The Sunderland salesman who loved his time at Blacketts

Ken Barker who told the Echo all about his time at Blacketts.
Ken Barker who told the Echo all about his time at Blacketts.

A grandad has recalled the good old days when he told a Sunderland store director to take him on - or miss out on the best young salesman on Wearside.

We asked for your memories of Blacketts, the city centre shop which was known as one big family employer by its workers.

Blacketts store in 1972.

Blacketts store in 1972.

And Fulwell man Ken Barker certainly agreed.

He worked in the sales section from 1958 to 1960 and still vividly remembers the confident way he got the job.

“I marched in to see the personnel director,” said Ken who is now a father of four and grandfather of eight.

“He asked me what I wanted and I said ‘you can give me a job’.

I marched in to see the personnel director. He asked me what I wanted and I said ‘you can give me a job’. I said ‘if you don’t you are going to miss out on an opportunity of having the best young salesman in Sunderland. He said “I like your style!”

Ken Barker

“I said ‘if you don’t you are going to miss out on an opportunity of having the best young salesman in Sunderland.”

It worked a treat and the personnel director told the young 17-year-old Ken: “I like your style!”

Ken was over the moon and relieved all at the same time. The relief was because he had just been made redundant from a job in another shop.

But he was back in the land of employment and working as a sales assistant in the menswear department.

Ken in his refereeing days.

Ken in his refereeing days.

Then it was time for Ken to begin work at Blacketts and he remembered his first day there.

“I was a month away from my 18th birthday and it was a great place to work. I remember that everyone was friendly. When I wandered through the departments for my first cup of tea at breaktime, everyone was saying ‘are you new?’ and ‘hello’.”

Ken was working under the leadership of Bill Harkness and his colleagues included Bert Mears, Ribena Styles and Mary Frazer.

The managing director, he remembered was Hughie Auld and Ken added: “The one man that stuck out for me was the handyman who lived in Cleveland Road and emigrated to New Zealand, but I can’t remember his name.”

Can anyone help Ken to name that handyman? Send an email to chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk if you can.

Ken, who is married to retired midwife Marjory and was also a football referee for 51 years, also remembered that all the girls in the account office wore pink overalls,

He added: “It was a wonderful place and I loved it. I only left because I was ambitious and joined the police force.”

But Ken never forgot the Sunderland department store where he was made to feel so welcome.

Another former employee also got in touch with us.

Edith Parish, nee Shafto, said: “I worked at Blacketts just after I left school, about 1956 and worked on the drapery department.

“Mr Smith was the buyer and there was Miss Brown, Mrs MacKnight, Mrs Wright, and myself - and one other girl. Can’t remember her name.

“We had good times and I remember when the sales were going to be on, we had to go into the stock room where the blankets were kept and cut them up into quarters and they were sold for blanket ends.

“The people used to go mad for them, to make into cot blankets for the babies.

“As it was named Blacketts, we all had to wear black so can you think how we looked after cutting white blankets up.

“After all these years I am still in touch with Sheila and Les who got married and are now L& S Irving at Bolden.

“Les used to repair the TV for Blacketts. There was also a Mr Nelson, a big man with silver hair.

“He was a director and he would often look inside your book to see how many sales you had.

“If you had a busy day he would just look at you, then say well done.”

Earlier this month, we told how Blacketts had once employed 500 people in the 1950s. By the 1960s, you could buy the latest records after listening to them in one of the music cubicles. Top ten singles retailed for just 6/8d.

But the times were a changing and so were people’s shopping habits. They had lots more choice and in Sunderland alone, there were lots of other department stores to choose from such as Joplings, Binns and Liverpool House.

In 1963, there were four Blacketts stores and they were taken over by the Hide group. Those changing habits led to staff numbers dropping.

And by the time the end came in 1972, 150 people were out of work.

If you have memories of Blacketts, email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk.