THE head of one of the region’s leading independent department stores has died.

Tributes have poured in for “true gentleman” Charles Barker, 69, from Northallerton who fought a long battle with cancer.

He was the grandson of the original co-founder of the renowned store and as managing director, consolidated its place at the heart of the county town of Northallerton – although it was known he disliked its nickname as the Harrods of the North.

Barkers traces its heritage back to 1882, when William Barker took an apprenticeship at Oxendale’s store which over time, became Oxendale and Barker, and finally Barkers.

Charles, the youngest of four, was born on the family farm outside Northallerton, going to school in the town until he attended Scorton Grammar where he ran into trouble with the headmaster for undercutting the official tuck shop in his earliest entry into the world of retail.

After a budget round-the-world trip in 1973 including working as an iron ore smelter in Australia, he returned to concentrate on the business. It was his vision that saw the development of the furniture store on the outskirts of Northallerton and the expansion into Barkers Arcade and new restaurant and cafe. A keen showjumper and cyclist, he always kept fit, biking from John O’ Groats to Lands End for charity and said when he was diagnosed with a rare myeloma cancer, he thought they had made a mistake.

His son Guy, who now runs the High Street store, said: “He battled against it for 15 years, he always knew it was a terminal cancer and didn’t expect to last as long as he did so we were really lucky to have had that. He was always known as a really kind, friendly, gentleman, and that is what he instilled in us.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Despite months in hospital and severe pain, Mr Barker was keen to support the Life After Cancer charity and modelled in a fashion show telling supporters: “No life goes on forever and you have got to value what you have, value your family.”

Richmond MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak yesterday described his death as a sad loss. “Charles was a gentleman and always a champion for the town and particularly its High Street. He led the store through a period of great expansion, modernisation and success. Every time I go in to the High Street premises I think how lucky we are in Northallerton to have such a high quality store.”

Mr Barker was part of the inspiration behind the setting up of the town’s Business Improvement District, whose chair Lesley Judd said: “Charles was rightly recognised as a visionary and has left a lasting impression on our town. Everyone who works in the centre of our community will share in his loss.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Mr Barker opening the store's escalator - the first in Northallerton

Former Mayor Jack Dobson added: “Charles Barker always said the people of the town supported them and they were keen to back the people. He was a true gentleman but he was never happy about it being dubbed the Harrods of the North, he insisted it was always Barkers of Northallerton.”

He leaves his wife Melanie, daughter Charlotte and son Guy. A private funeral is planned with a memorial service at a later stage.