerton

The grandson of William Barker, who co-founded the store in 1882, he had worked there since taking a junior job removing the knots from balls of parcel string.

He was the youngest of four, born on the family farm outside Northallerton. He turned his hand to the family trade while still at school, selling crisps, sweets, record players and refurbished bikes to his classmates.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

When he left, he spent five years dividing his time between chores on the farm and indulging his love for show jumping.

He enjoyed considerable success in the ring, competing at multiple events around the country and winning the trophy for leading young rider of the year at Wembley in 1967, on North Riding.

He also took work at another venerable department store, Brown Muffs in Bradford, before setting off in 1973 on a budget solo backpacking trip around the world. Between hitchhiking, he worked as a petrol pump attendant and in the marine engineering and tin ore smelting industries in Canada and Australia respectively.

When he returned home it was to concentrate on working in the family store, whose ornate and traditional frontage on Northallerton High Street is a centrepiece of the town. He became a director in 1991 and eventually managing director.

His ethos was the constant improvement of the business, and he was always on the lookout for ideas that would make Barkers stand out from the competition. Most recently this took the form of a model railway built around the perimeter of the store’s first floor restaurant.

In 1993 he took the decision to create a separate furniture store of 20,000 sq ft on the edge of Northallerton. It is still there, renovated, tripled in size and rebranded as Barkers Home.

Nor was his interest in the town restricted to his own company; he was chairman of the Retail and Business Forum and a leading member of the recently constituted Business Improvement District.

A keep-fit enthusiast who at one point cycled between Land’s End and John o’Groats to raise money for charity, he was taken aback by his diagnosis with a rare form of bone-affecting myeloma.

“So much has crumbled away that I was 6ft 1in and now I’m just 5ft 9in,” he said in 2009.

Told at the time that he was in remission, he threw himself into fund raising for cancer charities. “People say I’m brave, but you have no other option but to fight to get well again,” he said.

He is survived by his wife, Melanie, daughter Charlotte, and son, Guy.