1819 - 1875
Francis Barker circa 1860
Francis Barker was born in 1819 at Helmet Court, St. Luke, Old Street, Finsbury, London, the eldest child of Francis and Mary Barker.
Francis had at least three younger siblings: George, Sarah and Matilda.
Francis started work as an apprentice to James & George Simms at the age of about eight years, and over the next twenty years he learned his trade as a compass maker and dialist (maker of sundials).
Over the years Francis gained ever greater status within the company of J&G Simms and started to gain a reputation for his fine work, and started to make many business contacts through his church (he was a very religious man), and through his membership of the Freemasons.
J&G Simms was first established in 1822 at 4 Broadway, Blackfriars, London, but operated from 1840 - 1855 from 9 Greville Street, Hatton Garden, London.
Compass made by Francis Barker in 1842 while working at J&G Simms
Francis Barker married Sarah Murgery in 1844 and they lived in lodgings with Richard Groves at 16 Market Street, Clerkenwell, London.
Documentation supporting the birth certificate issued for his son, Francis Junior, in 1845 states that Francis Barker was an Instrument Maker who employed 30 "hands". As Francis Barker had not yet formed his company, F. Barker & Son, the documentation for the birth registration strongly suggests that he had already gained ownership of J&G Simms.
In 1845 Francis Junior was born, who was to become the "Son" in F. Barker & Son. In 1845 Francis Snr., Sarah and Francis Jnr. are believed to have moved out of 16 Market Street and into 9 Tinley Court, Tinley Place, St. Luke, some five minutes walk from Francis' parents house in Helmet Row.
Francis Junior's birth certificate clearly states the place of birth and also the residence of Francis Barker at the time of his son's birth as 9 Tinley Court but the 1851 census form contradicts this fact, stating that Richard, his wife and their son, plus Francis, Sarah, three children and Sarah's father were all living at 16 Market Street, where they also ran a compass and sundial factory and shop.
Analysing the 1871 Ordnance Survey Map of the area, which shows accurate details down to size of houses, one can see that 16 Market Street was a small, terraced property with a tiny garden to the rear, and it would not have been possible for nine people to live there as well as operate a factory and a shop. Records conflict here, and it appears that Francis and his family may have moved back to 16 Market Street for a very brief period (including the night of the 1851 census) during their move to 29 St. Thomas Terrace, Islington, and then later to Stroud Green Road in Hornsey, where they lived until Francis's death on 10 December 1875.
In 1848 Francis established the company of F. Barker & Son at 12 Clerkenwell Road, and then in the same year he established a partnership with Richard Groves as makers of sundials and maritime compasses. Groves & Barker was based at 16 Market Street on the ground floor in the area formerly occupied by Francis and Sarah.
Groves & Barker compass
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Richard Groves needed support in life, and that he was in poor health, and that Francis assisted him, his wife and later their baby son with friendship and by providing employment with the creation of the business.
During all this time Francis had also continued to run J&G Simms until the death of the second of the two Simms brothers in 1855 when Francis dissolved the company and absorbed the business into F. Barker & Son. Ownership of J&G Simms by Francis had been kept quiet to allow the Simms brothers to retire with dignity. It is possible that Francis had acquired the Simms' business not just as an investment, but also as a favour in return for a privileged apprenticeship.
Returning to the Groves & Barker story, Richard owned the freehold of the premises and on his death in 1863, aged just 41 years (he was born in 1822), he left the property to his wife and his half of Groves & Barker to Francis Barker.
The RG over FB trademark used on gold and silver items produced by Groves & Barker
Francis continued to trade Groves & Barker for a year, paying rent to Mary Groves, before absorbing the business into his now thriving F. Barker & Son. Items bearing the "Late Groves & Barker" trademark represent this period.
Francis Barker was a natural businessman, very ambitious, and very determined to succeed. He was extremely thrifty and even had his compass makers use waste paper to produce compass cards and cases. Dismantling and repairing these old items is fascinating because sometimes you can still read the handwriting on the used paper.
The reverse of a compass dial made around 10 December 1875 showing the used paper from the company's accounts department and the dial maker's fingerprints in the balancing wax
Francis and Sarah had 11 children and most of them worked for the family business for at least the beginning of their working lives. They started working later than Francis, who had started at eight years old, showing that Victorian London was improving, and that probably Francis was able to afford to let his children remain in education to a greater age. In the early 1800's children were sent to work through necessity to bring money into the family home.
Francis Barker Jnr. married Elizabeth Weeks, daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Weeks, in 1876 and both he and his father were photographed on that day. Elizabeth was born in 1850 in Birmingham, England, and already had two children when she married Francis Jnr: George Walker and Francis Walker. Francis Jnr. and Elizabeth, besides Elizabeth's two children from a previous marriage (possibly widowed), had seven more children, one of whom was born in Australia in 1887.
Emily, Francis Junior's sister, married Thomas Weeks, the brother of Elizabeth Weeks who married Francis Junior - a brother and sister married a sister and brother. Thomas Weeks had a leather goods "manufactory" and employed 17 "hands" and made the leather cases for Barker compasses and instruments.
Charles Barker was possibly one the most influential of Francis' children on the company. Charles studied jewellery and compass making and it was he, sometime around 1870, who introduced gold and silver items to the F. Barker & Son products range. The most-produced items of gold and silver jewellery were crucifixes. The Barker family were devout churchgoers and the crucifix would have been a natural product for them to develop.
One of the first gold crucifixes made by Charles Barker c1870
Francis Barker was a prolific compass maker. He experimented constantly and produced a truly massive range of different compass styles and variations over the years. His business was primarily wholesale and the vast majority of his items were sold unsigned to shops and "makers" who then applied their own signatures and sold the items as their own, as still happens today. A large part of the range of compasses sold by companies such as Negretti & Zambra, John Lizars, C.W. Dixey and many, many others were actually made by F. Barker & Son and signed by the respective retailer prior to sale. In fairness, Francis also signed many items that he sold but which he did not manufacture, such as telescopes, binoculars, levels etc.
Francis Barker died of tuberculosis in 1875, aged 56 years. His son, Francis Jnr., sold his share of the company to some of his brothers shortly afterwards and moved to Australia. it is believed he was suffering ill-health (possibly tuberculosis, like his father) and wanted to try a warmer climate. Francis Jnr. set up a sparkling water bottling factory in Australia, but it didn't do as well as he had hoped. Francis Jnr. died on 7 December 1887, a few days after his 42nd birthday. He is buried in the West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide, Australia, (Plan 3, Row 8, Plot 155) in Australia. Shortly afterwards it is believed his wife and children returned to England.
F. Barker & Son continued to prosper for a few decades after Francis Barker's death in 1880. The Anglo-African (Boer) War and the First World War, together with an exponential demand for scientific instruments from the New World countries ensured enough business to allow the company to continue to do well. However, the sons, nephews and grandsons lacked Francis' acumen and eventually the company ran into serious financial troubles around 1932, when it was taken over and renamed F. Barker & Son (1932) Limited. This new company did well and benefitted from the business created by the Second World War. F. Barker & Son (1932) Limited changed hands several times over the decades and the name is now carried by Pyser-SGI Limited of Edenbridge in Kent, England, who continue to produce the world's finest prismatic compasses that still bear the Francis Barker name.
One of the many beautiful instruments manufactured by F. Barker & Son, a "Charm" Aneroid, diameter 29mm. Revolving altitude scale to 6,000 feet. Pebble (magnifying crystal) front. Made in 18ct, 15ct, 9ct gold and in silver. This one is hallmarked FB&S 18ct Gold London 1895. It is a miniature pocket barometer/altimeter. The bezel ring rotates to set the altitude, which is calibrated up to 6000 feet, and the barometer is calibrated in inches of mercury. This is an extremely rare item, made in such few numbers that this is believed to be the only surviving example. To construct, by hand, a completely accurate and working aneroid barometer in a 29mm diameter case is a masterpiece of instrument making, and it was achieved 118 years ago.